Insurmountable: A mountaineering roguelike

Insurmountable is the kind of game I didn’t realize I needed when I was a teen and read Into Thin Air and watched Touching the Void, all harrowing stories about braving low oxygen, cold temperatures, and almost impassable terrain just to stand on top of a mountain. Insurmountable filters make for a difficult path through a basic grid-based board game system. It’s you versus a mountain, and you’re spinning the dice, and it’s awesome.

I’ve just climbed the first mountain and am only getting by with enough ability to make the descent. You must control your fitness, stamina, temperature, and sanity, all of which are influenced by the dangerous routes you choose. Stone, snow, and ice all need different quantities of energy, and broken tiles pose a random risk of injury and a significant blow to your wellbeing. Elevation, time of day, and random weather conditions will all deplete the thermometer. And eerie plot moments denoted by grid symbols will severely deplete your sanity. While an eagle may inspire you, searching a deceased man’s body for food and empty oxygen tanks may have a negative impact on your mental health.

It’s worth taking minor detours to reach certain icons, though, because you could find a jacket that produces more warmth per step, or an icepick that significantly reduces stamina costs on stone tiles. Maybe you’ll find a cave to spend the night in, regenerating a significant amount of energy and comfort after a strong night’s sleep. Or maybe there’s a bear in there and it’s chewing on your lip.

Any experience grants a significant amount of XP, allowing you to level up your mountaineer over time. A new stage brings with it a new bonus, one of three options. I chose sanity, freezing air, and nighttime climbing buffs to help me stare down some more dead bodies during one of the many midnight blizzards I staggered through.

I guess I should’ve anticipated as much, because before climbing a mountain, you can choose one of three routes that allow you to decide the most significant threats you’ll encounter on your journey. Mine was a spooky path with a greater chance of sanity draining accidents and never-ending blizzards. It sounded safer than the other routes’ treacherous ice scrambling and wildly changing scenery. I chose a shorter, but 100 times more traumatising journey.

However, navigation is challenging regardless of the direction. Maneuvering the camera to find suitable routes across dangerous or very tall tiles in order to save stamina without losing too much oxygen is tense, a quick and efficient abstraction of the tension mountaineering. There is no need for a large budget or a third-person camera.

Surprisingly, insurmountable is also stunning. As I hit my first peak and stared down at the vast expanse of tiles I’d trekked through to get there, I felt the tiniest fraction of what an actual mountaineer would feel after conquering nature’s most dangerous environments. I mean, a toddler climbing to the top of a jungle gym deserves more credit, but I’m just saying Insurmountable works, you know?

Anyway, I only have two peaks remaining, my climber got a permanent debuff after the last one, so I’m forever fatigued, and the next one seems to be twice as high as the last. I suppose this is where the game’s name comes into play. Maybe you’ll do better than I did, and you should certainly give it a shot.

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