With 2017 behind us, we also look back on some great Indie games that have come and gone and still hold a special place in our hearts and minds. Here we are in 2018, and only 25 days into the new year, we’ve already been met with an onslaught of great Indie titles. One of those, in particular, Celeste, is a 2D hard as nails platformer game similar to the style of Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy. Developed by the same team that brought us Towerfall: Ascension, Matt Makes Games Inc. are at the helm again to deliver a game about a girl, a mountain and overcoming the biggest obstacle of all, ourselves.
You play Madeline, a girl on a mission to climb to the top of Celeste Mountain, meanwhile trying to fight off her inner demons. This is no easy plight, however, as Madeline will need to jump, dash, and climb her way through many different environments and obstacles, on her quest to find her calling and reach the summit. She has heard the stories about how special this mountain is. Can she find the will inside to brave the journey upward or succumb to the voices telling her to turn back? Will you, the player, be able to surpass the challenge ahead of you or will you too fall victim to the mountain’s treacherousness?
What I liked:
Relatable – One would think that the strongest aspect of a platforming game would either come from its controls or the overall gameplay. In Celeste, the story is what stands out among the rest of the game, as a significant amount of it was relatable. Anyone who has ever fallen victim to depression knows that we end up locked in never-ending battle with our minds. Under constant threat of anguish, we contemplate where we fit in the world, even to the point of doing something completely ridiculous just to find a place for ourselves. For Madeline, she feels climbing Celeste Mountain is her calling. She’s under constant tyranny from her inner self, but even despite this torment, she continues to push forward and finish her quest. Much of the story is told during the start or end of a level; however, there are times when the story will play out mid-level which makes for a well-deserved break from all the torturous platforming.
Exploration 101 – Another strong aspect that stood out for me was the benefits that come from exploring. The story only plays out through one direct path, but side paths offer the chance to collect various collectibles hidden throughout levels. There are a large number of strawberries to be collected and for the true collector, there are crystal hearts well hidden in each level. When these crystal hearts are collected, they help to unlock the games 8th optional level. At the time of writing this, I’ve only come across 1 of these crystal hearts which gives you an idea of how well they are hidden, but the task acts as a solid motivator to explore every crevice, and push the replay value even further.
Bonus Act – Remember the dark world from Super Meat Boy? Remember how completely asinine it was? Well Celeste features its own par-of-the-course with alternate levels labeled the B-Side Levels. These levels are completely optional and do not need to be completed to finish the game thankfully! As you play through levels, you may come across a cassette tape. Once you collect this cassette tape, whenever you go back to play through a level, you are given the option of playing the original level, or playing the B-Side. These levels are nothing to joke about. They will put your intellect and willpower to the test as they bump the difficulty up to 10. I personally have not been able to complete one of these myself as of yet, but it is still in interesting addition to the game, and something to continue to challenge the player. Just a suggestion though, you may want to bring a stress ball or an extra controller.
Who’s Counting? – The strongest statistical aspect of Celeste comes in the form of a death counter. At the end of each level, you are given an exact total of the amount of deaths that occurred while trying to complete a level. If you replay that level, the game adds to the original total how many additional deaths you procured. In your journal found on the map screen, you can find the total number of deaths throughout all levels. The counter doesn’t have any effect on the game and appears only as a personal reference to those (such as myself) who want to be reminded how terrible they are, or to the select few how untouchable they are.
Need Assistance? – I need to give huge props to Matt Makes Games Inc. They realize that not everyone is big, bad and hardcore when it comes to gaming, and everyone has their weaknesses. "Assist Mode" gives players who may be struggling the potential to modify 4 options to help themselves if they are stuck. Matt Makes Games Inc. recommend experiencing the game as is first, and I agree with that statement. The feeling of accomplishment from completing the game would not have been the same had I used these "cheats" first. These are beneficial, as it gives everyone a chance to at least experience the amazing story if they are struggling.
What I didn’t:
No Map – In some of the later levels, you'll find yourself moving between multiple rooms at a time. It can become quite confusing as to where you've been and where you need to go. Unfortunately with there being no map in the game, trying to find your way is entirely up to you. A map would also have been useful for the various collectibles throughout the levels. Many strawberries are hidden behind breakable walls, and the only underlying indicator for those is a crack or break in the wall which in some areas is really hard to notice. While I completely understand not having a map for your first run through a level, any additional plays through should have had one available to help those determined to collect everything and finish out the level. Even if it was added to the "Assist Mode" options, it still would have been a welcomed feature.
Overall Celeste is a phenomenal game. While the game delivers on all fronts, the relatable story and soundtrack stand out as two of the most memorable aspects. The challenging platforming helps to keep the player motivated to push forward. The discussions between Madeline and side characters to the game help the world around you feel alive, and their guidance helps Madeline to continue pushing forward. Celeste is not a game for everyone. The difficulty alone is something to easily turn players away. To those who are looking for a challenging platformer with a rewarding story, Celeste is definitely a one of a kind diamond in the rough.
Score: Must Buy
Celeste is developed and produced by Matt Makes Games Inc. It released on January 25, 2018 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.