Does Celeste reach the summit when it comes to platformers?
At a Glance: 10/10
Celeste is one of the best platformers I’ve ever played, with so many smart ideas that make it instantly accessible. It is a testament to the developer that they managed to make an extremely hard game that I would recommend to absolutely everyone, as with patience (or the assists) anyone can and should finish this game; an experience that is filled with pixel perfect platforming that gives 2D Mario a run for its money. The fact that the Towerfall developer made a mechanically brilliant experience isn’t really surprising, but the fact that an indie platformer was filled with such a poignant and impactful story about some really heady themes is extremely surprising; in the best of ways. You have to play this game.
I recently gave a ten out of ten to Breath of the Wild and so I am hesitant to assign it again so shortly after; even though I technically played the game much earlier in the year. Either way I take the rating very seriously, so believe me when I say that Celeste absolutely belongs in the company in which it finds itself.
Celeste is a platformer that is mechanically simple, with only a jump and a dash making up the majority of the moves your character has available. However, the game expects you to absolutely master those skills and can be brutally difficult because of that, with at times pixel perfect platforming expected.
Typically I find myself immediately dissuaded from games that people say are extremely hard; that brutal challenge is not what I love about gaming and often I find that the difficulty is something artificial so they can slap that label on the box. In those ways hardcore gamers can claim anyone that doesn’t like the game simply needs to “git good”, and so nobody can truly challenge the game without question.
That being said I never dropped the difficulty because in Celeste no matter how much you die you are never set back far, in fact you’ll be on that same screen. The reload time is so quick you don’t even have time to get disgusted and quit, you are just back into it. Every screen is like a puzzle, figuring out the exact right time to jump or dash to get you through it. What makes it so satisfying is walking into a room and thinking to yourself this is impossible, only to a few minutes later be standing on the other side with that amazing feeling of success.
This happens again and again throughout the game as the experience ratchets up in one of the best difficulty curves I’ve ever experienced in a game. Once you reach the end and go back to the beginning of the experience, what once seemed hard will now be child’s play, because the game actually improved your skills as you played without you really noticing.
In addition, if you find you just can’t beat certain parts of the game it’ll allow you to decide how to proceed. You can actually layer on what the game calls assists, which can be anything from giving you an extra dash to slowing the game down entirely. This allows you to customize your experience to a difficulty you are comfortable with, without ever feeling punished because of it. You can also artificially increase or decrease the difficulty in the main game, by going after or ignoring collectible strawberries.
These strawberries, the game lets you know early on, are entirely pointless in any way but your own satisfaction, and they tend to be really hard to get. In addition if you really want to challenge yourself you can find and collect B Sides to the individual levels, that are some of the most difficult platforming I’ve done in a game. You choose the way you interact with the game and you are never punished because of it, only rewarded.
The game was also designed to be able to be tackled by speedrunners and I think we will see some truly impressive playthroughs of the game. Apparently there are even ways you can get through without dashing, though I’m absolutely baffled as to how. All of this is considered for and carefully designed into the game, making the actual development of it even more impressing.
If the game stopped there with its merits it would probably still earn a ten from me, based on the amazing gameplay it brings to the table. Instead the game also surprises by telling an extremely personal and impactful tale based on heady themes of depression and anxiety, the likes of which I’ve never seen a game of this type tackle before. The ending of the game is impactful in the same way some of the most in depth walking simulators can be, but with the gameplay of a drum tight platformer to boot.
I was constantly delighted and surprised by Celeste. First by the gorgeous pixelart, then by the phenomenal platforming, and finally by a deep and meaningful story that you don’t usually see in this type of game. Once I finished the main single player game I immediately went back to the first level and started playing again, something I simply do not usually do. However, I just want to play and experience as much of Celeste as I possibly can and even with all the exploring I did there are still secrets to find, new levels and B Sides to unlock, and more to experience.
After over 3,000 deaths it took to beat the main story I still just want to keep playing this game. I don’t know that there is anything else I can type here that would tell you how amazing it really is.