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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 reviews16

story is whole, gameplay is enthralling, but spent some time learning the controls. + some moments were exhausting
characters are a little chatty and an ending area is walled off behind an obscenely difficult prerequisite, but other than that, this game is pretty much perfect. an amazing achievement on many fronts and a true must-play.
Translated by
Microsoft from French
Celeste will be my last platformer. I'm not old enough for that, obviously. Everything is going too fast, and I need dozens or even hundreds of tests to pass a screen that my son spends in 3 or 5 attempts. Just for forcing me to this realization, my vote is negative. But not that. Good. Now the good points: * it's pretty. That's what made me buy the game. * The structure of the game is well thought out. I appreciated that once a level is over, I am told what "strawberries" I missed and that I can replay part of the level only. * Puzzles are usually nice, not too easy, not too hard. Well I still looking for the cassette of level 2... But other than that, it's okay. And the bad points: * that's a lot, way too hard for me. I'm coming towards the end of the game, I think, but I spent a lot of time, probably about three times too much. And most of all, so much of that time was an effort rather than a fun one. When you die ten, ving, a hundred times in a row on the same passage, it comes to hate the game, and to say that it should be better to stop than to continue to get excited. I am reduced to playing a quarter of an hour or half an hour maximum a day, and even on such short times, only the first five are fun. The rest is atrocious. * It's barely a platformer. Everything is so fast that I can't react to what happens to the character. If I wait to see where it is to move, I die. This means that it is impossible to correct an error, but in any case, the game is not made for that. Each screen is intended to be passed in a certain way, with a certain chain of buttons, and not otherwise. (Well, it's a speedrun game, so I guess finding alternative paths is part of the game's charm, but I'm not playing that lens there. I can't afford it anyway.) In short, in the end, you have to learn by heart the sequence of buttons and movements that lead to the end of the screen. So it's... a rhythm game, and not a platformer. And I don't like rhythm games. :(* Finally, the big black dot of the game are his orders. Celeste's movements are at 360 °, with finesse in the direction and speed of movements. EXCEPT for sprints, which they are made according to 8 directions. The interface hesitates between directional cross and stick. I died an untold number of times because Celeste left right or top while I wanted to go diagonally, top right. Or conversely, she left diagonally while I wanted to go straight. In Celeste, it's not the intrintu difficulty of the levels that kills me, with a few exceptions. I know quickly where to go and how to get there. No, what kills me is diagonal errors or rhythm errors. I was able to pass and iron the same screens dozens of times waiting to get to the end without Celeste leaving in the cabbage because she does not understand where I want her to go, without she misses a target for a rhythm error of one hundredth of a second , and without, to be honest, that I do not crash between (yet few) buttons to use. You may guess that I am writing this criticism out of a particularly frustrating part of Celeste. But it's not just a blood stroke. It was built over (too) many painful hours. Alas, Celeste's flaws are inscribed in her DNA and cannot be corrected by a patch. It is a game that is designed to be hard, intended for talented and motivated players who will spend hours there. This is not a game for me.

+ Incredibly tight controls
+ Excellent difficulty balance
+ Unique story was unexpected delight

- Platforming doesn't break new ground in genre
- Retro visuals don't stand out from herd
Just beautiful, in every way.
There is nothing else to say about this masterpiece.
«Blew my mind»
Incredible visuals,
Amazing music,
and a heart-warming story.

A rare platformer which understands why people love the genre so it does everything it must in the best way, and doesn’t go to any other genre to borrow something. I really love this one.
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
Incredibly satisfying platforming mechanics, but most surprisingly, a touching story and a  spectacular soundtrack. I knew I'd like this because I'm a fan of Towerfall, but Celeste has great exceeded my expectations. Play this game!
I love how you move in this game, it feels very smooth for a platformer. There’s a lot of content in the game, you’ll need at least 20 hours to complete 100%. Lots of ways to move around the levels, tons of hidden secrets, each chapter is special with all gameplay elements. This is a must have for all who enjoy 2D platformers.
«Can’t stop playing»
Another masterpiece on Switch. You die 200 times to get through one level, then you finally beat it and go to another level where you die 400 times. Btw, for a platformer it has a great and unique story.
«Blew my mind»