Celeste review

E3 was last week (yes, I’m still talking about it because yes, I’m still exhausted) which means I bought some video games on sale. One of these games was the highly lauded Celeste, a platformer which released last year on all consoles, but was highly successful on the Nintendo Switch in a year where Nintendo itself was offering considerably less support than its amazing 2017 lineup. Critics and gamers alike adored it but I, the caretaker of the Most Important Opinion, am here to report: it was fine.

Celeste isn’t a game that is meant to punish you. It’s hard, of course, and you will find yourself dying over and over again to the same trap, but the game never wants you to feel frustrated. As you play, loading screens will encourage you not to worry about your death count (you’re learning!) and that strawberries shouldn’t be a priority (they don’t help you at all!). Plus, the whole structure of the game is split up into screens, and once you clear one, you will start from that point after every death. Assuming the screens are short and players are good enough to get it eventually, that means few people will be stuck in the same spot over and over again. Unfortunately, the screens don’t stay that short for that long, and the game is punishing enough that even the slightly finnicky controls will start to feel like chains weighing the player down.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was fun for sure. I was in the mood for a mindless game, something that took skill that didn’t involve guns, and this totally fit that niche. The beginning of the game was gorgeous, and I thought it really taught you the mechanics in a straight up master-class type of way. Even the little side paths which only led to strawberries had expert level tutorial screens, which I definitely appreciated. But as the game went on, I found myself more and more frustrated with the level design and the controls.

An evergreen (and lame) excuse for being bad at games is “there’s something wrong with my controller.” Honestly though, there was something wrong with my controller. Dashing diagonally was especially difficult – it felt like I was fighting the stick to go in the right direction, and when an errant dash means starting the entire screen over again… well, it doesn’t make the problem endearing. Of course, it doesn’t help that as the game goes on, not only does the difficulty ramp up seemingly exponentially, but the screens get longer and longer, and suddenly you find yourself wasting 20, 50, 100 lives to the same set of challenges.

Story shines brightest here though, as our main character Madeline makes her way up the titular mountain and deeper into her own psyche. She contends with anxious ghosts, bad memories, and even her own internal demons as she learns that her flaws aren’t bugs, but features. Madeline’s experiences with panic attacks felt intensely true to life, and I love the way they were incorporated into the gameplay. Overall, it felt like the first truly optimistic perspective on mental health I have ever seen, and it made me hopeful for my own future as I struggle with similar issues.

Look, the game was good. Not GOTY good, in my humble opinion, but definitely worth a try. If you are a fan of platformers, especially difficult ones, then this game is for you. And if you aren’t, you can always turn on Assist Mode.

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