Played on Windows
Also Available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, and Linux
Celeste got a lot of attention last year when it came out. It was supposed to be a super hard platformer, and that can be a good description of it. I slept on it, but I kept hearing people talking about Celeste so I finally thought that it was time I took a look at it and see how it stacks up.
Celeste starts with our character Madeline, though you can name her what you’d prefer, starts at the base of a mountain named Celeste. From there it’s pretty much straight platforming to get to the top of the mountain with small breaks for short pieces of the story.
The graphics of Celeste is beautiful, using a wonderful 16-bit style to them, and creates a very appealing world. The first level just shows Madeline climbing a mountain, avoiding spikes and bottomless pits, and while it looks a bit plain, it works wonders for what it has.
But the game progresses through a number of levels and each one is beautiful and filled with different colors. There are a dreamscape, a hotel, and a lush jungle. Each level feels like it’s a new design that fits in the overall motif of Celeste. Visually Celeste is filled with color and creativity.
Celeste is downright gorgeous at times.
Similarly, the visual language of Celeste is quite clear. The items and features of Celeste are very clear and it’s always clear what each piece does after you first try it out. While each level introduces new features or ideas, it’s done in a way so the player can learn the rules before being required to show mastery of them.
But the thing that makes Celeste excel is their ability to combine the same look to the game over every level even as they add new features. Every level feels like it was designed for the same game, and Celeste has a consistently high quality of art design that makes the game flow as one connected but visually stunning experience.
Similarly, the music in Celeste is beautiful and really fits with the game. It’s upbeat lifting and wonderful. Giving a great experience to the game. Each chapter gets its own song and different sections of each chapter get different tunes but they all fit well with the game.
As I said, Celeste starts with the protagonist Madeline at the foot of a mountain intending to climb it. After a rocky start with a collapsing bridge, Madeline starts her ascent in the actual game.
You will meet a couple people along the way like Theo. From Seattle.
Celeste doesn’t appear to have a strong narrative as the player traverses the first couple of levels. Madeline meets a number of people, and in the second level, the game introduces an angry version of herself, but at first, this seems to be in the service of gameplay.
However later, as the game starts to wind down, it becomes clear that there’s more to Celeste’s story than a fun but challenging game. The angry apparition becomes more fleshed out, the level design and story takes a step forward together. Celeste has a very clear story, but it’s also an open story that allows the player to interpret it as necessary.
I could give my interpretation for it, but there are enough spoilers within it that I’ll hold off. However, I do I have to applaud the story for not screaming at the player to interpret it. There is enough content for players to look at to draw conclusions, but at Celeste’s heart is a wonderful platformer with an interesting narrative buried behind its fantastic gameplay.
The fact is if someone just wanted to play Celeste for its gameplay, that works just as well and the pieces of the story could be seen as an afterthought. Celeste is extremely accommodating of the player’s desires.
Similarly, Celeste is equally accommodating of a player’s skill and enjoyment of a game. Before we talk about that though, it’s important to note that Celeste doesn’t pull punches. Celeste’s levels are designed to be a difficult platformer.
Celeste has a simple control scheme. Players are able to run left and right, jump, climb walls, and dash. That’s the majority of the controls. The climbing of walls and dashing are both limited, with the former relying on an unseen stamina bar, and the later is limited to a single use. Both recharge instantly when the player lands on top of a platform allowing the player to continue moving as necessary.
The entire control scheme is taught over two different screens, it’s that simple.
There are minor changes to these rules over the course of the game. In fact, each level adds something new, for you to explore and experience. But Celeste at its core focuses on being a simple but challenging platformer. The goal is to get from one end of the room to the next, and almost every level is clear at what they expect you to do.
At the same time, being able to understand the path and execute are vastly different goals. Each level has multiple rooms, that begin by teaching the rules, and then follow it up with harder and harder challenges, ranging from timing challenges to mastering the controls to dodging attacks or just landing on a small target.
The difficulty curve is relatively sane, though Celeste is always making you try a bit harder than the last areas. There are a few spikes in difficulty at a number of times, the most notable is the final section of the end of the third level, but overall beating each level is a reasonable feat.
Of course, Celeste adds in more challenge. Many rooms in Celeste have multiple paths for Madeline to follow. While there are only one or sometimes two that will take the player to the next area, there are optional paths and challenges for the player to attempt to collect strawberries.
Each strawberry requires a little extra work to find or get, but each strawberry is banked once gained and the player lands safely on a platform. This means players won’t be forced to collect them a second time if they die after gathering it successfully. While the ending of the game will change slightly depending on the number of strawberries collected, the real reason for the strawberries to exist is to give players a reason to hunt for them and collect them.
The one downside of the strawberries or the way the levels are designed is that players aren’t given a clear indicator which direction the game intends for them to go. I exited a few rooms in a direction that I thought would lead me to a side path and found out the path I chose was the exit to the next portion of the game without a way to backtrack to the pieces I missed.
Celeste has two more collectibles in the game. The first is a series of crystal hearts. Each of the hearts is hidden in extremely clever locations, and players will have to hunt for them. There are usually a couple of clues to where they are. However, they will be useful for a series of post-game levels.
I love the series of selfies taken with Theo.
Finally, there are cassette tapes. Each level has a hidden cassette tape. They usually have a challenging path to collect them, but they also unlock the “B-side.” which are remixed versions of the levels the player has just crossed. The B-side sets of levels are where Celeste stops pretending to give a fair challenge and the real levels of the games are let loose. Precision is required for each level, and the game seems to speed up and give players far less time and safety.
A good comparison for this is how Super Meat Boy switched between the light world and dark world for levels, though with Super Meat Boys, they just made levels harder with minor additions, while in Celeste levels they are often redesigned for an all-new challenge.
I admit I never finished all the B-sides but I’ve seen others who have, and after B-sides, the game delivers C-Sides, and a recent patch finally released D-Sides. Each of these series of levels is a new level of difficulty in the game, with the D-sides being so complex I’m amazed any human can pull it off.
So Celeste is just a fiendishly hard platformer? If so, why has it gotten so much attention?
Well as mention the initial levels aren’t too bad and even the strawberries feel achievable by anyone with a decent amount of work. The high level of precision for the B-sides are very high but people will be able to reach them through normal gameplay with a lot of work. But Celeste doesn’t end there.
Each chapter ends with a beautiful image.
Celeste adds in a very nice addition to the game called assist mode. Turning on Assist mode appears to do nothing. However, there are a new set of options on the pause menu. Inside of these new options, the player can turn down the speed of the game, give infinite stamina (to climb longer), give more air dashes, or even turn on invincibility. Players suddenly can customize Celeste to their heart’s content. I’ll event admit using the time scale on a couple of levels so I could complete later A-sides of levels and a couple of B-side levels.
Assist mode should be a shining example for game developers for how to make games accessible without ruining the difficulty. Players can turn on assist mode if they choose and then scale back the game speed to give them a chance to react, or invincibility to avoid dying in the same place each time. If players are getting frustrated with only one dash, one option gives the player two dashes. It’s a fantastic way to tailor the game to a player’s skills.
With all the options turned on, anyone can beat any level, infinite dashes and invincibility alone give players unlimited power, and can make short work of any series of levels in record time. But the choice belongs to the player. As I said I haven’t beaten the B-sides, and one of the reasons is I don’t feel right abusing Assist mode at such a great level. It’d be easy just to earn every achievement in the game and beat every level with them, but it’s not very rewarding. Personally, while I might slow down time or get a second dash in some levels, I’ve held off on fully using Assist mode, but I also won’t fault someone who values success higher than mine.
The one downside with the Assist mode, however, is the game doesn’t identify when an Assist mode is used. I beat the first chapter of Celeste without assist mode getting a 22-minute run, (16 minutes for the version used for the review video with every strawberry). I then did the same with assist mode getting a 9-minute run, the scorebook inside the game doesn’t signify the second run is tainted in any way and I would have preferred a little notification so top tiered players could be compared. So if I use Assist mode just to collect something I don’t erase a “legit” time.
A final issue came up as I was writing this review. One of my save files become corrupt. I’m not sure exactly how or why but I may have quit the game in the middle of a change to the hard drive. I’m a little annoyed at this but I’ll be honest, it gives me a chance to replay the entire game, so, while it’s frustrating I still have a chance to go back and play it again. Celeste is the type of game that makes me excited to tackle it a second time.
While this review does end on a down note, I have to admit Celeste is a fantastic game. It is extremely challenging and difficult while retaining a very solid experience. The challenges feel reasonable though. The story is great but doesn’t get in the way of the game. The Assist mode means anyone can fully experience Celeste, and that’s what really pushes Celeste over the top.
I give Celeste a
The fact is, Celeste sets a new standard in platforming. Well designed levels, solid challenge without just being memorization, tight controls, and a great experience. This would make it really highly rated, but the fact the game also accepts that not every player would be able to beat each challenge and still finds a way to offer a hand makes Celeste earn the perfect score. Everyone should give this game a shot.
Final Thoughts: A new entry but also one of the best platformers of all time. Celeste is special, it presents hard challenges, great story, but also has the ability for anyone to beat it. Definitely worth playing.
Stats: 13.3 hours played 15/30 achievements earned.