A MEANINGFUL CLIMB
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Made by: Matt Makes Games
Available on: All Platforms
Written by: Drew Wray
Every moment of every day feels like I am looking over that piece of the mountain towards that everlasting goal. Celeste taught me to stay in the moment and accept every moment for what it is. The climb I took had so much meaning. A game that is so punishing and still so motivating taught me so many life lessons. This is a mountain that feels so real and relatable to me. I got so much more than I expected out of this game.
Matt Makes Games is known for Towerfall Ascension. Towerfall Ascension is a pixel style platform fighter, in the form of a couch co-op. Towerfall relates to Celeste in gameplay physics and environment but builds on Towerfall in a linear narrative.
On the surface Celeste felt like just another pixel bit platformer. When I think of climbing a mountain, I think of physical challenges. Climbing the mountain of Celeste brought out emotional challenges in me along with physical. I played as a girl named Madeline who is struggling to overcome obstacles of completion in her life. These fears are brought out in her by climbing a quirky mountain named Celeste. The mountain ends up bringing out the best in Madeline, and letting her know that even in dark times, hope is there. Her fears are tackled in chapters throughout the journey. These fears cause her to have panic attacks, which is something I can relate to. It is hard for me to remember a platformer I have played that told a story this way and this well. Usually in platformers we see stories told in environmental ways like Super Metroid. Celeste finds a way to tell a story through words and environment that isn’t forced. It all felt natural.
There is so much purpose to each piece of Celeste. Purpose in the characters is huge. You find a friend named Theo that always seems to be there for you, being a great voice of reason. Madeline later finds herself needing to be there for Theo which intertwines gameplay and narrative. Celeste is really good at pulling the narrative of each character into gameplay. Each character has their own conflict that really contributes to the mountain. The mountain is scarce of life, but each life on the mountain pushes the story so much.
In the prologue you are introduced to a climbing mechanic that allows you to cling to walls and have a double jump. These are the basics of your controls, both feeling very fluid. Each chapter is a series of rooms that if you die in you start at the beginning of the room. This game is as challenging as it gets when it comes to platformers. It had a Hotline Miami type of feel in the way that I just kept dying and trying new things and not worrying about death. It felt very puzzly in a sense that I did get stumped quite a few times. There is a note in one of the load screens that encourages your death count stating that you should be proud of it. Basically making the feeling that dying is an experiment. I really liked that because it eased some of my frustration of dying throughout the game. As you move chapter to chapter, the game could have become stale due to the basic mechanics, but each chapter kept surprising me with level design and added mechanics. The gameplay was fresh and not drawn out.
Collectables come in the form of strawberries, both causing you to always be exploring outside the box of just finishing the level, forcing you to do new things. The implementation of strawberries keeps you exploring, and challenges your platforming even further. Strawberries almost felt like capturing moons in Mario Odyssey. Another collectible obtained is something called a B-Side. In each chapter you can find a cassette tape hidden that gives you a remixed version of the chapter music you are in. It also unlocks an alternate version of the level you are in, which is super tough. This adds a lot of gameplay and will keep me going back to Celeste.
I am sucker for a good chiptune soundtrack. The soundtrack isn’t full on chiptune but it has everything it needs. Lena Raine crushes the soundtrack. She does such a great job melding the feelings of what you are going through in gameplay and environment. The music has its ups and downs and knows when to fit right into place. It has its somber moments, where you feel the coldness of the mountain, and it also has its heart racing push to win moments. I loved that for the B-Sides Lena got some of her friends to remix the tracks. Gave a really great spin on her own works.
Boss Fights felt like a natural progression of the gameplay. Very fast paced and punishing. The fights did a good job of taking a gameplay mechanic from the level and incorporating it into the battle. My favorite component is how they embrace the story and have such a nuance with it. I really felt like beating each boss I was pushing myself and Madeline to fight what has been plaguing her and getting her down.
This game means so much to me as a person who struggles to feel I am succeeding sometimes. Madeline has showed me that you don’t have to shut out emotions that may stop you, but work with them. Celeste is a game that just gets it from every angle. I had a feeling I was going to love this one, but I can’t believe I loved it for the reasons I did. The more I talk about this game the more I believe it is damn near perfect. Matt Makes games created a game that bleeds with charisma and speaks to me so much. Celeste taught me so much and I implore everyone to play this game.