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Celeste review
by JustCozzie

I thought I didn't like platformers, but turns out I just hadn't played Celeste yet.
Out of all the game's features its basic gameplay is probably the least talked about but it's by far the biggest reason Celeste clicked with me like no other 2D platformer. From the start you are given a mid-air dash which forms the basis of most of the challenges and, compared to a regular platformer's double jump, gives a huge amount of mobility and freedom of movement by letting you completely change direction in mid-air. This difference is amplified even further by the level hazards which, by a huge majority, give you EXTRA mobility instead of taking it away. Where a typical platformer might ramp up difficulty by taking away your abilities or slowing you down with things like icy/sticky floors Celeste instead challenges you to develop the reflexes and precision to deal with objects that boost your jumps or let you shoot across the screen. Without fail they're exceptionally fun.

Coupled with the speed of respawning after death (just a simple black transition and you're back in position to try again) that quick pace of gameplay means I never felt the frustration that normally accompanies a platformer because I was just enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay (the music definitely helped too) even when certain sections took upwards of 50 attempts. It helps of course that the game is structured in a very smart way: playing through it normally lets you get the full story but, if you can find them, there are optional B-Sides and C-Sides - infinitely harder levels which follow the same theme but for those that enjoy challenge over story. The game wins big points for that in my book because it means I could happily put it down when I DID start getting that platformer frustration (at the exceptionally bullshit B-Side below) without having to slog through something I wasn't enjoying any more to see the end of the story, tarnishing my opinion of the game.
The story is, itself, something to commend; it never takes away the spotlight from the gameplay but manages to make the few characters intensely likeable in the short time you spend with them. One of them even has their own real-life Instagram that serves as prologue and an epilogue, all at once. Each character has a defined personality that serves to drive both Madeline and the player in their goal of climbing Celeste Mountain and any themes that are brought up are tackled in such a way that they affect both story and gameplay equally. I'm a huge fan of how Madeline's mental state is depicted throughout - it leads to some beautiful sprite-work as well as all my favourite setpiece moments in a game punctuated by great setpiece moments.

The biggest complaint I had playing Celeste was not even really the fault of the game itself. I played on the Switch version and the Joy-Con's analogue stick caused much exasperation when it came to the mid-air dashing I was singing the praises of earlier. Madeline's dash has 8 directions (up, down, left, right, and the diagonals) and I found that, even after completing the game, getting the right one still wasn't COMPLETELY reliable, with about a 1 in 10 chance I'd shoot off in a different direction to an almost guaranteed death. This is a game that would be intrinsically better with a D-pad over an analogue stick and that's just unfortunately not an option on most modern platforms. Surprisingly though one of the options that would alleviate the problem - control customisation - is completely absent. If I could've rebound diagonal boosts to the shoulder buttons it would've completely fixed my complaint, but the option is conspicuously absent in a game that is heralded for it's accessibility.

Accessibility is something the game does fairly well, with a suite of options from adjusting the game speed for slower reflexes to straight up invincibility, but despite the actual options being good it's an area I don't think lives up to the praise it's been given. That's because to use any of these options you have to know you'll want to use them before starting the game, you can't turn them on in an already started save file, so if you managed to finish the main game without problem but then need a bit of help to clear the B-sides your only option is to turn them on in a different save file and replay back to where you were. It's a baffling decision in a game that is, in almost every other way, impeccably designed.

One of those ways is level design. which was the biggest surprise I had coming out of Celeste. I've played games with good level design before, even great level design, but Celeste nails the ramping-up of difficulty, escalation of tension, and reward for exploring in a way that's truly rare. Level structure is much less linear than you'd expect from a game with the goal of going straight up a mountain - landing about a third of the way towards Castlevania on the Mario-Castlevania scale - but it uses that mantra of "just gotta reach the summit" to ground you, making sure you never lose your bearings no matter how branching the path gets because, if in doubt, you only need to head upwards. One thoughtful touch I really appreciated was that in the most convolutedly intricate level of the game there are little lanterns that light up when you get close. They serve no gameplay purpose other than to show you where you've already been, helping to stop you getting disoriented.

It's all those small touches of considerate game design and heart that come together to make it very hard to NOT recommend Celeste to anyone looking for at least 10 hours or so of tight and rewarding platforming. Even those like me who thought that was exactly what they didn't want.

«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
Serge Ulankin
What a great review, thank you!

Other reviews30

i love this game but god its so fucking hard
«Blew my mind»
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
making mental illness my bestie
«Blew my mind»
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
Celeste is a punishing platformer with good character development.  You will die over and over again, but the sense of accomplishment in victory will feel earned.  One of the better 2D games I’ve played in recent years.  
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
This is only the second platformer that I finished and It feels so satisfying to finish finally ( after 17 hours).  The story made it feel a bit more than levels stuck together and that is amazing. playing on a controller is a bit wonky as it is hard to always go cross dash or horizontal dash. Everything else about the game was exceptional.
«Blew my mind»
«Can’t stop playing»
Concise Review:
A well made platformer with very challenging and creative puzzles that somehow managed to not be frustrating even though I died hundred of times on every level. The story was way more insightful than it had any business being.

Journal Style Review:
I never play 2D platformers but I’m going to give this one a shot. First 30 minutes were alright. 

Just finished chapter 3. I heard that this game was somehow related to some type of mental health and I can see what they are talking about. The short interactions with characters are well written and pretty on point a lot of the time. Not necessarily saying anything that’s ground breaking, but its talking about depression and self hate and the negative ways we can often think about life and people. The symbolism is right in your face a lot of the time but so far I’ve found it very effective.

The challenges themselves have been reasonably entertaining, again I don’t typically play these types of games. The question will be how often am I frustrated Vs how often I feel that sense of accomplishment from sticking a series of moves. So far the frustration has been minimal even though I died 183 times during chapter 3. The checkpoints have been frequent enough to limit the frustration. I also often feel the deaths are my mistakes.

I don’t think this will be a sit down and play for a long time game. I think 30 mins to an hour and that’s all I would need per session.

Chapter 4 was difficult but quite fun. That ending with the feather breathing was actually pretty cool.
This game has surpassed my early expectations. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this game. Especially since I disliked braid so much. This is much better. 

I got stuck in chapter 5 which was frustrating because I didn’t know where to go. I had to google it eventually and the answer made me feel a bit dumb. Still, it’s always a bummer when you have to google where to go in a game.

I’m impressed by the platforming gameplay. I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. This isn’t saying a ton since I had very low expectations. But it has surpassed them. This is a fun little game to play 30 mins here and there.

I just finished chapter 6. It was my favourite so far. Wow these platforming challenges are getting difficult but incredibly satisfying. I’m really quite impressed. Somehow they (for the most part) havnt made me frustrated yet even though I die a bunch. The game has a great feel as well. The story is touching. It actually is a beautiful game if you listen to what it has to say. I didn’t think I’d feel that way.

Beat the game. It’s the greatest 2D platformer I’ve ever played. I think it’s the only 2D platformer I’ve played (not counting Braid, only played for like 40 mins and didn’t like it), but I can still see why it got such great reviews. Surpassed my expectations for sure. The B+ score is because platformers are low on my favourite genre list. This game was exceptional and I would recommend to anyone who actually plays a lot of platformers.

Final Score: B+
«Blew my mind»
«Just one more turn» the best game I've ever played
«Blew my mind»
«Just one more turn»
The mountain climbing adventure of Celeste is magical and perfectly addresses really intimate topics. Madeline's trip is accompanied by beautiful music and extremely difficult platforming. The base game isn't too challenging, but post-game content is brutal and spikes in difficulty to the nth degree.
very nice
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
my baby girl is trans!! 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈💖💖🥺🥺
Celeste could have been better. It's a classic example of how level design can go terribly wrong, preventing a good game from becoming a great game.

For what it's worth, I'm a veteran to the genre of platformers, and I completed all b-sides, c-sides, and Chapter 9 (Farewell). 

I'll start by saying that Celeste has a fantastic movement kit. It's a very good example of "easy to pick up and difficult to master." The Dash feels great, and on the Switch, it has great haptic feedback. The developers put a lot of time and effort into tweaking the timing of the dash to make it really shine. It's what makes this game good. The technical tricks like "wavedashing", perfectly timed jumps out of bubbles, and dashing into wall jumps feel great to use and add some much needed depth to the basic platforming. These also allow for some pretty cool tricks when getting through levels in a quick way. There is "hyperdashing", however, that feels horribly inconsistent and more like a glitch than an actual intended mechanic. 

The controls are the first major issue. The developers decided that using "raw input" for the joystick would be best, forgoing the usual Quality of Life additions that other platformers use to make sure you go left when you press left and right when you press right. This resulted in a frustrating experience on some levels where I accidentally dash diagonally when I want to dash left/right. It took a very long time for me to train up the precision necessary to avoid doing this, and I still do it from time to time. The most confusing part is they acknowledge this issue in interviews and in design, even making the downward dash have a smaller input on the joystick than the diagonals, but refuse to actually implement any sort of fix. 

The controls I could mark up to the Nintendo Switch. Perhaps it was a quirk of the joy-cons and would be better with the Pro Controller (it is) or with the joy-con d-pad (which has its own issues with diagonal inputs). The level design, however, is what turns Celeste from a fun, technical experience into a frustrating one.

The levels in the base game are appropriate level of difficulty. A few screens are really tough to pass with all the Strawberries (Celeste's optional collectible item). The level design does a great job of teaching the player how to play the game. Many b-sides are even appropriately difficult, teaching the player the more technical, "hidden" mechanics very well. However, a vast majority of the content in the game after the credits role will be an exercise in frustration. Levels begin to require insanely precise movements, with spikes and obstacles that only serve to make the timing required even more precise. In Farewell (the final Chapter added to the game as DLC), almost every single screen will take tens, if not hundreds of tries to pass. Some particularly egregious examples include 3 to 4 minute long levels that restart if you fail anyone on the way, or a level that requires 6 wavedashes in succession, one of which requires almost frame perfect inputs to execute. I could go on and on with examples of frustratingly difficult level design, with spikes and hazards added everywhere. Just know that most of the really challenging levels will be exercises in muscle memory, not your platforming ability. 

To address all these issues, this is what I'll say: not every platformer needs to be Super Meat Boy level of difficulty. Meat Boy was a novelty. It wasn't "good" design by any stretch of the imagination. It was just difficult for difficulty's sake. Take a step back and realize that, while difficulty and speedrunning have their place, it's not a good idea to make that mandatory. While I realize that Celeste's difficulty lies in its "post-game" content, the game is simply too short to call that optional. This is good for those who like the challenge (like me), but bad for basically everyone else. It makes Celeste a great "spectator sport", but not a great game.

There are enough puzzles in this game to make the puzzle design worth mentioning. To acquire each Crystal Heart (another rare collectible, one per level) you must solve a riddle of sorts. By and large, the puzzles are done well. There are a couple really well done puzzles, but also a couple really poorly done puzzles. One of the worst offenders is a puzzle that requires knowledge of Super Mario Bros 3 eastereggs/speedrun strategies to solve.

The art, music, and animations are all great: great pixel art, very varied and interesting environments, some solid tracks (and some not so solid tracks), and smooth animations. The story, on the other hand, is elementary, but likes to pretend it's more insightful than it is. Madeline, the protagonist, suffers from depression. Celeste Mountain gives form to her dark inner self (dubbed "Badeline" by the community) that hampers her progress. Madeline must make amends with herself in order to climb the mountain. There's another character, Theo, that is a caricature of modern social-media obsessed youth. This is portrayed as a positive thing, so I'm not sure if it was intended to be a caricature or if the writers are just that bad. The story, if it were written in another medium, would be appropriate for young children. Here, it simply feels out of place. At the very least, it does its job of pushing the game forward well. 

Overall, Celeste was enjoyable to complete the first time. When going back and completing the challenges, I had to take it in short bursts to avoid both the frustration and the hand cramps that resulted from the difficulty and precision required. I would recommend Celeste to two different demographics. Firstly, people who want a simple, short, platforming experience. The base game is short, but appropriately challenging, and the challenges can even be fun if you are picky about which ones you play. Secondly, to veterans of the genre who want a challenging, if frustrating, experience. There's not much room in between these two extremes, unfortunately.