We've got our fair share of retro-themed platformers right now – and a handful of them are magnificent, a lovely throwback to an era where we couldn't get enough. But there are a certain few that fit into the "legendary" status, mainly because of what new content they bring to the picture, or just because they feel so perfect when you play them. Celeste, the latest game from Matt Thorson (who brought us the Towerfall games), actually fits in both categories.
The game follows in the footsteps of Madeline, a young adventurer that will stop at nothing to climb a legendary mountain. I won't spoil any of the story for you here, as its emotional heft is actually above what these games usually call for. It delivers a new sense of purpose, something you wouldn't usually get from "platformer A" and "platformer B", as it were. And that's part of what makes Celeste stand apart from the pack – it was made with love and devotion, and you feel it every step of the way.
Of course, you might not notice with the game's ridiculously high challenge level. At first, the game seems like a breeze, but about a half hour in, you'll begin to see the difficulty shift a bit, whether it's from a series of ghosts chasing after you relentlessly, or trying to figure your way around an endless group of spikes and lethal objects that could prevent you from reaching the next checkpoint.
Prepare For a Mighty Climb
This game is hard – like, Super Meat Boy hard – but it's not impossible. Devoted players will take a few tries to figure out rooms, only to go, "Ohhhhh!" in sheer genius when they finally figure it out. It shows the testament to Thorson's brilliant level design, which we can't get enough of. Later levels will certainly be taxing, but the package as a whole shows the kind of swift creation that truly sets it apart.
That, and the gameplay. It really feels natural, whether you play Celeste on the go or through the comfort of home. The controls really feel like they click at every turn, and when mistakes do come up, they're usually at the fault of the player, with nary a glitch in sight. Being able to use abilities like wall climbs and air dashes within the world are helpful too, along with secondary abilities, like air pockets that can shoot you in a different direction like a shot from a gun – although that can also mean your death if you don't time your jumps carefully. I love the way Celeste plays.
Some players may feel turned off by the game's high difficulty settings – it may not feel like it's for everyone at first. But rest easy, as the game offers up an Assist Mode, where you can turn on invincibility or infinite air jumps so that you can get around easier, amongst other tools. It seems a bit like cheating, and the game subtly reminds you that it's meant to be played with Assist Mode off, but it doesn't beat you over the head with it. It's part of the game's charming, "enjoy this the way you want" sort of tone, and that should make it welcome in everyone's game library.prevnext
A Must-Have For the New Gaming Year
I also enjoyed the game's presentation, which is awesome for its 8/16-bit style. The graphics look terrific, miles ahead of what we saw in the stationary stages in Towerfall, with wonderfully designed worlds and neat little secrets to find throughout, such as the strawberries that are in often hard-to-reach spots. Very little gets in the way of the design, and even the still screens look like something out of Nintendo's old-school era.
The music is enjoyable as well, with a thoughtful soundtrack that plays along with each step you take on this magical journey, as well as minimal sound effects that fill everything out nicely, without going overboard. It's just right.
On top of that, there are some neat hidden challenges you can track down in Celeste that make the game even harder, if you're the sort of person that savors a New Game + sort of mode. All you have to do is track down a few side cassette tapes (old-school!) and you're set to go. Of course, they're a handful to collect as well – but that's kinda the point of the game, right?
Even with its default difficulty being the way it is, Celeste is the perfect game to get our year of amazing indie games off on the right foot. It plays wonderfully without missing a beat, it offers something for all skill levels, and its presentation is colorful, and full of vibrant imagery. Love the soundtrack, too. It's going to be hard to top a game as lovely as Celeste, but it's going to be fun to see a lot of developers try.
WWG's Score: 5/5prev