Monday, February 26, 2018

Celeste Review

Celeste is a challenging indie 2D platformer in which the protagonist, Madeline, must make her way up an impossibly tall mountain while also coming to terms with some unpleasant truths about herself. This game has been getting exceptionally high praise and even though it was released in January, it's already said to be in Game of the Year contention at many gaming outlets. With a 2D platformer on Switch getting this much attention, I naturally had to see what all the hype was about. These were my take-aways upon finishing the campaign:
  • Like any good platformer, Celeste's controls feel good and are extremely simple but difficult to master. Madeline can jump, climb, and air dash - that's it. While in the air, she only gets one dash before she touches the ground again and when climbing she has finite stamina that's represented by her animations rather than a meter. Once I got the hang of these moves, comboing them up to navigate mazes of spikes and moving platforms was very satisfying.
  • In addition to the basic move set, each of the game's seven main levels introduces a new mechanic that adds a wrinkle to the platforming action and helps keep the gameplay fresh. These level-specific mechanics come in forms such as special moving platforms, launch pads, and weather effects.
  • Celeste's collectibles and bonus stages (strawberries and b-sides respectively) allow for opportunities for extra challenge for those who want it. Players with a penchant for completionism may find themselves beating their heads against the wall to get every strawberry. However, the game makes a point of discouraging this play style by repeatedly reminding you that collecting strawberries offers no reward other than satisfaction and bragging rights.
  • I died a lot (1665 times in the main campaign to be precise) but never got discouraged. The fact that reviving after a death is immediate and frictionless made it very easy to say "One more try and I'll get it!" rather than just putting the game down.
  • There were a few frustrating parts in the later part of the game: a boss battle that went on a little too long and some particularly lengthy platform sequences. These tricky platforming sequences would involve making blind leaps and then having to quickly react in mid-air. I mostly got through these parts via trial, error, and memorization. There are probably players out there skilled enough to tackle some of these obstacles on the fly; I'm just definitely not one of those players.
  • I played the game entirely in handheld mode using the Joy-con's analog stick for movement. This worked but having a real D-pad, like on the Pro Controller, would be preferable.
  • Coping with mental illness has become a trendy theme in indie game stories lately but this one handles it well. Despite the game's simple presentation, I found myself far more invested in the story than I expected. It also helped that the heavier themes were occasionally broken up with lighter moments that featured some witty dialog.
  • This game's music is low-key but really suits the tone of each stage. The composer did a fantastic job  with the mix of synth and piano tracks that transition smoothly between sad, hopefully, mysterious, and triumphant moods.
I wasn't sure if a high-difficulty platformer would be my thing, but Celeste really worked for me. Every time it began to feel like a struggle, I'd manage to make it through; the feeling of accomplishment as I finished each stage was great. On top of the challenge and tight mechanics. Celeste's story, characters, and writing were a pleasant surprise. The campaign wasn't especially long but there's plenty of extra content there (collectible, B-sides, and C-sides) for those who crave more; for me, however, the critical path was just enough to satisfy without outstaying its welcome. Celeste comes with my highest possible recommendation for 2D platformer fans.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 10 hours, 25 minutes (main campaign, 93/175 strawberries)

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