Note: Celeste is a masterpiece that is, to our belief, to be best played as blind as possible. This review contains information about gameplay mechanics, images of the surprising worlds, and plot details. If you hope to experience Celeste in its best way, do not proceed.
On the surface, Celeste is a brutally challenging indie platformer about scaling a mountain. Going deeper, there is satisfyingly intricate gameplay wrapped up in a beautiful presentation and a story that speaks strongly to anyone, and to the game itself. Celeste is a magical game that anybody who has ever enjoyed the genre should play. In case you aren’t convinced and don’t want to go in blind, here’s some thoughts from ValiantHippo (HM), ValiantAMM (AMM), Jeffdev (JD), and EthanScraggy (ES).
HM: Celeste’s protagonist, Madeline, operates similarly to other platforming characters, with her core mechanic being a instant directional dash alongside the ability to climb walls. This flexibility on top of Madeline’s extremely satisfying jump opens up for simplistic level design that goes far deeper than it first appears. The levels, referred to as chapters, are split into individual screens that each have an isolated challenge. Akin to the philosophies of Nintendo, the chapters introduce a shiny mechanic to mess with, that is at first in a basic form. As the level progresses, the gimmicks are expanded on and connected in a seamless flow. The greatest part of it all, no ideas are left unexplored.
AMM: In addition to the rooms you will progress through in order to complete a chapter, Celeste is stuffed with collectibles, primarily strawberries. In order to collect a strawberry, you’ll have to get to it and get back to safe ground. Some of these add extra challenge to completing a room, or they might be in completely optional side rooms.
One of the best examples of Celeste’s design is found in Chapter 4, just past the first segment. You’ll find yourself in a hub room of sorts, with several paths branching off toward strawberries. Only one of them continues on, however, and it’s a little bit of a mystery how to get there. By the time I had completed all of the side rooms and come back, however, it suddenly dawned on me how I could use the new mechanic that had been introduced to progress.
Another collectible that can be found in each level is a B-side tape. These tapes unlock harder “remixes” of the chapter you unlock them in, with a sweet new song to boot. A word of advice, however: Come back to these after completing the game. I struggled a lot with Chapter 3, and mistakenly decided I should try the B-side. Once you start a b-side, however, it is impossible to stop and go to a different chapter without losing progress. So, once I got started, I was afraid to stop for fear I would have to do it again… which is why I spent the next 4 and half hours and 4000+ deaths of game time stuck here. Learn from my mistakes. B-Side responsibly.
HM: Celeste is a very challenging game that works to its advantage. However, the difficulty never subtracts from enjoyment because of the instant respawns which turn each death into a learning experience that keeps on going. Furthermore, the game offers an assist mode that allows the experience to be accessible for anyone. It features optional modification to amounts of dashing, stamina amount, optional invincibility, and more.
ES: At first one would look at this game and think, it’s just another pixelated retro game. Yes it has the retro style, but it’s very well done. The animations and movement are so smooth and clean and the art design itself is amazing, with each chapter having such a unique and wonderful design; chapter 6 being my personal favorite with the pleasing colors and style. The chapter designs share the main atmosphere throughout the game while having unique traits. Overall, the presentation and design of the game is great.
HM: Characters along the way each have neat profile art when they speak which allows for more personality to come through. The text boxes are even done in HD which contrasts the style, making it feel like a modern game with retro artwork.
AMM: I found the story in this game to be very enjoyable. Throughout the game, you’ll play as Madeline, a young girl struggling to deal with her personal demons, reflected in a part of her and the many challenges the mountain throws at her. The story starts simple, but slowly becomes more intense and exciting as you progress further up the mountain, creating parallels between Madeline’s inner struggle and her external struggle to climb Celeste Mountain. This blend of gameplay and charming and surprising cutscenes works to its advantage - Celeste does a good job talking about serious topics like depression while also managing to keep the story fairly light-hearted and simple.
JD: One of the most done well parts of the story is definitely the characters. There are only a few characters in Celeste. Madeline, the protagonist of the story; Theo, another climber who started climbing Celeste Mountain because he was bored with his normal life; Granny, an old lady who lives on the mountain; and a couple more. The writing for these characters is absolutely superb, especially in the beginning of Chapter 6, where Madeline and Theo have a conversation over the campfire. The whole conversation feels very natural. The characters really bring an extra dimension of relatability to the story.
ES: Another aspect of the story I really appreciate is the way it presents a deep subject. As mentioned, the story’s main idea is about Madeline's depression and anxiety. Instead of just throwing a deep theme in your face, the game represents the matter in a way that fits into a video game world; A way that makes the story feel more interesting given how it uses fictional aspects to make the game a little more light hearted.
HM: As I made progress up Celeste Mountain, the story quickly floored me. Initial expectations led me to expect a basic story to push an arcade game along, but Madeline and her friends soon became part of one of my favorite stories in any game. Celeste manages to portray a story that is so elegantly connected to the gameplay with it’s themes of perseverance and difficulty that allows it to have a greater impact beyond its minimalism.
JD: The soundtrack and sound design in this game is just incredible. It’s focus on piano and relaxing tunes while climbing the early parts of the mountain, fitting so neatly, and then it had a very steady and nice rise in intensity the further you got into the game, ending off with a very hype final stretch theme as you near the summit. One thing the game did with the soundtrack that I absolutely adored was the effect of adding/removing instruments as you reach certain parts of the game. It really helped add to the effect without compromising the entire song, and it’s all very intentional and well done! As for the sound design, it is also superb. If I had to dock it for anything here, it would be that the piano can be a little bit tiresome if you are stuck on a level, but that is really it.
ES: Adding on to Jeff’s comments, I also loved how the soundtrack kept the same atmosphere throughout the game. It didn’t have any drastic changes which really helped the game flow very nicely and made you feel more immersed into the world of Celeste.
HM: Celeste is one of the best platformers I have ever played. The simple control scheme, with it’s jumping, dashing, and climbing, and masterful level design creates a gameplay package refined to near perfection. Every aspect of the game, even the brutal challenge, works together to create a cohesive experience with a story that pushes you onward. Don’t pass on this platformer.
- Amazing gameplay
- Level design that leaves nothing unexplored
- Appealing story that connects to the gameplay
- Quick respawn time reduces frustration
- Assist modes allow anyone to enjoy
- Has an ending
- No funky mode