Insurmountable is the kind of game I didn’t know I wanted since I read Into Thin Air and watched Touching the Void as a teen, both harrowing tales about braving low oxygen, freezing temperatures, and seemingly impassable terrain just to stand at the top of a mountain. Insurmountable filters such a trying journey through a simple grid-based board game framework. It’s you against a mountain, rolling the dice, and it’s super cool.
I’ve only conquered the first mountain, just barely scraping by with enough energy to make the trip down. You need to manage health, energy, temperature, and sanity, all of which are affected by what kind of risky routes you plot out. Stone, snow, and ice take varying amounts of energy, and cracked tiles present a random chance for injury and a serious blow to your health. Elevation, time of day, and random weather events will drain your temperature. And spooky narrative moments denoted by symbols on the grid can seriously drain your sanity. An eagle might inspire you, but searching a dead man’s body for food and unused oxygen tanks might take a toll on your mental health.
It’s worth taking tiny detours to hit those symbols though, because you might find a jacket that generates more warmth per move, or an icepick that greatly lowers stamina costs on stone tiles. Maybe you’ll find a cave to take shelter in for the night, regenerating a big chunk of stamina and warmth after a good night’s sleep. Or maybe there’s a damn bear in there and, well, it chews on your face.
Every event doles out a good chunk of XP, so you can level up your mountaineer over time. A new level means a new perk, your choice of three. I opted for some sanity, cold weather, and nighttime climbing buffs that helped me face down even more dead bodies at low visibility during one of the many midnight blizzards I stumbled through.
I suppose I should’ve expected as much, because before heading up a mountain, you can also pick one of three routes that let you loosely determine the greatest threats you’ll face in your ascent. Mine was a spooky route with a higher risk for sanity draining events and relentless blizzards. It sounded better than the treacherous ice climbing and wildly varying terrain of the other routes. I opted for a quicker journey, just one 100 times more traumatizing.
Navigation is difficult no matter the route, though. Maneuvering the camera to plot optimal paths around risky or exceedingly tall tiles to conserve stamina without wasting too much oxygen is tense, a simple and effective abstraction of the stress mountaineering. No massive budget and third-person camera required.
Insurmountable is also surprisingly beautiful. When I reached my first peak and looked down at the massive stretch of tiles I’d trekked across to get there, I felt the tiniest possible fraction of what an actual mountaineer must after conquering nature’s most dangerous conditions like that. I mean, a toddler reaching the top of a jungle gym is deserving of more respect, I’m just saying Insurmountable works, you know?
Anyway, I have two peaks left, my climber received a permanent debuff after that last climb so I’m permanently fatigued now, and the next one is looking about twice as high as the last. I guess this is where the name of the game comes into play. Maybe you’ll fare better than me, and you should definitely try. Insurmountable is rad.
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