Celeste spawned from Matt Thorson, and Noel Berry making Celeste in PICO-8. From there, they felt inspired to create a full release based off of this game. Both tasks in Celeste Classic (2015) and Celeste (2018) are very similar. It tasks the player to climb the Celeste mountain. However, Celeste (2018) crafts a beautiful story around climbing this mountain. The game puts you in the shoes of Madeline, a woman who comes to a mountain with the hopes that she can make it to the zenith.
The very first moment of the game is you arriving and the person dropping you off telling you that you can climb this mountain. Fast-forward a few stages after that opening scene to a mysterious old woman telling you that you are not capable of climbing this mountain. And then to begin laughing in your face. This knocks the wind out of you, and makes you feel defeated before you even embark on your journey. However, you push off this old woman and make your way up the mountain. The first real step of your journey feels magical. It’s as if this mountain is hiding something that Madeline is hiding as well. She is hiding her inner feelings from the world, because she doesn’t want to be viewed as weak. In fact, she wants to be viewed as someone who will be able to climb this mountain without any difficulty. The more she reveals about herself to another climber, Theo, the more she shows her true self. Someone who is broken, and confused about where to progress with her career and life. She came to this mountain, as if it were to have some answers for her; where she meets another climber named Theo and almost immediately trusts him. Madeline and Theo click because they find themselves strangers in an unknown place.The relationship shown in
Celeste is reminiscent to the one in Lost in Translation with Bob and Charlotte. Two complete strangers who found themselves in an unknown land. This relationship made the connection between the two characters feel more special. Their only intention was to climb this mountain; they didn’t know they’d meet each other along the way and the conversations that result from this mostly coincidental meeting make that relationship all the more special.
Madeline is a character that I really resonated with through Celeste’s journey.She doubts herself, but is so full of ambition. She wants to accomplish this great feat, but her inner self is telling her something different. In fact, her doubts become a villain in the game. Literally named Part of Me, it’s the side of you that doesn’t believe in you. It’s that voice in the back of your head that we all try to ignore but sometimes gets the best of you. It’s the direct opposite of the voice of reason, it’s the voice of opposition. It tells you constantly that you are not strong enough, and berates you. Except, Madeline knows she is stronger than that. She pulls her head up, and muscles on as much as she can. No matter the task, and this is something that I wish I can do. Madeline shows strength in the darkest places. During the course of the game, she has a panic attack. And there is this mini-game where her friend Theo tells her this trick that his grandfather showed him. You imagine a feather in front of you, and you breathe in and out. I found this oddly calming, because when my anxiety flares up. I tend to run away from it as quick as I can, and lock myself away from people. However, Madeline is unable run away because she is currently climbing a mountain, and her other presence, Part of Me, making her confront her problems. So, for her to confront her problem with such strength gave me joy. And it made me hopeful, that someday I can muster up the same amount that she showed.
Celeste does a great job of immediately introducing the player to the way that Madeline is able to maneuver the environment. She is able to jump, dash, and climb. These controls are simple, and allow for very quick gameplay. One of the pluses to the game is that each death allows for learning. It makes you hone your skills more and more. Also, each death doesn’t really set you back. It puts you back to the beginning of each screen, and this makes each screen different from the last. Every death makes you wonder if you are even capable of climbing this mountain. Celeste is about this long, dangerous journey but with each screen being focusing on speed makes it fascinating. Speed and slowness may be opposites, but when done correctly they blossom. This is one the beautiful things about Celeste is this marriage of slow and fast.
I’m not someone who is good at platformers. Hell, every time I watch a speedrun with any platformer and I get amazed. Luckily I found the game’s difficulty to be a constant and easy to adjust to slope. It lt slowly goes up as if you are actually climbing the mountain. The closer you get to the peak, the harder the climb becomes. The game’s difficulty varies on the stage and this works in the game’s favor. In fact the game even has an “Assist Mode” for players. The intent of this “Assist” is to help out people without feeling like a handhold. I used two of the options during the third stage, and kept them turned on for the rest of my time with the game. Being able to slow down the game helped me time my jumps better, and helped me die less. Another thing this “Assist” was helpful for was by giving Madeline unlimited stamina. Being able to slow down and think about the next move was extremely helpful in some of the more different screens of the game.
The seven stages are vastly different from the last. This is something that kept me on my toes, because there was no repeating mechanic in each level. This helped make the challenge more intriguing. It makes you think about the movements and timing more and more as you progress. Every step of the journey feels really unique, and this is something which adds to the mystery of the mountain. With each stage feeling uniquely different from the next, allowing for a level of complexity. Whether it be these rocks you can travel through or red bubbles that help you move in one direction for an indefinite amount of time. The phrase, “Easy to learn, hard to master” feels right at home with Celeste. While each stage is uniquely different, the differing mechanics in each stage task you with slowly take time to understand them. The notion of death fits perfectly here; every moment is a learning one. You tell yourself what to do right, and what you did wrong. While this may begin to slowly get annoying, I found it to be helpful. No matter how it took, the moment I was able to nail the perfect chain of events after struggling felt so rewarding. Even if it meant that I advanced one screen, the slow progress would be something I enjoyed. The game focuses so much on quickness, but it makes you take each screen step-by-step sometimes.
Something that helped solidify the atmosphere of Celeste was the music. It builds and adds to the mystery of the mountain. Every stage has its own unique music, and this was helped making explore the stages so intriguing. The music is special, and it’s one of my favorite gaming soundtracks of all time. I distinctly remember playing the second stage, and having the soundtrack in the background. It put me in this kind of trance, where I was listening but focusing on my every motion. This was a kind of spiritual moment for me, because it’s not often that I get lost in the music while playing a game. Typically video game soundtracks are something that I put on the backburner and barely pay attention to. But this wasn’t the case for me with Celeste and it was the complete opposite. The synth beats in the second stage were something that really pulled me in. In fact, each stage the soundtrack reflects the tone; building and making you feel the tone being presented. By mixing this beautiful acoustic guitar with a piano helps make it serene. The track called, “Madeline and Theo” represents this notion beautifully; it’s calming but it helps establish the mood of the characters as well.
Celeste is something beautiful. This game has helped me understand something that I don’t even know that much about. Anxiety and depression. Having the former, the tale of Madeline resonated with me more than I thought it would. Her want and need to persevere is inspiring. Combining that with seven masterfully thought out stages, each with different mechanics, made me think about the base mechanics differently. Even having turned on the “Assist Mode” in the game, it didn’t feel overbearing and helped me complete the game where I couldn’t do it normally. The initial task and goal of the game seemed gargantuan, but by taking my time and thinking through every moment made it possible. This game helped me understand something that I have and didn’t how to approach.
This review was based on a copy of the game purchased by the reviewer for Nintendo Switch.