Celeste — Mastered Simplicity
Platformers, in general, I have considered as a genre to be among my least favorite. However, as of recently, I have discovered a multitude of platformers that have made me admire the genre much more than I had previously. Whether this is Jump King, Getting Over It, or the game we will discuss today, “Celeste” by the developer's Matt Makes Games.
In this review I will be reviewing Celeste solely as a platformer, attempting to focus solely on the level and game design. While the story and characters in this game are excellent I feel it would be more prudent of me to explain how and why someone like me, a person who generally dislikes platformers, absolutely loved Celeste.
Celeste gameplay is based around several simple mechanics, basic directional movement including jumping, climb which allows you to scale the sides of vertical surfaces, and a double jump that recharges once your feet touch stable ground. Simplistic and easy to understand controls and that is a large contributing factor to the beauty of this game’s gameplay. It doesn’t need to be more complicated, the player immediately understands how the game is played, keep in mind that this game is meant to be played with a controller which makes the usage of these mechanics immediately more comfortable due to its simplicity. This simplicity allows the game developers masterfully create levels that creatively test the players ability to traverse them and to slowly introduce more mechanics that build on this foundation in order to make levels more exciting and individualized from one another. For example, there was a level that had these blocks that would transport you in a straight line, changing angle depending on your vector, through it. This led to some parts of the level that were extremely fun and fast paced by you having to essentially surf though these blocks in a precise and satisfying manner. Keep in mind that the game is absolutely brutal by the way, in my run of the game I died exactly 2092 times throughout its 9 hour runtime. The gameplay is extremely quick, and the movements are acute in their precision as well as hitboxes, which helps make the game feel fair during every death.
The level design of Celeste is phenomenal as well. What immediately stood out to me on every level was the appearance and artistic direction of each level. On one level you are in a dark and dilapidated hotel filled to the brim with littered blankets and towels, another you are trying to traverse an ancient aberrant ruin haunted by otherworldly eldritch creatures. The game itself looks stunning. However, what most impressed me about the levels was the allowance of player freedom when it came to their platforming. What I mean by this is, in multiple instances of the game I successfully platformed my way across a section then immediately realized another way that it could’ve been done. Instead of doing the pixel perfect jumps that I was prone to I could have instead activated this mechanism, grabbed onto it by climbing, fling the mechanism across the room, let go and double jump in the right direction at exactly the right time, then make it to the other side. The levels also heavily discourage slow and meticulous gameplay, which I feel is part of the reason I like it so much. If you stay still for too long you may miss an opportunity that you need to get through the level, or you might waste precious momentum that you need to stick the jump across the chasm. You have to act and react on your feet when playing this game, that makes the game so fun to fly through and so satisfying to beat for me. The game also has collectibles scattered across every level in the forms of strawberries
The soundtrack for this game helps support these emotions, the soundtrack is soothing while also being floaty and quickly paced. It’s like the game realizes that it can be frustrating to die a thousand times, but reassures you that the game can be beaten and that dying a thousand times is part of the fun. In a way that makes the game feel even more satisfying to play in of itself.
https://youtu.be/X-fmYK81MUQ This song is a good example of the general mood of the game.
Celeste is a game that I will be unlikely to forget, as it managed to separate itself from other games of its genre that are famous for treating the player like a child. Celeste instead whoops the player into the ground and beckons them to challenge it and the player cant rightly complain because they know every death was their fault and they know they are having fun knowing that with every death they get closer to reaching the summit of that mountain.