834 Deaths and Counting
As I lay in bed playing Celeste right before going to sleep, I realized something: My hands were sweaty from the anxiety this game was causing me. The challenging nature of this retro -style platformer was doing more to keep me awake then ease me into my own dream world. Sure, there’s a great assist mode to help with that, but I’ve been playing platforming games for 25 odd years, so I should be able to master this, right? The small team at Matt Loves Games does a wonderful job creating a challenging game that both looks and sounds great.
Celeste introduces you to the mechanics of the game right away. You’re able to perform simple jump, dash, and grab techniques to get you from screen to screen, but truly mastering the timing of each move makes the game both addicting and frustrating. The quick respawn doesn’t give you time to dwell on your death, and throws you back into game for you to try again and again… and again. Some levels are easy to traverse, while others give me flashbacks to the notoriously difficult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles water level on the NES.
Strategically placed strawberries hang all over the games levels, some easily achievable, while others require meticulous planning and precision. If you’re looking to impress your friends like I was, you can spend an easy 20min trying to get a Strawberry only for the game to tell you that they don’t really matter. Tongue and cheek notice aside, the completionist in me tries to get as many of them as possible, but I can’t count the number of times Ive walked into a room and and simply wondered “Now, how the hell am I going to get those?”
Celeste stands on it’s own as a capable platformer, and would have been a fine game if it was just that, but the included story provided a welcome surprise. After your pixelated sprite plays through the first part of the initial level, you meet Granny, an old woman who lives at the bottom of the mountain. Once you engage with her, you realize your character not only has a name, but a personality as well. You are Madeline, and your goal is simple: get to the top of Mt. Celeste, no matter what anyone else (even your own internal dialogue) has to say. You’ll meet different characters throughout your journey, most telling you that your goal is too hard, and that you should head back, but Madeline’s determined as ever to make it to the summit and prove everyone wrong. The Team from Matt Loves Games manages to humanize her as she goes through panic attacks, depression, and ultimately fights herself to get to the top. The emotions especially run wild with Boss sequences at the end, providing even more challenges while progressing the story and opening up Madeline’s psyche to the player.
Celeste provides enough challenge and story for all kinds of gamers, and the wonderful chip tune soundtrack by Lena Raine compliments and completes the whole package. (I may or may not be listening to it as i write this review) Packed with hidden collectibles, “B sides” to every level, and just-out-of-reach strawberries, This Indie title from Matt Loves Games is well worth the $20 price tag. If you have a Switch, it’s a perfect game to play on the go in short bursts, completing Pieces of levels as you make your ascent. I just wouldn’t recommend playing it before bed, as it could give you lasting nightmares.