Celeste (Switch eShop) Review
Normally when reviewing a game for Vooks, I try to juggle my time between the review and other games I’m playing for personal enjoyment. Celeste, the beautiful 2-D mountain-climber it is, joins the rare company of being both my review game and personal enjoyment game simultaneously. Heading straight to the top of my (very long) list of games to play whenever I have downtime, and consuming my thoughts even when I’m not playing, Celeste is an incredible game for many reasons.
Taking place on the oft-precarious and mysterious Celeste Mountain, Celeste is a 2D platformer starring a player-named protagonist, a young woman who is hell-bent on reaching the summit. Along the way, she encounters various strange supernatural powers manifesting in increasingly sinister ways. None of these obstacles in her way holds a candle to the greatest threat on Celeste Mountain – herself.
With the ability to wall-jump, briefly climb vertical surfaces, and dash midair, Celeste sounds like a path well-trodden. Many games feature similar abilities and more, including fantastic indie platformers such as Super Meat Boy and Ori and the Blind Forest – why would Celeste be any different? To dismiss the creation of developer Matt Makes Games as yet another entry in a heavily saturated genre would be an incredible injustice. Celeste is more than its gameplay, more than its beautiful soundtrack, and more than its precise platforming design. How the game uses all facets of game design to construct a beautiful tale of finding direction in life is simply superb. To attempt to adequately encapsulate everything that is good about Celeste would be setting myself up for failure.
And that’s okay. The game shows you it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to rely on others. Most of all, it is okay to fail.
And fail you will, in Celeste. Repeatedly. The game is comprised of chapters filled with seamless levels which require large amounts of trial and error to successfully navigate. There are copious collectables to find in the form of strawberries – plus other top-secret items which I won’t spoil here. However, despite sounding intimidating for players uncomfortable with platforming, Celeste has a great attitude towards difficulty. All of the collectables are completely optional, meaning the hardcore challenge is there for those who seek it, not as a gatekeeper preventing enjoyment for all. Further to this, Celeste offers a variety of accessibility options to incrementally alter its difficulty. Players can reduce the game’s speed or increase stamina, for example, which allows for a significantly gentler learning curve. It also makes a statement that everyone is welcome, and players can feel free to take it at their own pace. Celeste does recommend playing through the story on its default difficulty – for reasons I’ll discuss shortly – but the message is presented in a non-condescending way, understanding of everyone’s motivations for playing games.
Acceptance and making peace with oneself is at the heart of Celeste. Incredibly, Celeste makes you feel everything the protagonist does. Sure, the brief sections of high quality, nuanced writing certainly help you connect with the characters, but this is only one component in what is a delicately crafted creation. What really drives the emotional beats throughout Celeste is how interwoven the writing, visuals and sounds are with the physical gameplay. Certain sections of the game manipulate the way abilities are used or add variations to the environment which translate the protagonist’s struggles into a tangible, playable experience. One collection of levels sees the protagonist running away scared from a foreboding presence where everything is cranked up to 11 – the music starts pounding, the normally serene vistas distorted, and the player is forced to play at a frenetic pace. I felt the full spectrum of emotions while playing Celeste, and it was because of moments like these, how the playable and non-playable elements were so wonderfully interwoven to produce such a touching piece of media.
Celeste has given me cause to reflect on my history with games – especially 2D platformers. It’s the worst-kept secret that the Donkey Kong Country series is my favourite of all time. The series morphed me into the 2D-platforming fiend I am today. Combining a wonderful banana-infused cocktail of grand level design, infectiously catchy tunes, and a menagerie of enemies to conquer, I view the DKC games as all-time classics. However, like many Nintendo-developed platformers, DKC remains thin in the narrative department. Although telling an intricately woven story is far from necessary when the gameplay is so joyful, Celeste proves that doing both can elevate a game from being “fun”, to becoming an emotionally gripping and memorable experience. Instead of relying on an external motivation, such as reclaiming a stolen banana hoard or rescuing a family member, Celeste focuses inwards. Its introspective look at fighting crippling self-doubt and dissatisfaction with everyday life is instantly relatable and establishes a powerful connection with the protagonist. I will remember this game for a very long time.
Celeste transcends its status as a 2D-platforming game. It will challenge you at every step, while always checking in to offer you support. Celeste is a beautifully human experience that reminds us that games are capable of showing genuine emotion and conveying the beauty of our imperfections. Buy and play this game as soon as you are able.
- Tight and rewarding platforming
- Touching and relatable narrative
- Employs all facets of game design to create a showcase for the medium's capabilities
- Equally challenging and accessible for all players
- For real? Did you not read anything I wrote?
- Are you gonna keep hounding me for a negative?
- Okay then. The game ends.