Game Over: Celeste
Celeste had been on my radar for a while as I’m a big fan of 2D platformers, so when I finally got around to it, after getting my Nintendo Switch in the summer of 2019, I knew I was in for a treat. If you’re familiar with the title you will almost certainly know how frustrating and challenging it can be, so if you were to guess that I spent a lot of time on the edge of my seat one death away from a broken Pro Controller, then you were to guess entirely correctly.
Until I played Celeste, I had mostly spent my time with other titans in the genre, such as Super Mario World, Sonic Mania, and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. The last two are not afraid to make you want to swear off them for good. Celeste wasn’t that much of a mystery, since I had seen what people were saying online; it sounded intimidating.
Celeste follows a young girl named Madeline who has decided to climb a mountain called Mount Celeste while facing her inner demons during her quest to reach the summit. She ignores the warnings from an old woman named Granny who lives at its base. Madeline then makes her way through a deserted city, where she encounters a fellow traveller named Theo. The two keep bumping into each other throughout the game but I really don’t want to spoil it.
As I played through the main campaign, I started to notice how well the collectibles were integrated into the game. There are these things called strawberries which, if you collect enough of them, unlock bonus content that, surprisingly, is even more challenging than the main story.
The controls are razor sharp too. Never in my 10+ hour playthrough did I feel like I had died unfairly. Even in the later sections of it, I still felt like it was me who messed up, not the game, which is quite impressive for an indie title. There must have been a big focus on getting the controls right while still making sure the challenge is fair; it’s worth commending.
As I briefly mentioned before, the characters are quite charming and written well enough for me to remember them long after I put the game down for good. While there isn’t any voice acting, as it’s all done through little chirps, it’s still made to sound like what the text is displaying on the screen — think like Cappy from Mario Odyssey’s style of speaking.
I was also surprised at how diverse each location felt despite Celeste’s pixelated art style. The hotel feels unique compared to the Golden Ridge, the Forsaken City is different compared to the Mirror Temple, and so on.
But what I haven’t mentioned yet is the music. This is a stellar soundtrack that will get you pumped up, crying, and jumping for joy, all in a matter of hours. Another smart move by the developer is using this to show how the location and the music are relevant to the story wherever it may be. For example, when Madeline is at her lowest point emotionally, it’s also the lowest altitude, and the music reflects that. Choices like this made me want to keep getting better and helped elevate it above other titles, in my opinion. However, I wouldn’t recommend playing it for long sessions, especially if you’re someone who gets frustrated easily.
I know for myself I had to take a break at some points and do something before coming back to figure out a platforming puzzle. I also didn’t find looking things up online that helpful, which is actually refreshing based on how often I feel the need to do that sometimes. Celeste has no multiplayer whatsoever, so the best I could do was bang my head against a wall until I found a solution. Like a real rock climber!
If you have a Nintendo Switch or basically any modern console and don’t mind a challenge then you should definitely check out Celeste. It’s rewarding, great to control, and deals with some touchy subjects. It’s also not too long of a playthrough, in case that would put you off — I finished the game in a few days. At the very least, you can play the developer’s next game; I hear it’s going to be different.