Late to the Game: Just Ski Finds the Groove Between Satisfying and Frustrating
Editor's Note: This review is part of our "Late to the Game" series, which highlights and examines games we initially missed.
Just Ski is a physics game reminiscent of Line Runner, and it's deceptive in its simplicity.
You control a cross-country skier on their mission to reach their cabin by pulling down on the mouse to make them crouch and go faster, and by pushing up to make them jump. Once in the air, rotation speed is determined by adjusting the mouse up or down to stick the landing.
It's difficult to get a handle on at first, but once you find that groove, it's an incredibly satisfying game to play. There is a certain silly feeling of reward and accomplishment that comes with sticking the perfect landing on a particularly difficult jump or stretch of terrain.
With the only input being the mouse, Just Ski would be ideal for those with limited mobility or fine motor skill issues. However, the game's physics can make it very frustrating for anyone with delayed reaction times or problems processing visual input.
Although the landscape in Just Ski stays the same with each run, and the game feels very much like a puzzle that becomes easier to put together the longer it is played, it also relies heavily on trial and error.
Each new section and hill can trip you up as you try to get a feel for perfectly-timed jumps and aerial rotations. As a game that utilizes building and maintaining rhythm and momentum as part of the experience, there's a certain amount of frustration that comes with breaking that.
While playing, I was briefly reminded of the rage game craze, circa 2010 or so, but only briefly. JS' learning curve is steep, yes, but not so much so that it renders the game nearly unplayable or at all not enjoyable.
Yes, you will die a lot learning to navigate the landscape, but deaths never feel cheap or as if the game is purposely hindering progress. Every mistake is set up as an opportunity to learn and improve technique, allowing players to progress just a little bit more with each run-through.
To help track progress, the sky changes color: starting out black and moving through the color spectrum from warm reds and oranges to cool greens and familiar sky blues.
It's an interesting mechanic that gives a greater feeling of satisfaction when death inevitably comes. However, I wish that there were actual checkpoints to help mark progress, or even a practice mode to help you master difficult sections. It's exceptionally tedious to reach a new color, only to have to start from the very beginning when you make a mistake and die.
All in all, Just Ski is a fairly solid physics game. It's great for training reaction times, it presents just-challenging-enough game play, and it's a fun way to spend an hour or so.
Though I wish it had something like the yeti from Ski Free to lend a little humor, up the stakes, and to break the monotony.
Simple, one-button input
Interesting progression visuals
Steep learning curve
[Note: A copy of Just Ski was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.]