Review: Celeste | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Celeste

Redbrick Gaming writer Christopher Hall reviews the critically-acclaimed 2-D platformer Celeste

It’s been a fair bit of time since I’ve truly adored a 2D platformer. One reason is because there’s such high number of 2D platformers in the market. Make no mistake, there still has been great platformers between 2015 and 2017, but none that reached the ultimate highs like Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy or Rayman Legends. Until now.

Celeste is about this girl wanting to climb the mountain to achieve something. It combines elements from The End is Nigh, Breath of The Wild and Wings of Vi and results in this 2D platformer that is really, really great.

One of the best 2D platformers ever made, if not the best, and what will definitely be a game of the year candidate. A game that has grabbed me in a way that very few games can. The only games I can recall in the last couple of years that grabbed me as much this is 2015’s The Witcher III and 2017’s Persona 5.

One of the most necessary parts that needs to be done right in a platformer is level design. Celeste smashes this out of the park. You have two main abilities in the game on top of standard movement options (jump, walk, ….) dash and climb. Now, I said it takes elements from Breath of The Wild ,and that’s where the next element comes into play. You only have a limited amount of stamina where if you run out while climbing, then start to slide down and recover it when you touch the ground. However, two important things are done in this game differently than in Breath of The Wild.

The moment you touch the ground in this game you recover all your stamina instantly, and there’s no stamina meter also. The Dash Mechanic is taken from Wings of Vi. Whereas in Wings of Vi you had to collect feathers in order to dash, in Celeste you have one dash that can be used similarly to Wings of Vi’s dash in air, and it’s recovered once you hit the ground. You have eight directions where you can dash. When it comes to the level design both Mechanics are taken and used to a great deal, and in general the game is less precision platforming and more using the tools you have alongside the other concepts within the levels. Each level has at least one unique mechanic introduced, and unlike Super Mario Odyssey where they never stayed with a mechanic for more than one mini dungeon, Celeste builds on the mechanics you have as a character and the new mechanics introduced in the level, which means the unique mechanics are used in different ways.

As a result of introducing new mechanics for each level, the game is always interesting, but as a result of sticking with the mechanic introduced in the level for more than a minute, we get to see more interesting ways of how this mechanic is used. Celeste really does strike that balance incredibly well between fresh new mechanics, and not moving on too soon so that potential for the mechanics introduced are missed. Each set of mechanics introduced invalidly are also very distinct and interesting. As far as overall level design goes, the most similarities there are is The End is Nigh. You have main areas of platforming challenges you have to go through, but by finding different pathways you can find secret areas that are additional platforming challenges that you can do to collect strawberries. Furthermore, in each level you can find a tape that leads to B-side challenges which are far harder versions for each area.

When it comes to difficulty, Celeste handles difficulty well where difficulty is much more fun than frustrating. Unlike Wolfenstein II a game (and a pretty good one) that I deeply criticized in my review, when it comes to handling difficulty (where at times the difficulty in some sections were not fun at all) Celeste very rarely if ever runs the risk of not being fun.

When it comes to art style, it's good. It’s very colourful with each place being very different from each other stylishly as well as mechanically. The art style used is a pixel style which, while it doesn’t reach the highs of Owlboy or the recent Iconoclasts, it really doesn’t need considering how much fun the game is. Where Owlboy and Iconoclasts both run the risk of style of over substance, Celeste really has both. Probably more so in substance. 

The portrayal of mental illness is handled really well throughout the game

As far as content goes, it took me about 8 hours to complete the main story with hunting strawberries on the side. After the main story, you revisit the areas with B (unlocked with tapes) and C sides (available after completing B-sides and collecting blue hearts via puzzles), but the levels are very different using the mechanics in the area in different and far more difficult ways, which has resulted in my playtime being well over the initial 8 hours. As a package, there’s plenty of content with very little filler. That being said, there is one criticism I’ll bring up - it’s very late into the game’s B-side missions which is a particular wall jump boost that is a bit too precise for its own good which starts with a poor tutorial. I’m not sure how to make the tutorial good and it doesn’t hurt the game but it’s a small shame.

To back everything here already, there's an amazing soundtrack. The soundtrack really fits the themes of each area, helping you to get more into the mood of what I feel was a very intended feeling. The transitions of the soundtrack through a level are very well thought out and are very effective, and I’m someone who does overlook the soundtrack in games. But because of the greatness of Celeste’s soundtrack, I couldn’t overlook it.

Now something else that in this genre I would normally talk about for about a sentence because of the genre is the plot. The plot in this genre of games is almost always mediocre and disposable at best, and often any attempt to make it more important hurts the game more so than helping it.

One of the best 2D platformers ever made
 This holds partially true normally for games in general, with a few genre exceptions e.g. walking simulators, but it holds especially true for platformers. With all that in mind its hard to understand how Celeste actually ends up having a pretty great narrative. The plot may be simple at first, but the characters are very likeable, and that's comforting considering they see you through your journey. As the game goes on you realise that you’re climbing to the top of the mountain not just for some reason that no player should care about, but there’s a significant reason that is very relatable in real life. If you have had a mental illness then you might have experienced this reason, and you might be able to connect to this story.

The portrayal of mental illness is handled really well throughout the game. It helps that the game has a lot of heart and charm, but one criticism that may be had here is how dialog in the game is handled, and one that games like Banjo Tooie and Yooka Laylee are to blame where each of the words are acted with a sound. I found in this case that it wasn’t as annoying as one would have thought. It’s certainly not as obnoxious as the sounds done in Yooka Laylee, but does any game need it? Can’t one sound per sentence be enough? The story however is beautifully balanced with gameplay.

One problem that games can have with stories, especially in this genre, is that the story can get in the way of the gameplay, and as a result ruin the game. But in Celeste, the balance between story and gameplay is really well done. People don’t come to play 2D platformers for story, so by not being story heavy at the start means it’s not going to drive away players, and by being narratively relatively light but meaningful means what you end up with is a game that has a great narrative, but not a game that has sacrificed gameplay for that. It’s nowhere near the best narrative seen in a videogame, but that’s okay because the game isn’t riding entirely on that, expecting you to slog through the gameplay. Celeste’s gameplay is really fun and the story is great, but even if you don’t care for the story, what you've got is still a fantastic game.

The story pushes it into what will be game of the year territory if it wasn’t there already. So much to the point of if I don’t place it at the end of the year in my top 5 games of 2018, then 2018 is by far the best year ever. Celeste is a game that is so fun while knowing how to pull you in emotionally as well. A game that will be better than almost anything the AAA games industry will publish this year. A game that you owe yourself to play, and since it’s on PS4, Xbox One, PC and The Switch, you have no excuse. Celeste is in a word, superb.

Second year maths student. Interested on games whether tabletop or video games. Also really likes poker and swimming which is one of the few sports I like (@Chris52828901)


3rd March 2018 at 9:00 am

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