In January 2018, a game called Celeste hit the gaming scene. At the time, I’d seen some early pixel art and heard a few snippets about the story of the game—it focused on a young girl who struggled with depression and anxiety—but beyond that, I didn’t know much about the game.
Before I knew it, the game all but took over the indie scene and skyrocketed to the top of the sales charts. Reviews were coming in hot, and I knew I needed to explore what all the hype was about. Besides, my Switch needed something fresh, and I had some leftover gift cards from the holidays, so why not try it out?
Climbing Celeste Mountain
Soon after, the game introduced me to Madeline, the main character of this story. She sets out to climb a mountain—at first, a bit unsure of herself. Can she really climb this mountain alone? Why did she feel compelled to reach the top, anyway? Riddled with self-doubt, the game begins, and you slowly ascend this mountain, though you have no real notion of scale. You’re taking baby steps, just like Madeline. One step at a time.
By the end of the game, you understand how integral this concept of taking everything one step at a time is to the overall story. Now that Celeste has been out for a while, rumors of its difficulty have spread, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying this title out. If you take each stage one step at a time, you can conquer the mountain.
More than that, the challenge is more than welcome—yes, it can get really difficult, but the game never stops being fun. It’s easy to make a game that’s back-breakingly difficult; but this game presents challenge in a way that never feels impossible. You know you can do it, with a little practice. If you do get stuck, there’s almost always an alternative route you can take. Come back to that obstacle later, when you’ve had a chance to breathe.
Continuing the Journey
As Madeline climbs the mountain, you become acquainted with a number of strange but fascinating characters. Some come off aggressive or bizarre at first, but you warm up to them, right alongside Madeline. Yet, the most compelling character is always Madeline. When others ask her about why she continues to climb the mountain, she feels pangs of insecurity, but when they question her ability to get to the top, she becomes fierce and determined to reach it despite the naysayers.
Both sides of her personality—strong and weak—give her complex dimension. There are moments with incredible intensity, as you race to escape a vicious enemy, followed up by a quite moment of reflection, with delicate piano tugging on the heartstrings. The carefully woven narrative is driven by the gameplay, and that’s what makes this game so powerful: You are the one helping Madeline climb Celeste Mountain. Unlike in real life, you very literally understand what she is going through and how difficult her struggle is, because you’re experiencing the same journey.
Reaching a Peak in Gameplay
While the story about a young girl fighting off her inner demons is compelling in its own way, let’s forget the story for a second and talk about the game mechanics. Technically, this game is incredibly sound. I’ve never played a game that flows so smoothly when it comes to controls. The learning curve felt almost nonexistent, because the game teaches you the core mechanics in simple bursts. You learn each trick one by one, and when you feel like you’ve mastered a skill, they present another to keep things fresh and interesting.
Running as Madeline evolves into jumping and double-jumping, and climbing feels second nature. These basics are compounded by the ability to manipulate motion—climb onto a block that shoots forward, release at the point of impact, and you’ll go flying twice as far as usual. It’s these simple but smart uses of movement that make the controls feel so easy to grasp and fun to play. This smoothness is reminiscent of the best platformers, like running and executing a number of jumps quickly in Super Mario Bros. There’s something so gratifying in that speed and technique.
As the game progresses, the mountain becomes more treacherous, and navigating the terrain adds to the challenge of climbing Celeste. Filled with a number of collectible flying strawberries, you’re always tempted to take that challenge head on. Even when you feel like you can’t, something in the back of your brain begs you to collect just one. more. strawberry. When you finish a chapter, you feel beyond proud of all the strawberries you collected, and in terms of replayability, there are tons of secret areas and collectibles you’ll never get or see in your first time through.
Cresting the Top of Gaming
Last but not least, this game is a delight to all the senses—from the pixel art, which dazzles with color and creativity, to the soundtrack, which is equal parts intense, calming, and mysterious. All in all, this game is the whole package, and when a game delivers on all fronts, you know it will go down in indie history. The story and the feel of the game are timeless, and that’s why Celeste is bound to become a classic.
Kudos to the developer and publisher Matt Makes Games for creating a masterpiece that’s as fun as it is impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough and highly recommend you give this game a shot, too. You won’t regret it.
All artwork belongs to Matt Makes Games.