Celeste (2018)

After hearing about this game being “So good” from many people, I took a look at it and was really unsure if I was going to like it. Normally I stay away from this type of game. Cute indie pixel art platformer that prides itself on how many deaths you can get. But there is something different about this game. The art is definitely Pixel Art, but it has a crispness that most don’t possess. The game can be summarized as Super Meat Boy-esque. It has very fluid platforming and precise controls.

The goal of the game is you are Madeline, you are on a sabbatical and find yourself trying to conquer a mountain and scale it to its summit. You find your true self and doubt all that you have known before...blah blah blah… The actual story does get in the way of the game itself quite often through the handful of hours it takes to play through the game. I found it to get a bit too preachy and bogged down in the middle while it had some down time to drone on about depression and whatnot. Other than that, the game felt pretty decently paced. You meet a couple of characters throughout your journey, and they do have some good character development, but I honestly wish that it did away with most of it and told the story of a lonely climber dealing with everything on their own, isolated away from everyone instead of the hipster that somehow manages to tag along even though they don’t show him having the same weird unexplained dashing abilities you have. The interactions with the old lady that lives on the mountain were too few and far between. Honestly the only character that was even remotely needed was the “Other Part Of You'' That basically is the boss for most of the game. And again this is where the story could have changed for the better.

I wanted to get the story stuff off my chest, because that is really the only negative about the game. I do think that the game got a huge difficulty spike at the very end, but I’ll get to that later. Celeste is a GREAT platformer that blends the hard punishing difficulty of Super Meat Boy and Cuphead, and puts it in a nice package that is pleasant to look at, and listen to, but more importantly, play. The game does a great job of giving you the sense of accomplishment when you finally pass a part that you have been stuck on. The game never really felt like it hated you, that it wanted you to fail (even though there are similarities of the story and the game itself). Everything was placed exactly where it needed to be, to provide a challenge, and also curb players from beating in it just a few hours. Every death felt like it was my fault, a simple miscalculation on my part to either miss a ledge, or dash myself into oblivion. There were a couple areas that were basically just trial and error parts, where it didn’t feel like so much skill was involved, and I wanted more memorization. But again, those weren't all that often of an occurrence.

The art direction of the game felt sharp in a way most pixel games don’t. It had the squareness of one of those games, but it also had a sense of warmness and kindness that most of those games don’t either. The sound was soft in the areas that it needed to be, and harsh and abrasive when it needed to be as well. Boss chases, hectic crumbling areas, creepy dungeons and abandoned buildings all have appropriate ambiance and underlying scores. The music did feel repaticious at certain points, but again, that is where the game allows you to know that it's ok to take a break. Several loading screens between chapters really do give the player a nice pat on the back, as if to say “it's ok, take a break and come back later, that's the way it's meant to be played. It straight up tells you that you shouldn’t worry about collectables as they do nothing. Or that you shouldn’t be afraid to die, because that is how you learn and get better. It was a nice warm hug from the developer in word form. Letting me know that I am going to die, but they want me to know it's ok.

The game difficulty was something that did scare me off initially. I usually don’t hold these games in high regard as they don’t respect the players time. Everything is hard because it can be, not because it needs to be. Challenge is good, you don’t want a game to hold your hand the whole way through. Let yourself be stuck a bit, come back to it later and you’ll eventually get it. That’s what Celeste does. It lets you loose, it doesn’t hold your hand at all, but it provides a good balance between challenging, difficult and timing. Instead of just being hard for the sake of being hard. It doesn’t require you to spend 40 hours to pass the 3rd level. It wants you to beat it, then come back for more when you are ready….

Which brings me to my last small gripe about the game. I did find that I blew through 3/4ths of the game with not much difficulty. I did have plenty of areas that gave me a good 20-30 tries before I actually was able to pass it. But the end felt like a Mega Man boss rush mode. It requires you to spend the last part of the game going through every chapter of levels the game has, with new puzzles. Those puzzles are much much much more difficult than anything the game really had to offer, and it just felt like the difficulty curve spiked in such a way that the last hour took 3 hours to complete just by sheer difficulty spikes. There were sections that I didn’t die on once, and blew through 5 or 6 sections like a piece of cake, but one section would take 45 minutes of consecutive tries. With chapters 1-6 I had around 6 hundred deaths or so. Chapter 7 had almost triple that, and this is again, the last hour of a 7 hour game. It just got way harder than everything else in the game, which made me aggravated at times, and I had to stop and walk away from it for a couple hours.

Celeste isn’t really that hard of a game to describe, it’s a game that you can put in front of anyone and they’ll get what the game is, in about 30 seconds. It has a lot of replayability, in the form of Collectables, remixed stages, and even an epilogue that gives you even more challenging levels. It's hard… darn hard. I’m assuming most people will never finish it, but those that do will find a wonderful game, filled with charm, and a lovingly crafted hard game that rewards you with making you feel like you accomplished something that a lot of people will never do. If you like games like Super Meat Boy, Cuphead, Mega Man…. This game is a no brainer. You might smash your head against a wall a few times with the challenging parts of it, but it is well worth the investment. It’s a great game.