“This is it, Madeline.
Why are you so nervous?”
These are the words that greet you when you start up Celeste, a narrative-driven single player precision platformer developed and published by Matt Makes Games.
You would be wise to keep these words safeguarded in your mind as you make your climb up the game’s namesake mountain as Madeline; a young woman that suffers from panic attacks, depression, and anxiety, which manifest themselves into a physical form, lovingly referred to as “Badeline”.
During your journey up the mountain, you’ll come across an array of wonderfully crafted characters, brave excruciating challenges that bring you to the edge of insanity, and collect strawberries to bake into a pie!
Celeste gets right to the heart of what makes any platformer enjoyable. The controls are simple and accessible.
You run. You jump. You dash. You climb.
However, the developers have ensured that no stone be left unturned when it comes to the possibilities of what you can achieve if you master these controls.
Your reward for doing so takes the form of strawberries. A collectible item scattered, hidden, and precariously placed throughout the game’s main campaign.
Collecting all of them isn’t necessary. The game even tells you this during a loading screen between chapters, but it is fun to be able to brag about getting them to your friends!
Often, you’ll find yourself exasperated. Shaking with anger after your 17th death from the same spiked wall, pitfall, or enemy.
Luckily, death is short and sweet. You’re alive and climbing again within seconds on the same screen that you died on, thanks to lightning-fast respawns.
This of course is the beauty of Celeste’s gameplay.
With over 600+ screens to conquer, you can take solace in the knowledge that the game will auto save after each screen is completed which keeps your progress moving forward.
An addition to this feature is that the game will continue at the same screen you left off on when you need to take an extended break to cool down.
Even if that still seems too daunting for you, Celeste offers an Assist Mode, which can modify the gameplay to support you with changes like infinite air dashes and pure invincibility if you feel you need a little more help to reach the top of the mountain.
Assist Mode is there to do exactly as the name implies. Assist you. The developers of Celeste want you to make it through the main campaign to witness Madeline’s story.
Not to mention that even with Assist Mode activated, the gameplay still offers plenty of challenge by adding a new and exciting way to traverse the mountain as you continue your climb from chapter to chapter.
With gameplay elements like golden feathers that allow you to fly, colored orbs that will carry Madeline across screens, and spring boards that launch you into the air, each chapter offers a new and exciting experience to your journey.
Getting through Celeste’s main campaign is quite the challenge, with my own playthrough clocking in at 5h:12m:18s for completion with 1,404 deaths.
Most would say that a five-hour game isn’t enough time for the asking price of $19.99, however Celeste is a harsh and unforgiving mountain and your journey up is only getting started.
For the crafty eagle-eyed mountaineer, you may find yourself on a secret hidden screen containing a “B-side” tape.
Successfully collecting these tapes unlocks an alternate challenge for you to conquer, and this is where your skills and sanity will truly be tested.
B-side is brutal in all sense of the word. Built for only the bravest mountaineers, you’ll quickly be throwing yourself lovingly into death’s embrace time and time again as you soldier on up the mountain.
However, the feeling of finally completing that screen that’s killed you 100+ times is comparable to a joy akin to finishing a hard day’s work and starting your weekend.
My completion time and death total rocketed to 21h:56m:17s and 5,531 deaths respectively with the additional “B-side” content alone.
Even when this is all said and done, you still have more mountain to climb in the form of “C-side” screens, which the game almost jokingly taunts you by mentioning you haven’t faced difficulty yet.
There is also the ever elusive “Golden Strawberry” which asks you to achieve the daunting challenge of completing the main campaign chapters without dying from start to finish.
So bundle up, because you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate the meaning of existence while traversing all that Celeste has to offer.
The story of Celeste is charming. With a small yet colorful cast of characters to meet, you’ll find a reason to love each of them.
You’ll meet a crazy old lady who taunts you every step of the way but means well.
An artistic hipster with an eye for quality photography, a bit of a carefree side, and love for his family that drives him to Celeste.
Even an ethereal hotel manager who loves his job so much that death won’t stop him from his career.
Often when meeting a new character, you’ll be introduced to a different aspect of Madeline’s personality.
You do your best to assist them, though frequently to their and your own downfall.
The emotional struggle is a key point of Celeste’s captivating story.
As I mentioned before, the main antagonist is the amalgamation of the issues Madeline deals with.
The reason she’s climbing Celeste.
Badeline is there to physically and emotionally hinder your progress as she represents all that Madeline loathes about herself.
At the peak, pardon the pun, of the story, Madeline suffers greatly during her climb from trying to rid herself of her own issues.
When you grind Celeste’s story down to its core ideals, it’s about loving yourself and accepting your faults as a part of you that are worth keeping, because they make you unique, and are often the driving force behind positive experiences in life.
Celeste offers a lesson for everyone because it deals with issues that everyone has dealt with before.
Celeste’s praises continue with the soundtrack.
With original music by Lena Raine, it perfectly fits the feel of the game with live piano and driving synth beats.
It creates a wonderful mixture of quiet background music and inspirational uplifting rifts that cheer you on during your plight.
Each song fits the design of the chapter thematically and offers comfort even in the most harrowing of locations.
Often, I would find myself taking pause after dying to let the sweet tones wash over me and calm the inner rage building within me.
If you want to take a little bit of Celeste with you everywhere you go, you can purchase the OST here.
If there is any indie game you choose to support this year, or any year in fact, let that choice be Celeste.
This game deserves all the praise it receives and more.
It’s simple to grasp and difficult to master game mechanics tie in beautifully with a heart-breaking story of overcoming your inner demons, all while offering a true joy within yourself at your ability to conquer what seems impossible.
The experiences I had during my journey with Madeline will go down as some of my favorite gaming moments of all time.
It’s hard not to simply gush about Celeste and the work that Matt Makes Games have put into this wonderful title.
So I leave you with the familiar words that you too will hopefully have greet you during your time on your journey.
“This is it, dear reader.
Why are you so nervous?
Climb your Celeste.”