Celeste (Switch) – Platforming… And Symbolism?

Released on: January 25 2018

Available Platforms: PC, Linux, macOS, Playstation 4, XBOXOne, Nintendo Switch

Price: $21.99 CDN ($19.99 US)

Published by: Matt Makes Games Developed by: Matt Makes Games

Occasionally, I like browsing digital storefronts for deals on games. Typically, it’s indie games that get the most significant price cuts during these sales. While it would be ideal for indie developers to make as much of a return on their games as possible, I won’t deny that a sale is a sale. This was the case with Celeste. I heard amazing things from this indie darling, so when I saw it was on a substantial discount, I had to pick it up. Is Celeste deserving of all the critical praise it garnered over the years?

In the middle of Vancouver Island lies a mountain waiting for climbers: Mount Celeste. At the foot of this mountain, we see Madeline, a young girl determined to climb it. She meets an older woman who warns her of the perils of the mountain, but Madeline cannot remains vigilant. With the fire in her eyes keeping her warm, she begins her dangerous climb. The intro to Celeste is short and sweet. It lets the player know what is going on, then allows them to start their journey in a relatively short amount of time. The further the player gets up the mountain, the more it becomes apparent that the mountain is more than just an obstacle.

A true Canadian warning if I ever heard one.

One of the reasons I love indie games so much is that indie developers aren’t afraid to go all-in on an art style that “triple-A” developers would consider outdated. Celeste is an excellent example of this concept, as it sports beautiful pixel art. What I admire about Celeste’s pixel art, though, is how it can achieve a sense of serenity (like when Madeline stops at a campsite), to a feeling of dread (like in the hotel) in a matter of minutes. The character portraits have a more traditional art style, which I find charming.

The gameplay is what I was looking forward to the most when I bought Celeste. I am happy to report that it does not disappoint. Celeste is a pure platformer, jumping from platform to platform to climb as high as possible and make it to the end of the level. Early in the game, Madeline gains the power to dash in the air in any direction. Celeste’s controls are spot on. Not only are they simple enough to understand, but the game will let the player know how to perform some of the slightly more complex moves (like wall-jumping and the air dash mentioned earlier). Celeste’s controls are so intuitive, successfully clearing tricky sections gives me a visceral sense of accomplishment. When I do fail (which happens often), I always felt like it was my fault.

That bird teaches the player Celeste’s defining mechanic: its dash.

I went into Celeste gungho since I grew up playing platformers, but calling Celeste easy wouldn’t be accurate. The levels are designed so that the player has to think before tackling the section. Of course, being the foolhardy fellow that I am, I typically go in guns blazing. More often than not, this results in death, but that’s okay. When the player dies in Celeste, they restart at the beginning of the section, which usually means they can try the challenging obstacle right away. I respect Celeste’s approach to its difficulty. It knows that the obstacle the player is facing isn’t easy. Instead of forcing the player to play through multiple challenges to get a second chance at the one that bested them, Celeste lets you try that one again, almost on the spot. It doesn’t put a “You Died” message on the screen every time the player fails, it just lets them try again.

From the very beginning, Celeste makes it evident that it believes in the player’s ability to climb the mountain.

This section contains spoilers. Those who wish to avoid spoilers, please skip to the next section. What I was pleasantly surprised by, is Celeste’s story. At one point, Madeline meets a dark version of herself. This entity never introduces itself, but it’s quite clear that this is a reflection of her doubts, as it continually tells her to turn back, that the mountain is too much for her. Madeline relents and runs from the dark reflection. I loved this section, as for one, I’m a sucker for stories that have the protagonist challenge their darker selves. For two: the way Celeste handles the dark reflection is brilliant! The first encounter with it, the dark reflection follows the player’s actions closely and will kill the player if it touches them. I took the dark reflection as a representation of one’s self-doubt, the voice inside us that says,” you can’t do this; this is too hard.” Celeste gives the player the chance to prove that voice wrong, that they can overcome their sense of uncertainty. What I also love is that Celeste tells the player not to despise this voice, as Madeline comes to terms with her dark reflection and convinces it to work together to climb the mountain. The dark reflection, that sense of self-doubt is a part of us that we should work with it, not destroy it. I got a little bit philosophical here, but this is what happens when a piece of media achieves brilliance, and Celeste’s story is a shining example of this. End of spoiler section


Without spoiling anything (there is a spoiler section above for those who want more context), Celeste’s story is phenomenal. I’m having trouble remembering if I played a platformer with a better story. Early on, Celeste introduces characters and plot elements that the player can easily interpret as either a charming romp up a mountain or a representation of personal challenges. This was something I wasn’t expecting when I booted up Celeste, but I am pleasantly surprised.

My only real gripe with Celeste is the difficulty. To those who are new to platformers, Celeste is a fantastic place to start, but it will be challenging. The game will not hold the player’s hand, but Celeste will not degrade them for making mistakes. Climbing a mountain isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy either.

Celeste is pure brilliance. Charming graphics, fantastic gameplay, and a wonderfully relatable story make Celeste a must-play. Even at regular price, I cannot recommend Celeste enough, especially for fans of platformers.

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