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Indie 2D platformers are a dime a dozen these days. The market is in no short supply of these retro throwbacks nor are they slowing down anytime soon. However, most if not all of them are pretty common. From a basic narrative, to simple yet addictive gameplay, to even the art reminding us of the games from the past that inspired it. Yet, they work for a reason because they constantly keep the player invested. However, a lot of the times they leave the overall lasting experience to be a one and done deal leaving not much room for a discussion outside of the gameplay. Then Celeste came around and changed my perception of that mentality. It’s one of those special titles that comes along every so often and manages to not only be a fun experience but one that is incredibly thoughtful with how everything is woven together.
The overall narrative is simple to grasp it follows a girl named Madeline who after breaking up with her boyfriend finds her life to be in a rut. She doesn’t feel motivated to accomplish much and suffers with anxiety and depression. To get herself out of this mess she decides to climb Mount Celeste the largest mountain in Canada. While it may seem like a simple trek up the snowy peak it holds some twisted secrets that get more insane after the other. Thankfully, she isn’t alone on her journey as she meets up with Theo who shows up from time to time. Giving Madeline some good advice along with being supportive of who she is. It’s up to her to brave the tall mountain and see it all the way to the top.
2D platformer narratives have never been a strong suit for the genre. A story is needed but it’s never the driving force for the player. For example, I’m sure many who play games like Super Mario Brothers aren’t thinking about why Mario is trying to rescue the princess or what drives him to do that. No, the main draw is always the controls and thoughtful level design along with its difficulty or progression of said difficulty. However, Celeste managed to stand out by being a compelling narrative. The basic theme is understanding who you are and learning to cope with and not being in full control of your life. Madeline faces this plenty of times throughout the game and even has a evil doppelganger that tries sabotaging her through the entire journey. Growing up sucks everyone can admit to that and with growing up there’s this constant struggle of not fully grasping on where you should go. At first we may have a good idea but that’ll be shattered when life decides to give us a curveball that we can’t hit. This is very rare for a game to be handling such intense themes like this while also doing them well. It can be an emotionally heart tugging narrative, but it has a good sense of humor and never gets too serious.
Art & Music
The art in Celeste is very nice the pixel art has a wide color palette ranging from light blue’s to dark purples. The superb art is complemented by the wonderful animation. All the characters have fluid and well done movements and are believable with all the actions they do. The character designs are also wonderful, looking like they were ripped straight out of the Scott Pilgrim series. All of them look very distinct and the style is complementing the setting of the narrative. As for the music it’s wonderful. The tracks can range from being peaceful to intense. There was never any point that the music in the game did not fit with the stage or what was happening narratively. It managed to covay a tense amount of emotion that swept through the entire game and can be peaceful to listen to in the background.
Obviously, the most important part of any game is the gameplay itself and it’s a 2D side scroller. The core of Celeste is the simple run and jump over obstacles and hazards to get to a goal that being the end of the level. Not to say it doesn’t do that well but it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel. The game does have a dash feature which is a crucial part of the level design. A lot of getting around require’s the dash mechanic and getting through the trickier platforming sections require it. Looks are deceiving though, while it’s style may lead the player on that this will be a simple romp that simply is not the case. This game is not for the faint of heart as Celeste will challenge the player. I mean the story is a girl climbing a mountain did you think this would be a walk in the park? There hasn’t been a title since Super Meat Boy came out and prove it can be just as tough yet rewarding. The game will test your best abilities on the great amount of challenging platforming sections. While it can be difficult it’s never unfair every death felt is in your control. There was never a point where Celeste cheated the player nor did the level design felt unachievable. It may take a few tries but patience is the key. Their is another option just in case the game is too challenging. The assist mode is basically an enabled mode that can give you everything. From unlimited stamina to invincibility to unlimited dashes the best thing about this feature is that it isn’t forced onto the player. For the most part the game encourages the player to see through the entire game without this mode, it can only be turned on if they want it on. Which strikes a nice balance of what some hardcore players will want, which is a tough and fair challenge, while giving an easier mode just so casuals can enjoy the game. If there’s one thing to criticise it would have to be the bosses. The normal platforming sections work fine on their own since they’re condensed into small areas. However, the bosses are more marathons of sorts yes there are checkpoints but they tend to drag on and only add a type of obstacle to avoid among the other hazards. They were the weakest aspect of Celeste however, they do not bring down the overall experience. The main campaign is seven chapters in length for skilled individuals they could breeze through this game within a few hours. However, taking breaks is recommended as hand cramps and twitchyness can affect the assent. If the main game is too easy then try going for a hundred percent. That will require excellent platforming skills as for each world there are hidden strawberries and hearts to collect. Not to mention with every level hiding a cassette tape which contains a harder level of the one they previously defeated. They for the most part are nothing but completionist fodder but they’re there if you want a bigger challenge. There is an epilogue if your willing to get all the hearts in the game but for most just beating it will be a good enough accomplishment.
Celeste is surprising mainly because of its narrative. The way how everything came together made it a pleasant journey from beginning to end. While by no means that this game is a walk in the park it offers a good level of challenge and is completely fair. While also being beautiful to look at. Celeste is one of those special games that manages to capture a fun and diverse experience that makes going back through previous chapters fun. It’s worth your time and money and so far a favorite game of mine this year.
Celeste is available for PC/Mac, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch