I’ve never been a huge fan of games that are super challenging. I shy away from games like the Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Even old-school platformers like Spelunky always scared me away, because I hated feeling like an unskilled gamer. I downloaded Celeste from developer Matt Makes Games on my Nintendo Switch with a bit of apprehension. I had heard rumors of its difficulty and assumed it would be a game I never completed out of sheer frustration. I’m happy to report that while the game is brutally challenging, it’s far from impossible and has cemented itself as an early favorite for 2018.
On the surface, Celeste looks like your average pixelated platformer. There are a number of things that separate this game from similar games like Super Meat Boy. For one, there’s much more of a story going on here than it appears. You play as Madeline, a red-haired girl on a mission to reach the peak of Celeste Mountain. The only reason given is that it’s “something she needs to do”. But Madeline’s journey becomes much more interesting than a mere mountain excursion. There are moments of newfound friendship, an encounter with a potentially crazy hotel owner, and even an interesting look into self-discovery. Madeline learns about herself in a very interesting way while making her way to the summit.
While the story may be very intriguing, the real reason to play Celeste is the gameplay. The controls are perfectly responsive and tight in a way that’s required for the precise maneuvering needed to navigate each screen. Madeline has the ability to jump, cling onto and climb walls, and dash in mid-air. This may not seem like much, but the beauty in this game is the level design. Every screen somehow offers a new challenge built on previous lessons learned. This is definitely a “learn by dying” style of game (my final count was around 1,400 deaths), but every mistake is a learning experience. The quick respawn mechanic keeps you pushing forward as does your curiosity as to what kind of gauntlet the developer will throw at you next.
But the beauty doesn’t stop there. The soundtrack by Lena Raine is the best I’ve heard in this genre since Shovel Knight. The melodies range from hauntingly beautiful to pulse-pounding at just the right moments. The varied styles in music keep it from feeling repetitive or intrusive. I enjoyed it so much, I’ve actually listened to the soundtrack outside of the game. It’s that good.
Celeste Final Verdict
If it’s not 100% clear already, I’m a huge fan of Celeste. Player be warned: it’s no easy task getting to the summit. But it’s a fair one that feels rewarding after every completed stage. It’s the first game I’ve played on my Switch that gave me sweaty palms and caused me to breath a sigh of relief after tackling a particularly tough area. If that weren’t enough, there’s plenty of replay value within. There are well over a hundred collectibles in the game, and each level has a “B side” (read: even harder) version of the level for true masochists. On top of that, there’s a bonus level available only to players who have collected enough through the regular game. This is an easy recommend and the best bang for your buck I’ve come across in a long time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to collecting strawberries.
This review was based on a digitally purchased copy of Celeste on the Nintendo Switch. The game is also available currently on Xbox One, PS4, Windows, MacOS, and Linux for $19.99.