Mix in some Meat Boy, a story about depression/anxiety, a killer soundtrack, a retro look and smart level design and you get Celeste. There is a really good reason this was in a people’s game of the year lists.
I completed all the main levels, 2 of the B levels (harder version of the main), nearly done the Core (zone 8), and have collected over 100 strawberries. Oh, and nearly 2000 deaths.
Game follows Madeline’s climb up Celeste, a giant mountain filled with all sorts of death traps. The story is simple enough, she confronts her internal fears and comes out the stronger for it. There’s no voice over, and the characters themselves are pretty straightforward. That simplicity is also present in the gameplay.
The controls are basic. Move, Jump, Hold, and Dash. The actual gameplay is in the mix of those controls. First few levels have you take long jumps, then dash to reach a far wall. The later levels have you double dashing, avoiding lava, throwing yourself on bricks with spikes, recharging the dash in midair, then doing it 3 more times. It’s surreal how much better you get at the game near the end. Running back into Zone 1 was a cakewalk.
The actual gameplay mechanics are straightforward. Avoid falling, spikes, monsters, fire, and similar things. Die and restart the subzone (which usually takes 5-10 seconds to clear). Easy in concept, hard in practice. You can collect strawberries for an additional challenge, though it has no practical benefit other than a slightly different ending (if you make a pie). Each zone has a cassette tape which unlocks a B-side, a harder variant that has no strawberries. There are 7 main zones, each with their own themes. The final one is the Core and is a hell of a challenge.
Celeste is one of those games where you always think “one more try” and then end up spending 30 minutes solving each additional puzzle. And that’s what it is after all, each screen a puzzle of it’s own to solve. It’s one of few games where I have to play with the D-pad rather than the analog, as some movements require way more precision in quick succession than my hands can handle.
I would be remiss not to mention the music. It has that old school synth/midi vibe that fits just perfectly. Each zone’s theme is well communicated, and the multi-screen boss “fights” feel like a true panic attack. I’m not “done” with the game, but I do need a bit of a break from the heart racing.
Celeste is one of the few games I’ve ever played where I could not find any faults. Never crashed, never felt I was cheated, no head scratchers. It’s a shining example of what gaming can be. A real must own.