Celeste is a platformer by Canadian developers Matt Thorson and Noel Berry. It was released back in January and is available on all platforms. I ended up playing on the Nintendo Switch since I felt it was a perfect fit for this type of game, and I wasn’t wrong. It is a perfect game for handheld devices because of the constant checkpoints and saves. It’s an easy to pick up, put down, and come back to type of game.
The game presents a story about a young woman named Madeline who is climbing to the top of a huge mountain known as Celeste. As she starts her journey, you realize that she is doing this for her own personal reasons. She’s shy, suffers from anxiety, and also deals with depression, and this is her way of overcoming a lot of those issues. She is doing this with such purpose that, when she thinks she can’t go any further, she pushes herself to continue. The determination Madeline has mirrors that of the player and the challenges they must face together.
The first thing I want to mention is that players should be prepared to die (A LOT!). Now, don’t let that scare you away from this amazing game. Like Madeline, you are determined to push your skills to the limit. Celeste keeps a tally on how many times you die, not to taunt you, but rather to encourage you. When I finally beat the game, my death toll was over two thousand! However, not once did I feel discouraged or frustrated to the point of giving up. It is a learning curve that constantly throws new challenges at you, and with enough patience, you will figure out the pattern or path that you need to conquer each challenge.
Thankfully, like I stated earlier, the game saves every time you move to a new room. So when you die, you don’t have to restart from a long ago save. Also, when you die, Celeste instantly starts Madeline back at the beginning of the room without a moment of hesitation.
To conquer the mountain you will need to avoid spikes, crumbling platforms, and even monsters during the latter stages. Madeline has a limited number of skills at her disposal. She can jump, but not very high, and she can dash mid air in any direction only once until she lands. She also can climb sheer surfaces, but has a limited amount of stamina to hold on. You have to think fast on when to use them. When do you use your dash to make that landing? How long should you hold onto that falling platform before you make your jump? It’s all about timing and a little trial and error. It will take multiple attempts to figure it out, but when you do succeed, it is such a feeling of accomplishment that you will be excited to move on to the next challenge.
What makes Celeste such a fun game is the way it controls. You have eight different directions you can choose to move in with just the slightest touch. The controls are so responsive that you can never blame the game for a mistake that was made. If you mistime a jump or move in the wrong direction, it is on you. Celeste wants to be easily accessible and it shows.
Speaking of accessibility, Celeste even has an option called “Assist Mode” for when you just don’t feel like being challenged at every turn. This mode allows you to adjust game speed, can give you infinite stamina, or even make you invulnerable. These tools won’t make the game that much easier, but it definitely helps in situations where you just can’t quite figure out what needs to be done. While it is nice to have the option, I would suggest not using it unless you feel you absolutely have to.
The narrative of the game is also something that deserves to be mentioned. The heartfelt story is something you don’t normally see in platformer-type games. Celeste has a diverse group of characters that Madeline will come across in her travels. You will meet an old hermit, another mountain climber who is obsessed with taking selfies, and a dark version of yourself that you must reconcile with. Celeste takes the time to introduce and develop these characters and it’s hugely beneficial to the player’s investment in the story.
For the more adventurous types that like to collect everything, there are hidden rooms and collectible strawberries littered throughout Celeste. The strawberries don’t have any purpose besides bragging rights, but I’m glad they are there. There are also crystals that you can collect which will unlock alternate versions of the levels, called B-Sides, that provide you with even more of a challenge so there are plenty of reasons to come back and play.
The last thing I want to mention is the soundtrack of the game. It has a retro 80’s vibe that fits with the pixelated style of art. Composer Lena Raine’s score complements every inch of the game with its beautiful piano accompaniment that has its own unique style the further you climb.
Celeste is something that every video gamer should play. With its heartfelt story, smooth and responsive controls, and a beautiful score, it is truly something that needs to be experienced. It’s one of the most clever platformers I have ever played, and that is saying a lot.