Celeste is a Magical Platformer That’s Worth Playing
In front of you is an insurmountable task. A task that makes you want to lie down in your bed and give up. But Madeline stands, ready to climb Celeste Mountain. She’s scared and ever more weary of herself, but she still faces her challenge head on. The cruel, cold wind of nature seeps in as she gets higher and self-doubt plagues her mind. And she must face her fears, depression, and reconcile with her condition. This is a platformer called Celeste. And the challenge of its gameplay, and the engrossing storytelling come hand-in-hand beautifully.
I’m not usually up for a challenge in my video games. I’ve given up early on with Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Megaman 2, and Super Meat Boy. But Celeste’s tale of overcoming her hurdles and triumphing over depression’s hold of herself, made me keep going until the very end.
Matt Thorson, the developer behind the game, geniusly designed Celeste’s levels and complimented the design with the storytelling and how the main character Madeline feels. There’s no attack button, crafting button, or shooting button. It’s all just movement and multiple jumps with the X button. That’s it. And yet, Thorson was able to keep adding on gameplay elements, providing new challenges to the player with the platforming. The overall experience is refined and whenever you fail, you know it’s your fault and you know there is a way to succeed. It’s incredibly fun to figure out the puzzle of each section as a daunting section of a level may look like it’s against all odds, but it’s possible. That’s the beauty of Celeste’s gameplay.
The level design goes so well with the story that Celeste is trying to tell. And it’s accentuated by the stand out moments against Madeline’s other-self. Madeline in breakneck speed has to outrun her as striking pixel art fills the screen. These sections also surprise the player and test him or her to the limit. These gameplay sections reflect how she feels in these states of panic. It reminds me of how I feel with my anxiety and my self-doubt. This other self keeps pushing her down and says she can’t climb the mountain that is increasingly more difficult. This is incredibly accurate as to what anxiety and depression feel like on a day-to-day basis. And despite Madeline’s voice being non-descript, you can tell the anguish she feels in her tone. I hope it lets players know how it feels to go through this pain.
What helps wrap up the game altogether is the music by Lena Raine. The wonderful main theme introduced in First Steps carries through to the end of the game, and she manages to express the emotion and atmosphere of each trial and moment within the game’s walkthrough. Another nice touch is that the music changes, depending on which part of the level you are in, making it dynamic.
I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, so you can enjoy the game yourself, and you should from here on in, go in blind. Celeste is likely going to be my game of the generation. The gameplay is thrilling intense platforming moments, the story is deeply relatable, and the music is masterfully crafted to help tell the highs and lows of Madeline’s journey. Take your first steps in the snow, and climb Mount Celeste. It might just change your perspective on how gameplay and a storyline can be intertwined in such a beautiful way. I will remember it for years to come.
Jason Capp also recommended Celeste in his Top 10 Indie Platformers of the Decade article. Have you tried Celeste before and if you have what are your experiences with it? Let us know below!
Epic Games: https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/product/celeste/home
Ever since playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Mega Drive (that’s right, Americans!), Chris has had a love of the gaming medium. He may write too much about Kingdom Hearts, but he also likes to play first person shooters, platformers, Japanese RPGs, walking experiences, and more! You can check him out on the Active Quest podcast every week with Joseph Yaden and Josh Nichols.