Celeste Review (Nintendo Switch) A stunning exploration into life with mental health disorders.

Initial Release: 26 January 2018

There’s so much to say about this game – the journey it takes you on, the lessons learned and the value in absorbing every challenge. This game sits perfectly as part of anyone’s collection, and I implore any curious souls to download today and give it a whirl.

Every now and then comes along an indie game which completely takes you by surprise with its depth. For many last year, it was Doki Doki Literature Club with its mastery of tone, style and narrative. Now, it’s early days for 2018, I know, but I can already tell that Celeste will be one of the most memorable games I play this year. It’s the newest 2D platformer we never knew we needed.

Following from the success of TowerFallcreator Matt Thorson of Matt Makes Games and his merry band of indie collaborators released Celeste for the Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on the 26th of January, and it has been a busy week of collectable hunting and exploration ever since.

celeste

Playing as Madeline, the sarcastic, savvy protagonist of the platformer, you’re tasked with the immense challenge of overcoming the mystical mountain, Celeste. Many perish along the way, others turn back, but those few that reach the summit learn a great deal about life – and themselves – along the way.

The gameplay mechanics are nothing special – Celeste joins the legion of Super Meat Boy-esque indie 2D platform games that have graced our screens over the years. It doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, especially when considering that it is based on an even smaller, simpler platformer of the same name (which is actually hidden in the new release as an easter egg!). But it’s the design, the narrative, the music that go along with this basic, pixelated world which adds texture to a very two-dimensional game. So let’s delve into the meat of it.

From the onset of the game, it’s made apparent that Madeline has difficulties with anxiety and depression. The player is made aware that this is the very reason she’s tackling Celeste – to discover if there’s an answer or a resolution to her difficulties. The topic is handled with such sensitivity, such tact, that even the most unsympathetic of players would likely feel for the young girl.

celeste

Alongside a host of characters ranging from ghostly apparitions to a hipster Seattlite, Madeline learns that Celeste really is, in fact, more than just a mountain. It’s a symbol of each and every climbers’ need to prove something to themselves. So when the game introduces dark Madeline, the co-star of the game, it transgresses into feeling less like an uphill adventure where you race to reach the peak, but instead a crossroad where you decide to either continue fleeing from your problems or face them head-on. It becomes a battle against Madeline’s inner demons instead of the mountain itself.

Each area has different attributes and environments which Madeline has to overcome – from a windy slope to an infested, abandoned hotel. It can feel slightly as though each area is part of a completely different world, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing – it certainly adds a sense of scale to the looming mountain. When paired with the evocative, beautifully crafted soundtracks (each of which is discoverable in every level as a b-side), every frame of every level is immersive and enchanting.

celeste

The pixellated level style may be an acquired taste for some, but the accompanying hand-drawn cutscenes, end-frames for levels and character icons are delightful. As well as these two styles, you also have the main menu screen, displaying a 3D model of the mountain and its obstacles. There’s a real mastery in how the developers have tied in three drastically different art styles with such seamless synergy.

Aside from the story and design elements, there is a particular mechanic I feel is notable for its tact – the assist mode. As with any game, there are some levels that will make you want to launch your controller across the room, and some that will seem impossible for those not used to the style – or even gaming in of itself. To combat this and make Celeste widely accessible, the developers have included an assist mode. Without being horribly patronising or cheapening, the assist mode allows the player to customise gameplay to best suit their experience. Like taking your time? Turn off stamina depletion. Death screens trigger your inner Incredible Hulk? Immortal mode. Want to keep track of your awesome skills? Speedrun counter. The ability to tailor the game to your own personal style is yet another well thought out way to make it approachable for anyone.

celeste 4

Even those who have been lucky enough to experience a life free from an anxiety disorder or another mental health difficulty will likely have their own demons that they will someday need to face, making Madeline’s plight all the more poignant. I may be biased as a die-hard Nintendo fan, but the title really feels at home on the Switch and made my morning commute that little bit more exciting.

There’s so much to say about this game – the journey it takes you on, the lessons learned and the value in absorbing every challenge. This game sits perfectly as part of anyone’s collection, and I implore any curious souls to download today and give it a whirl.

Verdict: 9/10

We were provided a copy of the game by the publisher for review purposes.

Josie Watson

Written by: Josie Watson

The more it sounds like I dislike something, the more I probably like it. Obnoxiously DC and Queen of Disney.

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