Celeste is a difficult platformer which tasks the player with reaching the top of a mysterious mountain known as Celeste. The main character of the story, Madeline, has tasked herself with overcoming the obstacles which have stopped numerous other climbers, so that not only can she overcome hard challenges that she comes across, but also that she can overcome her negative emotions which constantly plague her. Can Madeline reach the summit of Celeste without succumbing to the numerous death traps which await her? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to start climbing.
Assist Mode: Celeste starts off as a very simple game as the difficulty is very entry level for most players. However, as the player progresses throughout the game the difficulty sharply increases becoming analogous to games such as Super Meat Boy and N++. Precise dashes and jumps are required to pass even the most basic obstacles as the player is tested time and time again to overcome the obstacles presented. Whilst a hard core gamer will enjoy the difficulty and challenge, it could definitely discourage casual gamers from proceeding with the game to enjoy the story. This is where assist mode comes in. Assist mode is a feature that allows players to alternate the settings of the game. Some include making it so that you are invulnerable, or that you have more dashes than you would normally have. This enables casual gamers to fully enjoy the experience from playing Celeste and whenever they come across a section which is too difficult or consuming too much of their time, they can turn on assist mode to help them through any areas. Assist mode does not lock any content or block players from earning achievements. Therefore, assist mode allows Celeste to be fully experienced by both casual and hardcore gamers alike, and allows the players to play the way they want to experience the game.
Rewards Exploration: Many games have collectibles in them and these collectibles are normally strewn around the world which allows players to hunt for them, normally for some form of reward. Celeste follows in the footsteps of these game, allowing players to obtain copious amounts of varying collectibles throughout their journey. These collectibles are broken down into 3 Categories: Strawberries which cover the main bulk of collectibles, Cassettes and Crystal Hearts. Strawberries will be covered in another section. Cassettes are found in every chapter of the game. These are normally hidden off the beaten path and once located, challenges the player to jump between disappearing platforms to the beat of the music. Upon collection of the Cassette, the player will unlock a “B side” of the level they collected the Cassette on. The B Side version acts as a harder remixed version of the level, with entirely new obstacles and music to enhance the gaming experience. Crystal Hearts normally revolve around the player solving some form of riddle or puzzle to obtain. This is extremely interesting because it changes up the gameplay from your typical action platformer. The riddles are easy to solve and are isolated within each chapter and once they are solved you obtain a Crystal Heart which allows you to access “The Core” after you complete the main story. Not only do these collectibles freshen up the gameplay with their unique mechanics (Such as platforming to the beat of the music, or solving puzzles) they also provide the player with additional content and music to listen to. This extends the replayability and the lifetime of the game.
Music: The music In Celeste is exceptional. Most of the music is done on piano which eloquently captures the essence of the mountain. Celeste Mountain is mysterious and often said that strange things occur on the mountain. The music, whilst simple with the use of the piano, also encapsulates this mysticalness. With that said, other soundtracks in the game are upbeat depending on the chapter you are playing which will reflect the types of instruments you’ll hear. As mentioned, B side tracks utilize Remixed versions of the music which are more “modernized” and synthetic. Often, the B side tracks utilize an electric guitar or some form of electro styled effects to match the harder and trickier content in the level. The sound track is definitely something that should be listened to, as words can hardly justify the immense effort put behind it.
Gameplay Mechanics: Celeste starts off as a fairly simple platformer in which the player can dash, jump and climb objects for a short period. In the beginning, these are primarily the main skills the player utilizes to overcome obstacles. As the player progresses throughout the chapters and stages, many new mechanics are introduced to expand the utilization of these skills. One such example are metal platforms which move along a track. These platforms only start moving when the player grabs onto them. What’s interesting about this mechanic is that whilst the platform is in motion, momentum is conserved, so you can utilize the platform’s speed to make longer jumps which are not possible normally. This is one such example of how new mechanics are added to freshen gameplay and expand upon the repertoire of skills available to the player. A few other examples are: Green gems which recharge the player’s ability to dash, air currents which affect the player’s velocity when moving against it but supports them when flowing in the same direction, platforms which move only when the player dashes and platforms which change direction when the player looks up or down. Normally, a new mechanic is introduced every chapter, which starts off teaching the player how to utilize the new object/platform before thrusting them in an environment where they need to master it to progress. These mechanics are also incorporated into reaching and collecting things like the Cassettes or Strawberries. It’s also worth mentioning that as the game progresses, the final chapter results in a culmination of all new skills taught to the player in the form of a “marathon”. Each new skill that is taught is utilized throughout the game and every one of these skills are necessary to progress instead of being simple gimmicks.
Strawberries: Strawberries make up a very large majority of the collectibles found in Celeste. Often, they are found in hard to reach locations or behind breakable walls which lead to new rooms containing a Strawberry. Once a Strawberry is collected, it will follow Madeline until she gets to a safe location. Once this occurs, it is consumed and added to the counter of collected items. There are 175 Strawberries in the game and, as stated, are normally very difficult to collect. The main problem is that the Strawberries don’t provide any incentive to collect them. Other collectible such as Crystal Hearts or Cassettes do in fact unlock additional levels and content which rewards players for exploring. The most abundant collectible however, the Strawberries, do not reward the player in any way, shape or form. Whilst the strawberries are technically there as a “bragging right” to prove that you’ve collected them, it is definitely a missed opportunity that they weren’t integrated into rewarding the player with additional content, as with the Cassettes and Crystal Hearts.
Celeste is a perfect example on how to make a difficult platformer accessible to all types of players. The pixel art, music and story are all charming and exceptional. The player is rewarded for exploring and thinking outside of the box. Whilst Celeste has many positives, it does have a few missed opportunities, the main being lack of reward for Strawberries. Despite that, it does not detract from the overall experience and in fact can be seen as a fairly minor complaint. Celeste is definitely a game you will want to experience, not only for the characters and story, but for the music which accompanies it.
Celeste was developed and published by Matt Makes Games. It was released for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One [reviewed] on January 25th, 2018. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.