From indie developers Matt Makes Games, comes Celeste- a brutally challenging, but rewarding platforming experience. You play as Madeline, a girl who is determined to climb Mount Celeste, a mountain with the power to manifest people’s inner-self into the real world.
Along the way, Madeline encounters memorable characters that help make her journey bearable. There’s fellow climber and selfie-loving Theo, there’s the old near-crazy lady who actually lives on the mountain, and Mr Oshiro, who can’t bear to leave his run-down hotel.
The characters are just one of many aspects that make Celeste a memorable game. The star of the show is its intense platforming, so that’s what I’ll dive into first.
The Brutal Platforming of Celeste
Celeste isn’t for the faint-hearted. This game will challenge you in ways a lot of platformer would dare to. Celeste is played on a level by level structure, completing one difficult section after another. It’s not all linear though, as you’ll sometimes have the choice in which route you want to take. Some areas will lead you along to the end goal, while others will lead you to optional areas to find collectibles.
But the real beauty of this game is its bite-sized platforming sections. Every single section is hand-crafted to perfection, with the balance of difficulty just right. There’s also a crazy amount of these platforming sections with every single one of them unique from each other.
The amount of effort and care that went into Celeste is apparent. Not only is it challenging, it’s also creative in the way the game tries to challenge you. Almost every chapter will contain its own unique mechanic to interact with to progress through the stages.
For example, one level contains these orbs that once you jump into, will shoot you off in the direction you choose. Another level will contain rift-like blocks that boost you all the way through it, making you think which direction you’ll need to boost into it. These unique mechanics, along with each level’s setting, makes each level exciting to play though.
Even though there’s plenty of sections within each level, once you compete a section (or a ‘screen’), the game will save meaning you can take a short break between each one. You’ll only need to keep up the high level of play in short spurts which can be very relieving!
As expected, you’ll die plenty of times, but when it happens, it very quickly puts you at the start of the section ready to go again. This is crucial in order to keep your momentum going, as these types of games really need you to be ‘in the zone’. This is what keeps Celeste such a joy to play, even when it becomes frustrating, you’ll really appreciate the hastiness of your deaths and how quickly you can try again.
But for a game that contains so much tough platforming, one important aspect needs to be perfect to make it enjoyable, that being the controls and physics. Thankfully these are also done perfectly; the ‘feel’ of gameplay is spot on, which is extremely important with these types of games.
Apart from the jumping, you have the ability to boost Madeline in any direction, over a short distance. This is an ability that needs to be mastered as many sections revolve around it. Madeline can also hang onto a climb wall for a period of time. In terms of controls, that’s mainly it, which is great because it makes the game just that little bit more accessible.
It’s really a game that’s simple to learn, but very hard to master! Though I will admit holding down the shoulder button to hang onto walls did hurt my finger after a short time, but I won’t blame the game for that. Or maybe I should…if the game didn’t have that “just one more go” addictiveness to it, I wouldn’t have been stuck to it for longer periods!
Replayability and Collectibles
What platformer would be complete without collectibles? This game has its fair share of them, and finding them requires completing even tougher challenges than simply making your way through the level.
The main collectibles are strawberries. Every level has a decent amount of them, but the game lets you know that they don’t serve any purpose other than showing off (or of course earning trophies/achievements). Despite this, it’s hard to resist collecting these tasty-looking objects, and the difficult platforming acting as an obstacle is equally as irresistible.
But there’s more than just strawberries to collect, there’s B-Side Cassette Tapes which unlock a harder version of that level, Crystal Hearts, and even more!
So with plenty of collectibles and extra levels to find, there’s a great amount of replayability to Celeste other than just playing through the story. And just when you thought the game was hard enough, the bonus levels take it to another level of difficulty.
My main gripe with having all these collectibles is that if you want to go back to complete each level, you have to replay a lot of the difficult areas again to see what you might have missed. For a game with such high intensity, it’s hard to build that motivation to do it all over again.
Plus with no map to show where you’ve been and where you haven’t, there’s no guarantee you’ll 100% complete the level anyway, therefore you’ll have to go through it all again. Though when revisiting a level, you can select a few different places within the level to start, so this is a nice reprieve.
Even though it doesn’t really count for anything, Celeste also records your fastest time and death count for each level…just so you can feel embarrassed for your efforts! No one wants to see their death counts in the hundreds, but that certainly happened with me.
In another awesome inclusion, Celeste actually contain another bonus game known as PICO, which the prototype for this very game! It’s lengthy enough in its own right, and it’s just amazing how much they managed to squeeze into this game.
The Dark Storytelling of Celeste
Storytelling is never really a main feature of platformers. Some games in this genre can do it well, but the platforming almost always takes center-stage. Even though the platforming is the main star here, the game tells a fairly dark story about its protagonist.
The overall story involves Madeline wanting to climb to the very top of Mount Celeste. Sounds simple enough, but Madeline learns that the mountain has the power to bring out your inner-self in physical form. Whether Madeline knew this beforehand and is her main reason for climbing the mountain, or she just learns it as she goes along, I’m not too sure.
Madeline hides a secret- she suffers from depression and panic attacks. While she climbs the mountain, this dark side of her takes its form in reality. This dark Madeline taunts her, de-motivates her, and even attacks her.
Later in the game, you learn these secrets about Madeline, and all of a sudden it all makes sense. You see how Madeline would normally treat herself, but now in a form that we players can see.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but how she overcomes this side of herself is inspiring and enlightening. Not too many games cover this sort of thing, and while I don’t suffer from it myself, it gives me an idea to how some people do suffer.
Celeste Review Summary
Celeste is a carefully crafted platformer, with a tremendous amount effort and care put into each of the hundreds of stages. It can also be brutally difficult, which either adds to the appeal or takes away from it. But its simple controls, fluid animations and physics, and easy to learn mechanics, does make it accessible enough for most gamers.
Combine the fun and challenging platforming with a huge amount of collectibles and bonus levels, and you have yourself some great value. The high intensity of the platforming may put people off from completing the game, but you will still have a great time even if you just play each level through to the end.
Just to take this experience further, Celeste tells a deep and dark story about its main character Madeline and her internal struggles. Watching her attempt to overcome it all is great in its own right, even if the intense platforming isn’t your thing.
Celeste may not be the most well-known game in 2018, but it’s one that I think demands your attention, and is one of the better games of the year so far!