Light theme

Celeste review
by NafaryusDestiny

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.

Other reviews39

It was the first game I played after a really long pause. Enjoyed it so much.
I kept dying and trying and dying and trying until I finished it.
«Beaten more than once»
Immensely enjoyable adventure that teaches a lot of stuff regarding mental health   
«Blew my mind»
amazing game. it enhanced my love for platformer even more tho i coudnt do the cassete levels, maybe one day?
«Blew my mind»
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»
Completed as of writing this review: Base Game.

This game has made me think of how great indie games are in general. Beautiful worlds, soothing music, inspiring story, and a fair challenge. I demand you try this game out! It won't disappoint!
«Blew my mind»
«Sit back and relax»
I LOVE THIS GAME SO MUCH! The gameplay is very fun and challenging. The story involves you, and the feeling at the end is a mix of achievment and happiness
«Blew my mind»
The amazing game! I want more games like it.
«Can’t stop playing»
Fun and not completely impossible.  Might make you think and/or feel.
Celeste is like a jigsaw puzzle. That may seem obvious because Celeste is a puzzle-platformer but that is the best way I can think of that summarizes the entire game. Half of the battle is finding out how to fit pieces together, and the other is to actually fit them together. In real puzzles, these parts aren’t really that difficult, you grab a piece, see where it fits maybe by looking at the picture on the box, and attach it to the other pieces. In Celeste, both of these parts are more complex.

Not only does Celeste have more complex pieces: jumping, moving left and right, dashing in eight directions, climbing walls, and many level gimmicks; fitting them together requires precise timing and execution.

 While I think anyone who is interested in platformers should give Celeste a try, there are some things that could prevent some from enjoying it. The base moveset that the player has could possibly be too simple to keep your attention for the game’s whole runtime. I think that the level gimmicks make up for this but you may think the opposite. The game is difficult, especially towards the endgame. It is guaranteed that you will die over and over again, maybe even on the same screen. The story is one that I wouldn’t call stellar and I don’t think you should play Celeste just for the story. And the game doesn’t really have a reward for finishing its most difficult tasks, it rewards you with more challenges.

Though the biggest problem I have with Celeste, and the only reason I can’t recommend it to everyone is that it doesn't teach some mechanics to the player, and when it does teach you mechanics through its level design, it is not always clear. Continuing with the puzzle analogy, it's like someone taking some of the pieces when you weren't looking, you’d probably have to try out every piece to see if it fits before you realize that one piece is missing. Since Celeste requires careful execution to do this, it could lead to frustrating times for some players.

But when all of the pieces are laid out, Celeste becomes very rewarding, it does so not by giving the player more abilities or skills to play with but with even more challenges to overcome. It gets extremely difficult, but it is still a game that wants you to beat it. Celeste’s best moments really come from beating what at first seemed like insurmountable tasks. If you like that sort of thing in video games and are into platformers, then I highly recommend giving Celeste a shot.
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»