Perfectly Polished Platforming
During one of the first loading screens that I encountered while playing Celeste, a message from the developer popped up that encouraged losing. The message stated that I should be proud of my death-count in the game, because every death meant that I was becoming better. That philosophy was my driving force while playing Celeste. The strive to become better and conquer the game’s literal and metaphorical mountain is core to what Celeste is about. Celeste’s message of perseverance and overcoming coupled with its straightforward control scheme and complex platforming obstacles make for an excellent experience.
In Celeste, you play as a girl named Madeline who embarks on a journey to climb Celeste Mountain. Across your journey, you’ll encounter tough platforming challenges, meet an interesting cast of characters, and engage with a fairly deep and touching story. That’s the interesting thing about this game. Celeste does what not many challenging 2D platformers set out to to do. It tells a compelling story and it does it well.
The narrative of the game is deeply relatable as it deals with themes such as depression and mental health. While dealing with a story with such somber subject matter, the game does a superb job of keeping the overall tone somewhat lighthearted with personality-driven characters, funny moments, and dialogue that is surprisingly witty. Theo, my favorite character, is the best example of this as his dialogue makes me believe that I could know someone like him in real life. He’s oblivious at the right times, reliable at the right times, and his obsession with taking selfies made me want to slap his phone out of his hand. My one gripe with the narrative portion of the game is that I wish there was more there.This usually wouldn’t be a complaint with a 2D platformer but with Celeste’s story being as engaging as it is, by the time it had wrapped up, it left me wishing I could have more time with the characters to learn more about them and Celeste mountain. More time spent with the story and dialogue would also allow for the themes of the game to take hold in a stronger way. I appreciate how the story touches on topics like depression and anxiety, but I was left a tad bit frustrated thinking about what the game could have done with a bit more push.
As much as the charm of the game is uplifted by the writing, this is pushed even further by Celeste’s style. Alluring visuals and a moody soundtrack are the highlight of Celeste’s endearing presentation. Although the pixel art can seem simplistic at times, when a lot of action starts to happen on screen, the heart behind the design starts to show. This coupled with the charming hand drawn art during the dialogue sequences make the game’s style very easy to love. The music of Celeste is catchy and captures the mood of the game well. When the moment calls for it, there’s a piano track in the background. In other moments, chiptune melodies engulf the experience. The soundtrack accompanies the whole game exceptionally from start to finish and is easily one of my favorite aspects.
The crowning jewel of Celeste is of course its platforming. I can’t overstate it enough, it’s remarkably good. It mixes a simple control scheme with trial and error gameplay and all of this is great but it doesn’t work if the level design isn’t good. I’m happy to say that the level design is excellent. The different stages introduce varying mechanics and the way the obstacles progress and play with these mechanics is masterful. Every obstacle feels cleverly made and each stage tries to push every mechanic to their limit. The challenge is real. What’s even more impressive is that the game’s challenge fits in with the themes and narrative of the game. The more I struggled as a player, the more the struggles of the main character resonated with me. It’s a beautiful way of telling the story through the game itself, and the challenge of the game is carried through with wonderful design. The game is not afraid to push the limit of what it asks the player to accomplish. Even with this being the case, every platforming puzzle felt fair. The ones that appear gruelingly difficult can be conquered with enough effort. This goes double for the B-Sides stages in the game which push the difficulty so far that it can almost seem criminal. Thankfully these stages are optional and are for those willing to take the challenge.
The 2D platforming genre has seen its classics. Series of games such as Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Meat Boy have cemented themselves as benchmarks for the genre. Celeste looks at those games, learns the correct lessons and innovates in its own ways. I adored my time with Celeste. Its mixture of a charming story and well-executed platforming challenges have made this game one that is going to last for a long time in the hearts of gaming culture.