Celeste released to pure critical acclaim, even being nominated for multiple “Game of the Year” awards in 2018. But on the surface Celeste looks like any other 2D platformer, so why did it get special treatment?
So many 2D platformers released today feel like they’ve missed the mark. They usually depend on unique one-note gameplay mechanics to get noticed without giving other parts of the game the polish or attention they need. Celeste avoids this mistake—its gameplay feels a bit subdued, just being a simple platformer where you can jump, dash, and climb. Celeste’s gameplay is well designed, though, and has a lot of hidden depth to it. But that’s not even the game’s greatest strength. Unlike most platformers, the most interesting part of Celeste is its story.
Celeste tells the tale of a young girl named Madeline who decides to climb Celeste Mountain. That is a straightforward plot premise, but much like the gameplay, it has a hidden and unexpected depth to it. As the story unfolds, you learn more about Madeline, mostly in her interactions with the other characters you meet on the mountain. In doing so, Celeste tackles relatively serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety, with Madeline being at the center of it all.
But while depression is where Celeste derives most of its themes, it doesn’t allow that to make the game depressing. The game keeps a lighthearted tone throughout, highlighted by more emotional moments. The writing is witty and charming, making each member of the relatively small cast feeling wholly unique from each other.
Both Celeste’s gameplay and story are expertly designed to be deceivingly simple, with multiple layers of hidden depth behind them. This alone would be enough to make Celeste a good game, but what elevates it to be a great game is how the gameplay and story work together. Both add meaning to each other.
Celeste is a challenging game. While it’s not about pixel-perfect platforming (at least in the primary levels), you will see Madeline die more than you’d like too. This could easily cause frustration, but the game minimizes this using two methods. One is the checkpoint system (when you die you’re unlikely to lose more than 30 seconds of progress), which is complemented by the game’s lack of a lives system. Second is the gameplay’s ties to the story. Celeste focuses on Madeline coming to terms with her problems and overcoming them. It’s a nice parallel to the player overcoming the game’s difficulty and dying hundreds of times.
But if the game’s harder levels do prove to be too much of a challenge, then Celeste offers an alternative way to play. This is called “Assist Mode,” an easier difficulty setting made to make the game more accessible. It allows the player to tweak the game’s core mechanics, including more stamina for climbing, multiple air dashes after jumping, and invulnerability. This is a great addition. It allows those who are unable to overcome the game’s difficulty to experience all the levels—without diminishing the experience for those that love a challenge.
Pixel art is used as the style of choice for the levels and characters. The sprite work is detailed and doesn’t let the setting of a mountain deter it from pumping the screen full of color. GUI elements are scarce, but most use a crisp visual style that pops out from the game’s pixelated nature.
Celeste’s soundtrack is also excellent, featuring over 20 unique music tracks. The cutscenes don’t use voice acting but rather have the characters use captions for dialogue while making odd but charming noises
There is one major design flaw in Celeste, though. To unlock the last two bonus levels of the game, you must complete some of the game’s B-Side levels—remixed versions of the normal levels. These stages can become a bit frustrating and might prove too much for some players.
Despite that design flaw, Celeste is still worthy of your time and money. It currently goes for $20 and is available on all modern consoles and PC. Whether you’re a fan of the platforming genre or not, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
Here’s What We Like
- Great story and gameplay
- Colorful visuals
- Fantastic music
And What We Don't
- Locks story elements behind difficult levels