Celeste is a game so passionately put together that the player has no choice but to surrender to its design. Awe-inspiring pixel art vistas merge with a finely tuned hand-drawn art style and pitch-perfect soundtrack to create an immersive experience. Despite its simple appearance and main character Madeline’s limited moveset, Celeste ends up an incredible experience, which explores the super-difficult platformer genre just as well as it does themes of anxiety and isolation. Celeste is one of the first must-play video games of 2018.
On the surface, Celeste from Matt Makes Games is a 2D platformer, with a steep difficulty curve and instant re-spawns. The player guiding Madeline through multiple scenes of platforming madness is guaranteed to die—sometimes hundreds of times per level. The instant re-spawn and limited moveset take the sting off this game play loop, allowing the player to confidently try one more time. Controls are limited to running, jumping and a directional dash move, making Celeste easy to pick up and learn, but painfully difficult to master.
Once the player has completed a level, each a destination as the player climbs ever higher up the titular Celeste Mountain, the game will recount the number of deaths the player suffered in doing so. It will also count up each collectable, letting the player know what they missed. The game encourages death, reminding the player that each mistake is a step towards the solution. This empowering mentality makes replaying each level and mastering its mechanics a mighty accomplishment, only to be further challenged by the game’s hidden stages. The gameplay is tuned to perfection, and every achievement feels huge. At multiple moments in the game I found myself on my feet, exclaiming in excitement as I cleared a particularly challenging screen, ready for what was next to come.
Pushing each stage forward is an incredible bitwave soundtrack, which fuses nostalgic video game tropes with modern song composition. As the level ramps up in intensity, so too does the music, guiding the player with subtle audio cues, which define the rhythm of gameplay. Apart from the game, the soundtrack would be worthy of accolades as an electronic album. As part of Celeste’s whole, it serves as vital instrumentation, which breathes a very specific and unique life into an endlessly enjoyable video game.
It is uncommon for a game with such a clear vision in its gameplay elements and design to feature a story as powerful as Celeste’s. The narrative is a deeply personal exploration of anxiety, and the self-defeating nature of negative thought. The journey is not a lonely one, with many memorable characters met along the way. Each personality brings a level of humor and levity to the game’s often depressing tone. It’s a tale riddled with selfies and self-destruction, with recognizable faces and familiar emotions dotted across the mountain’s face. Once the player has met the narrative’s immensely satisfying conclusion, the game goes on, with an impressive set of collectables and secret stages, just begging the player to come and find them.
Celeste is the type of game that people will be talking about for years to come. A shining example of a subgenre done to its maximum potential. It’s a vision come to life, and a game which demands to be experienced. Indie developers take note: The bar has been raised, to the very peak of Celeste Mountain.