An Indie platformer that punches well above its weight, and lands every shot
Crisp controls mated with innovative design always make for engaging games, and Celeste has both of these in spades. Add in a strong, emotive storyline and the result is an absolute masterpiece of platforming perfection.
Madeline is a young woman who sets out to climb the fictional mountain Celeste in an attempt to address her depression and anxiety. Unfortunately for her, Celeste has the power to manifest one's inner self into reality, and Madeline is forced to face a hostile and long-suppressed part of herself as she ascends the mountain. What follows is a beautiful story about confronting your inner demons that also provides a chilling insight into living with depression whilst putting forward a brave face.
Elegance in simplicity is a mantra that I feel many strive for, but few achieve. Celeste is very clever in how it uses simple concepts in different ways to create a truly elegant gaming experience.
You have the fairly standard platforming toolset at your disposal: move, jump, wall-hold and dash. The brilliance lies in how these abilities are implemented in each world, changing how you interact with the environment whilst remaining familiar at all times. One world is really windy, another grows with a deadly fungus limiting available platform options, yet another contains platforms that only move when you activate your dash ability.
Each new element is gently introduced before pushing your dexterity to the absolute limit. There is some serious challenge to be found here; even seasoned veterans will struggle to keep Madeline alive as she climbs the mountain. I personally died 1289 times during my ascension but you know what? It wasn't a chore. Restarts are almost instantaneous, and with such tight and responsive controls, failure never feels unfair.
The beauty of such a design is that it encourages experimentation, which given the lack of real tutorial means the reward for beating levels is real. There are strawberries to collect if that's your cup of tea, and there are also 'B-sides' to find - even more difficult versions of each world if you're up for the challenge.
The retro pixel style that seems to be so popular these days strikes again but is implemented to such a high standard that you'd be forgiven for thinking that Celeste was created by a bigger developer. The world is full of hand-crafted details that ooze character, and the whole thing runs silky smooth. Screenshots don't do this game justice.
Varying between catchy chip-tunes and emotive classical pieces, the soundtrack compliments the story and drama beautifully. Speech is handled Banjo-Kazooie style which was a bit jarring at first, but actually grew on me and conveyed a lot more emotion than I expected. I did find that the music got a bit repetitive at times, but that was mainly due to too many deaths - one could argue that's my own fault.
With a beautiful storyline, a lovingly crafted retro world and one of the best 2D platforming experiences around, Celeste might very well be a contender for game of the year. I know that that's a big call given it's only February, but I've never cared about a block of pixels as much as I have Madeline. Helping her climb higher up the mountain whilst identifying and reconciling inner demons meant the huge variety of levels never felt as such - each new level was another step closer to finding closure for her. The fact that the levels were fun, challenging and rewarding is just icing on the cake.