Ombra Reviews: Celeste (Switch)
Barely one month into 2018 it's almost crazy to think a game could not only be in the running for Game of the Year, but considered a favorite. That is exactly the case with the wonderfully designed Celeste. Developed by Matt Makes Games and released on January 25th, 2018 for all major consoles, Celeste brings a modern feel to the retro 2D platforming genre. It combines challenging and intricate level designs with a heartfelt story focused on the protagonist Madeline's struggle with anxiety and depression all while attempting the near impossible climb of Celeste Mountain.
Madeline's story is what sets Celeste apart from other games in the genre. She starts off meeting an old woman at a cabin who laughs at her desire to climb Celeste Mountain. The lack of confidence shown by the old woman serves to foreshadow Madeline's own lack of self confidence. Self doubt is a constant theme throughout and leads to the true battle at the heart of the game: Madeline's fight against herself. As the game progresses her pseudo alter ego becomes the main antagonist as she takes the form a menacing, purple version of Madeline whose sole purpose is to hinder your progress. The actual climb of Celeste Mountain serves as a metaphor for Madeline overcoming those moments of anxiety where she truly doesn't believe she's able to carry on.
Where Celeste shines is those moments of dialogue Madeline has with her supporting cast such as fan favorite "ya boy Theo," the lost soul with a split personality Mr. Oshiro, and of course her conversations with herself. An immense amount of credit is given to all the folks at Matt Makes Games for creating such an in-depth and meaningful story on a 2D platform. Each word carries weight as they expose the unique personalities of each character. After playing through the game you feel genuinely connected to everyone Madeline encountered and more importantly you feel like you conquered the mountain with Madeline. The dialogue stands out so well because it serves as the perfect accent for the fast paced and strategic gameplay. After a whirlwind of a chapter where you certainly died multiple times, the dialogue serves as a much needed rest for the player. You feel the fatigue that Madeline feels and the self doubt that she expresses often creeps into your mind as a player after dying more than 100 times per chapter.
Death is a part of the incredible level design. In one of the pre-chapter notes to Madeline the game actually tells you to "wear death as a badge of honor... each death is a lesson... the more you die, the more you learn." And you will die... a lot. After each chapter you are presented with a counter reminding you of just how many times you fell, impaled yourself, or bounced off some type of molten goo to your death. While the deaths can be frustrating, the game never loses that addictive feeling. There were plenty of times where I was stuck on one area and felt there was nothing I could do to figure it out. After dying countless times you lose faith but that's what makes the success feel so sweet. You understand how hard Madeline is struggling because you are struggling just the same. It's easy to keep going even after biting the dust 300 times because of how quickly you respawn. There's a quit and save feature that allows you to save that game at any point making sure you don't lose progress. Upon completion of the main story I finished with more than 2,700 deaths, but that made the final image of Madeline sitting atop Celeste Mountain that much sweeter.
I wavered back and forth on whether or not to get Celeste on Playstation 4 or the Nintendo Switch. I settled on the Switch and am beyond satisfied with my decision. This is the perfect game to be played on the console. I split my time about 60/40 playing as a handheld and playing on my TV. It translates perfectly no matter the format which leads me to believe it would play well on the other major consoles as well. The controls are precise but unlike a lot of other 2D platforming games, Celeste feels as though it was designed for the joystick as opposed to the d-pad. You have to be exact with your movements because even the slightest move in the wrong direction will lead to your death. The need for precision lends itself perfectly to the joystick leading to movement feeling very fluid throughout. Other than the joystick you only use three other buttons: one for jump, one for dash, and one to climb. The control scheme is simple, however the gameplay causes you to think on your feet and adjust to changing obstacles with no direction. With each new chapter, and even new stages within those chapters, you encounter a new challenge. Whether it be snowballs flying at you, surfaces that move when you dash, or the moving, molten amoebas, you are constantly forced to figure out how to navigate through the changing landscape. There are no hints or people telling Madeline what to do. It's up to the player to figure out how to bring Madeline to the top.
Throughout the main story you are able to collect strawberries which are often placed in the most challenging areas of the chapters. They serve the purpose of a collectable but also play a part in how the final scene plays out. Within each chapter you can also uncover the B-side tape of that chapter. These tapes unlock a more challenging version of the chapter giving the player another reason to stick with Celeste even after they've reached the summit.
Keep Celeste in your mind because there is no doubt in my mind it will be in the conversation for Game of the Year. There was never a moment where I wasn't enthralled with every aspect of the game. Even after I died more times than Kenny in South Park, I never wanted to put the game down. Madeline's story is one that should be experienced by all fans of 2D platforming games. Even if you aren't too keen on these types of games I believe it's worth it to experience the trials and triumph of Madeline. There's a real connection between the player and Madeline that leads to a true feeling of success upon the completion of Celeste. Start climbing.