Celeste is a skilful platformer that combines a retro art style, great music and a hard-hitting story in a winning combination. Celeste was a surprise to me but should take pride of place in any gamer’s collection.
The story of Celeste is one of many assets this game has to offer. It’s the story of a girl who wants to climb Celeste Mountain. The main protagonist Madeline clearly has a lot going on and confides in Theo, a fellow traveller she meets early in her journey. Madeline’s going through some tough times with her mental health and reveals in a phone call with her Mum she suffers panic attacks. However, she’s determined to prove to herself she can conquer her demons and overcome this huge obstacle that’s in front of her. At the base of the mountain, Madelin meets an old woman who warns her that along the way she’ll see things that may confuse her as Celeste Mountain has strange effects on those who try to scale the highest peaks. Early on in the game, as Madeline passes a mirror, she sees a reflection of herself in the mirror who breaks free and chases her. Her evil reflection is always putting her down, saying she’s not good enough and is the physical manifestation of “that little voice” in Madeline’s head.
Celeste is a platforming game where you run and jump to navigate through levels. Traversing these levels is aiding by a few abilities including wall jumping, clinging to walls and an air boost. Each screen acts as a mini-puzzle as you figure of your way to navigate to the next screen. Later in the game, your abilities open up a little, but you’ll have to play through to approx mid-game to find out how. The platforming in Celeste can be tight but it’s not as unforgiving as other tough platforming games like Super Meat Boy. The controls feel responsive and natural. Running, jumping and bouncing off walls is familiar enough. Madeline also has the stamina, shown through the animation in the game. You can jump and cling onto walls but as you run low on stamina you’ll see Madeline start to shake and sweat indicating you’ll need to find a safe landing somewhere nearby.
Each level is a new stage up to the mountain and there are variety and environmental effects that will try and stop your safe passage to the summit. You’ll be climbing the mountain, exploring the run-down old hotel midway up the mountain, battling against the elements and the strong wind as well as diving into the core of the mountain to face your fears. Each stage is vibrant in colour and can be tricky to navigate due to the sheer number of things able to kill you. Then there’s death in Celeste. You’re likely to die a lot on your first playthrough as you learn the routes through the course. To remind you of this fact there’s a handy death counter at the end of the level encouraging you to beat your last effort as well as keeping track of things. Like in many platformers like this don’t let the death counter be a number that you use to beat yourself over the head with, think of it as a learning tool. Along the way, in the game, you’ll come across B-Side cassettes, which offer up tough and new variations of the levels. This offers great replay value for Celeste players and a particular challenge too. The main game isn’t a breeze and the B-Sides offer up an even tougher challenge.
There are a few items in the game to collect including strawberries and boost refills. The game indicates that collecting the strawberries don’t really matter, it’s only something to show off to your friends rather than having a meaningful effect on gameplay. However, it’s a nice addition for completionists and provides a new angle for gameplay. More often than not levels are fairly straight forward to get through however if you want to collect all the strawberries you’re going to have to take a moment and think about your route. Once you collect a strawberry you’re going to have to get your feet back on safe ground to collect. As well as the strawberries dotted around the stage, and there’s plenty to collect, there are also boost refills hidden amongst the stages which you’ll need to use to successfully get to the next stage or the end goal. These form part of clever and challenging puzzles throughout Celeste.
The character development in Celeste is strong with a cast of characters you’ll get to know over the game. There’s the Old Woman who at first seems harsh, Theo your fellow traveller full of useful advice, The Strange Hotel owner and of course Madeline’s evil twin. Madeline is at the centre of the story and her battling with her emotions and feelings offers genuine moments of joy, sadness and wonder. The developers have done a great job with the characters in the game by developing them at the right time and offering up meaningful connections to the player. By the end, you’ll be rooting for Madeline as she attempts to scale the mountain. Further enforcing the character development are the cut scenes between levels. There are a few moments in the game where the hair stands up on the back on your neck offering genuine surprise and delight. There’s a particularly good scene in a cable car where Madeline has a panic attack and Theo attempts to calm her down. Madeline visualises a feather floating in the breeze and this helps regulate her breathing. This mechanic is used later in the game, I won’t ruin the surprise but it’s a fantastic moment in the game which shouldn’t be missed.
The art style in the game is 16-bit pixel art harking back to the days of the SNES or Megadrive. As well as the characters the backgrounds are beautiful, vibrant and colourful. Each stage is varied enough from the dark depths below the mountain, to the dank, broken hotel. The light, bright levels towards to the top of the mountain perfectly accompany Madeline on her journey. Then there’s the music. This is some of the best music in video games hands down, no exception. The music is dreamy, upbeat and strange complimenting the graphics and keeping the pace with the speed that you travel through the levels. There’s no voice acting in the game as such but opts for an old style beep and muffled sounds. This adds to the charm in the game. Celeste’s soundtrack by Lena Raine is something I’d happily sit there and listen to while at work or on a journey.
In summary, Celeste is a great game and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys video games. The game feels great, rewards players and combines great story beats with gorgeous art and excellent music. I look forward to the upcoming DLC for Celeste and am looking forward to spending more time in this world with Madeline and the crew. If you haven’t played this game, stop what you are doing right now and go and buy it. I played the game on Nintendo Switch and it offers up a perfect companion experience on a plane, train or bus as well as a fine experience sitting in front of a TV with a controller.
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Switch
Release Date: 25th January 2018