Scale the Mountain in your heart.
From the moment you start the game “Celeste” oozes nostalgia. The music, the graphics, the gameplay, it all blends together beautifully to create a world where you forget you are playing a game that looks like it could have been made 20 years ago compared to the hyper realistic graphics of today. The story, sweet and genuine, teaches you a good lesson everyone should learn about themselves. However, you don’t get to see the story easily, this game makes you earn every stage, every level, and every collectible. It forces you to think in creative ways and try to puzzle solve the way that you know best. This game is an adventure that will put you through your paces and make you earn every little thing you get. Celeste is a game that is difficult, but very worth it, not just for the story, or the gameplay, this game is the complete package. Before we begin though, This is your official spoiler warning.
Gameplay wise this feels like a classic Nintendo game with a few different twists. A Metroid-Vania/ Super Mario Brothers feeling blends together in the type of platforming found in this game. There are times when backtracking, and doing puzzles, all makes it feel like Super Metroid with getting story progressing powerups very naturally. The double dash gives you and incredible feeling of power and it opens unexpected layers to the game that otherwise would be impossible with the classic control scheme. Before all that, though, the wall climbing introduced in the beginning is tight, precise, and most importantly, you feel like every movement is your choice. Making every death feel like you did it to yourself. Which in a game like Celeste where you WILL die many times, it needs to feel like a user error, not the game having an unfair advantage or poor planning. This is very apparent, the puzzles are challenging and the platforming is fun, creating a good balance between fast paced movement flying all over the place and more methodical movement that is planned out.
Aesthetically Celeste stands out from its contemporary counterparts in the indie genre because of how distinctive the art style is and how the abstract art and style of the mansion directly influence the game and how it plays. The traditional indie look works very well, stripping down the aesthetics makes Madeline a more anonymous character and it becomes easier for her to be the vessel explaining the plot. Making Madeline and the Dark Manifestation inside her symbols for two sides of the same coin. The visuals don’t just help explain the world. The Pico-8 is absolutely amazing. When first booting up this entirely separate minigame from the regular game, it looks just like the classic Ice Climbers game on the NES. It is so strikingly similar I initially had the thought of it being a knock-off version of the classic game, but I quickly realized that this is a much better version and the same depth and flair of the original Celeste was there, it just follows the Ice Climbers game format more closely. Without any of the story beats, those are saved for the main game.
At the opening curtain of the game we see Madeline approaching the base of the mountain, we have the same knowledge of the mountain as she does, absolutely none. As you progress up the mountain the story blooms before you as you learn who Madeline is, why she’s out here, who everyone else is, and inexplicably what is going on with the mountain. As previously discussed as the game goes on Madeline goes from being the main character to being a symbol, one in contrast to the main villain of the game, Madeline. I say Madeline because even though a completely different physical being, she is the darker side of Madeline. She causes the majority of the bad things to happen throughout the game, as a deterrent to discourage Madeline from going forward and reaching the summit. The story of Madeline and her darker side eventually graduates to a symbolic relationship. Madeline and her dark side are an updated version of the ancient tale of Yin and Yang, with the context of facing your fears. Madeline is a brash explorer ready to take on all the challenges ahead. The dark side, feels that the road ahead is too tough, and that she is not up to the task. Both are caught in a cat and mouse struggle to prove the other wrong. It isn’t until Madeline has reached her literal lowest point in the game, that she realizes what she must do. She must make peace with her inner strife, work with it and realize that they are legitimate feelings but she cannot let it hold her back. The take is different and it makes a much stronger statement in today’s environment rather than if the story had become cliche in overcoming fears.
The bonus level being the heart of the mountain adds a completely unexpected twist to the control scheme, some of the rules are completely changed up and the game plays completely differently with just a few tweaks. It gets incredibly difficult, by far the hardest part of the game. it also does a masterful job of incentivizing completion, there is no visible reason to be collecting all of the items given to you to collect until you reach this stage. You get one ending for collecting enough stone hearts, and may access better endings for the more stone hearts you have. But the way to collect those stone hearts is to collect, and BEAT the B-sides. These are harder versions of the levels you already played, as if the normal game wasn’t enough. What’s more is that there are C-sides as well. There are MANY levels to this game that open up to you if you are willing to put in the leg work to get them. Just like the rest of the game though, they do not make it easy at all.
This game does everything you could ask it to do and more. The story is enthralling, the gameplay is wildy addictive. It has a cuphead sense of progression where you understand things better the more times you die and try it over again. Death is not punished in this game, there is no loss or shame involved. Death is seen as experimentation, which is an amazing feeling to get in a game like this. The story hits all of the high notes and provides humor, sadness, and enough of a touch of reality to make you introspective upon finishing the game. This game truly is amazing from start to finish. This is a game that even if you don’t complete games, you will at least consider going back and beating the extras, because you KNOW that the reward will be worth the effort. Not enough good can be said about this game. It is one that cannot and should not be missed, it is cheap and found on any platform. Do yourself a favor and play this incredible game.