Celeste is a 2D platformer that oozes charm through every aspect. In it, the player takes control of Madeline, who is determined to climb up Celeste Mountain.
The game really is a classic 2D platformer at heart, but with some extra moves that modernise the gameplay, bringing a fresh feel to the game, and adding the right amount of elements to give the game a great amount of variety and challenge throughout.
The player is able to run, jump, cling to walls and climb. Clinging to walls and climbing uses stamina, and after a while, Madeline will be too tired to cling to the wall any longer, and will begin to slide back down. These basic abilities are then joined by a dash mechanic which is added shortly after learning the basics. Dashing can be done on the ground, or in midair in one of the 4 main directions, or any of the 45 degree angles in between. The midair dash can only be done once before Madeline must touch the ground before being able to do so again.
All of these moves have been polished to the point that they are responsive, reliable, and feel good to execute in combination. With the control firmly in the hand of the player, the game then adds more complexity by adding extra elements to the levels that influence how the player can move, such as moving platforms, springs, bubbles that fling Madeline, or gems that can be collected to recharge the dash in midair. All of these extra elements are used cleverly to add new ways to overcome the hazards of the mountain and keep gameplay fun and entertaining during play.
Celeste is by no means an easy game. The game expects you to die. Often. Each time you move off the screen, the game provides you with a new checkpoint to spawn at, and death only takes a fraction of a second before the map is reloaded with Madeline ready to go again. The painlessness of death ensures that frustrations are kept to a minimum and usually, the respawns are timed so that the player is able to immediately launch back into another attempt, removing any of the waiting around for time-based obstacles to get back into position. Even with the death time being low, and the respawn being carefully timed, if players find that the constant deaths are a bit much, the developers have also included an assist mode which gives the players the flexibility to tune the game difficulty to one that suits them. Madeline can be made invincible, so spikes and other hazards won’t harm her, or can be given extra midair dashes in order to help with those tricky jumps. The game can also be slowed in order to give players more time to react.
Beating the game is difficult enough, but the maps are cleverly designed to offer additional challenge through the use of allowing players to collect strawberries, which offer no benefit or purpose, other than one’s sense of achievement when collecting them. These strawberries are hidden well throughout the levels, which, in addition to giving extra challenge in some of the platforming segments, also encourages the player to explore all of the small nooks and crannies to try to find hidden passages.
In each level, a cassette tape can be found, which unlocks a B-Side for that level which uses the same level elements but turns the difficulty up, providing a challenge to even the most skilled players. With all of this to do and more, there’s a lot of challenge and exploring hidden behind this deceptively simple platformer.
The story of Celeste follows Madeline as she climbs Celeste Mountain. Throughout the climb, she discovers the Mountain has qualities that bring out people’s inner thoughts and feelings. This might sound like some silly fantasy storyline, but what it does is bring Madeline’s mental health into the spotlight in a mature and meaningful way. In order to bring this story to life, Madeline encounters a few other characters on her journey who have their own perspectives giving a great amount of depth and development to the story.
Visually, the game is quite nice to look at, if you don’t mind pixel-art. The palette has been chosen well, and Madeline looks nice, in addition to regular animation, also has some squeeze and stretch effects that add extra motion and charm to the visuals. When the characters are talking to each other, the backgrounds for the text are dependent on the character, and the portraits have their own adorable art style with cute animations which change depending on what the character is saying and the way that they are saying it. These little scenes convey a lot more personality than would normally be expected.
The sound design backs up these cutscenes perfectly too. Each character has their own voice, which has a lot of personality, even though the lines aren’t fully voiced. The series of little mumbles and chirps that the characters make convey the character’s line delivery by shifting pitch and tone, which adds to the personality of the visuals, giving these scenes a great amount of sincerity which helps drive the story.
Not only are the sound effects and voices great, the music is brilliant. Throughout the level, the music that is playing can increase or decrease in intensity, which adds to the feeling of the moment that the player is in. It adds a great deal of atmosphere to the stages that not only feels great in the moment, but also sounds incredible on it’s own.
At the heart of the gameplay, Celeste is a 2D platformer. But the sum of it’s parts make it so much more than that. A definite must-play that can’t be recommended highly enough.