On the surface, Celeste is a hardcore platformer, in which the player must execute precision jumps to navigate to the top of the titular mountain. At it’s heart, its a story of accepting and learning to live with your demons. This is not a game for those that rage easily, I nearly broke my controller in the 5 hours it took to beat the game, but I’m glad I didn’t. I would have never gotten to see what Celeste had to offer.
As shown above the margin of error in Celeste is incredibly slim. You will die…a lot and you will be well aware because after each level you will see your death counter. But this isn’t meant to shame the player but to have them understand that failing is a part of the process. Beating any section of this game will fill you with a sense of accomplishment because of the precision and focus required to do so. At the end of each Chapter, there is a cutscene with the protagonist Madeline, who will be in just as much disbelief as the player.
On her journey, the player will learn as to why she decided to scale Celeste. Madeline is desperately searching for answers to find out why things in her life have gone so wrong and whether or not she can maintain a façade while suffering from depression. Her journey of self-discovery is a personal one that few games tackle with such creativity.
There are multiple times where Madeline will state that she is unsure if she’ll reach the peak and it always feels like the game responds by spiking the difficulty to deter the player. But along the way up the mountain, the player will encounter characters who will push Madeline to reach its peak. One of those being Theo, a self-proclaimed hipster who’s laid-back persona is the opposite of Madeline. He is a constant positive presence and acts as a pillar of support on her journey. There are multiple instances of Theo acting as a counselor for Madeline and it in turn tells the player to push on regardless of the obstacle.
Every part of the mountain is twisted largely due to the way Madeline perceives it. In fact, her depression and self-doubt are represented by her doppelganger that acts as the primary antagonist and discovering their true motive is key to the narrative. It becomes clear that this is no ordinary platformer, it’s got a lot of heart to go alongside its excellent gameplay. During each chapter for example, there are chaotic platforming events that represent a kind of boss battle. These challenge the player by forcing them to apply what they’ve learned during the chapter and when it works, it is poetry in motion.
This was one of the hardest sections in the game but was also incredibly satisfying to complete. Celeste shines in these moments, because you have to complete these complex areas in one take or be forced to start at the beginning of the section. It helps that the music is fantastic as the score sets the tone for each Celeste’s eight levels.
Celeste is short, it should take you no more than 4-6 hours to complete, and there are collectibles such as strawberries and hearts strewn throughout the game. Acquiring those hearts opens up a ninth level but finding those hearts is a different challenge in itself. If you happen to pick up Celeste, you’ll be treated to a fantastic platformer with a narrative that will surprise you.
(This took a while)
The journey to the peak, is well worth the frustration and was one I was glad to experience.