Celeste Review: A Masterpiece Atop the Mountain

I know what you’re thinking.  Another indie game with retro stylized pixel art.  Platforming inspired by older SNES era games and difficult game-play relying on almost pixel-perfect timing. Only things missing are the words rouge-like  and crafting system for me to fill out my bingo card, but hang on, don’t roll eyes at it and dismiss this game yet. There is enough going on in this game to separate it from the crowd and make it worth our time.

Celeste begins with a young girl named Madeline, arriving at the base of a mysterious mountain named Celeste Mountain.  This is where Madeline begin her climb to the summit and the background stories are revealed throughout the course of the game.  Celeste does an amazing job weaving narrative and game-play together instead of placing the story in the backseat to be figured out.  The game lets the characters speak and interact in way where neither overshadows the other. Celeste doesn’t bog itself down with too many characters, but includes just enough for the story to be told.  Also, the few existing characters are likable, well written, and well presented.

When it comes to platforms, story usually isn’t very high on the priority list, so for Celeste to not only include it but for it to be good as well is quite a feat. Madeline’s story starts when she feels stuck in a rut with her life going nowhere.  She feels that the only way she can go forward is by shaking things up rather drastically by deciding to climb a mountain.  Unbeknownst to her, Celeste Mountain is a bit different than the others as it doesn’t  obey normalcy.   As she explores the ancient ruins, she comes face to face with a part of her that she tried so hard to leave behind. Stories  about facing the darkness in our hearts aren’t new, but Celeste manages to feel fresh by having a simple, easy to relate to protaganist with goals and flaws that we all have;  All while doing a decent job handling a sensitive subject.

Gameplay Vid of Chapter 1

 

Gameplay controls with three buttons.  One to jump, second to dash, and third to grab on to walls.  But the fluid movement and responsive buttons make Madeline a joy to control.  It’s an incredible simple foundation that eases you in and then quickly ramps up to the point, where you’re being called on to execute a quick action with near perfect timing.  You may even die a lot, but you’ll keep trying and trying, trying to get more and more cross each time, until everything pisses you off.  You’ll start arguing with the game over what does and what does not count as a collision.  You’ll start yelling swear words until  they no longer come out as coherent language.  Then you reach a zen-like state where everything clicks and you perfectly clear all obstacles until you reach the next room, where it all repeats. Then upon completing the level, the game shows you how many times you died, and you know what? Screw you game!  I’m proud of myself.  I made it through without taking a bat to someone’s head.

Design wise, the levels are very well made with a wide range of scenery from cities, to ruins, and to forest;  the beautiful art style and music really add to the game’s charm, which it exudes from every pixel.  It also manages to stave off repetition by including new game play elements with every chapter, which are unique to each level. Celeste also makes its levels feel less linear by including multiple paths in every level that lead to a plethora of collectible items, such as strawberries or b-side tapes that unlock new versions of each level.  There’s even a low res mini version of the game that you can find and play, like how super meat boy had. Overall, Celeste’s good writing, story, and characters combine nicely with its well-designed levels.  It creates a truly worthwhile experience.

The only negative I had was that the game would randomly start chugging in it’s frame rate (and I doubt this was my computer’s fault). So I would have to stand still for a sec, which kinda broke the flow.  However, this didn’t happen frequently and shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  I might sound like I’m on my knees, mouth firmly around the game’s joystick, but you’ll understand my praise if you give the game a chance.

Available Consoles:PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One, Linux, Mac

 

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