Celeste (Game Review)

Michael Aeschbacher, Assistant Editor

Publisher: Matt Makes Games

Developer: Matt Makes Games

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Celeste is a difficult, retro, indie platformer with pixel-art graphics and a chiptune soundtrack. A description like that could easily apply to at least a thousand other games, yet Celeste manages to stand out somehow.

The game stars Madeline (or whatever the player names her), a young girl who decides to climb Celeste Mountain in the name of conquering some good-old inner demons. Madeline possesses the power to execute a dash move in midair, and she can also briefly climb walls. Both of these abilities serve as the foundation of the game’s mechanics, with each story chapter then layering creative new mechanics on top of the basic moveset. For example, Chapter 4 adds bouncy clouds and strong winds into the mix, while Chapter 6 features moving blocks that you can control by dashing into them. Most of these chapters also include collectibles (many of which are hidden), such as strawberries and crystal hearts.

Simply put, Celeste’s main chapters are a joy to play. The controls are extremely tight, and failure is mitigated with quick respawns. Most sections offer a good challenge while also providing some breathing room, hitting the difficulty sweet spot that’s just below frustrating. The collectibles provide opportunities for extra challenges, rewarding skilled players with a keen eye (although a small few of them are rather obtusely hidden). If you crave more after the main story, then you can unlock harder “B-side” versions of the levels by finding secret cassette tapes. These segments are a blast when you’re relying on reflexes to zip through wide areas, but they can quickly turn infuriating when the focus shifts to precision platforming in cramped spaces. Still hungry for more? Collect all the crystal hearts to unlock the short-yet-brutal “C-side” levels as well as the insane task of completing levels without dying once.

I wasn’t expecting too much from the plot, but Celeste’s story turned out to be surprisingly engrossing. Each chapter has a small, self-contained arc as Madeline hikes up the mountain. These miniature stories kept me at the edge of my seat thanks to a fantastic sense of mystery. Meanwhile, the overall plot is punctuated with some genuinely shocking curveballs that refuse to pull punches. This game can be pretty dark when it wants to, but thankfully there’s a minor cast of well-written characters to help you get through it. Most dialogue exchanges between Madeline and friends left me noticing how human the characters felt. However, I didn’t think that the story was perfect: a few moments can be rather heavy-handed, and the somewhat clichéd ending left me a bit dissapointed.

With these minor complaints aside, Celeste deserves praise for its outstanding presentation. The entire game may take place on a mountain, but it presents visually distinct environments ranging from ancient sites to a haunted resort à la The Shining. And while good pixel art may be nothing new to indie titles, minor visual touches (such as the fully-modeled map screen) give the game an edge. Complimenting these great visuals is a catchy, dynamic soundtrack that knows how to perfectly set the mood. As a clever bonus, the fittingly-named B-side levels feature remixed songs from various composers.

Final Verdict:

Celeste’s excellence is clearly indicative of the passion that the developers must have put into it. Each element of the game is very well-crafted, but its sense of charm serves as the icing on the cake that sets it apart from the crowd. If you’re a fan of platformers, this title is not to be missed.

10 – Nearly Flawless

9 – Fantastic

8 – Great

7 – Good

6 – Above Average

5 – Average

4 – Below Average

3 – Bad

2 – Terrible

1 – Worthless