Climbing a mountain should be as good for the soul as it is for the calves. “Celeste” is a 2-D platformer where quick thinking and even quicker reflexes will help the main character, Madeline, climb to the very summit of the Celeste Mountain. While Madeline has the ability to climb vertical walls and perform a mid-air dash, scaling the peak is no easy feat.
Everything from pinpoint jumps to Madeline’s own inner demons will try to prevent you from reaching the top. You’ll watch your death counter climb along as you experience failure after failure, but the game’s quick reloading, constant checkpoints and fair gameplay make this less discouraging than you would expect. Failure is more motivating than disheartening in this fun and satisfying adventure.
Though “Celeste” requires exact movements from its players, the game itself is really a puzzle game. You’re given a limited number of versatile abilities, and the game is constantly adding new obstacles with strange and interesting gameplay mechanics that must be overcome. Making the jump is only half the battle: First, you need to figure out which jump you need to make in the first place. In this way, Celeste keeps its platforming fun and fresh, with new levels presenting interesting new challenges to overcome.
The game features a charming pixelated art style and an understated yet pleasant soundtrack, but the real treat is the story and its characters. Madeline is not the only soul on the mountain, and the people she meets shape her journey to the top in interesting and often humorous ways. The story deals with some pretty heavy topics, including anxiety and depression, but does so in a way that’s neither pandering nor inaccurate. “Celeste” is totally sincere in its treatment of its troubled characters, which makes the story work well and keeps you engaged with the characters’ struggles.
It’s worth noting that “Celeste” is undeniably brutal. The challenge only ramps up, much like the mountain, and missing a jump by mere pixels will bring you back to the start of the room to try all over again. Celeste does a lot to mitigate frustration, but you’re unlikely to go through the entire game without it. The optional levels at the end require entire minutes of precision jumping and split-second reactions.
While this might be exactly what some players are looking for, casual players might understandably get turned off by this. It’s also difficult simply finding the items that unlock the extra stages and the true ending of the game, which “Celeste” doesn’t really let you know about ahead of time. That being said, the game offers all kinds of difficulty diminishers, from level skips to assist mode, to make the game more approachable.
If you go into “Celeste” with the correct expectations, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a challenging platform indie game that manages to tell a deeply personal story about overcoming physical and mental hardships. The story is as sincere and delightful as it is unique, and the platforming is interesting enough to keep you excited about what new and insane obstacle you’ll tackle next. It’s not a game for everyone, but if you think you might like it, you probably will.
Developed by: Matt Makes Games
Systems: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars