The purpose of a video game has always been to entertain us. Usually, we’re supposed to have fun with them. Sometimes a game will frustrate us. Sometimes they will make us emotional and potentially end up in tears. But sometimes a game will be a source of fun, frustration, and emotions, all while touting an important theme with a valuable lesson that can be learned from it. So it is with Celeste. Not only is it a great platformer, Celeste’s story is one where players are able to relate to the protagonist and understand the mental tribulations she undergoes throughout the game.
Not your typical climb
The journey to the top of Celeste Mountain is seen through the eyes of Madeline, a young woman whose troubled mind drives her to attempt the climb, one where many have failed in the past. Unlike its real-life counterpart, Mount Celeste is said to be a mountain infused with magical powers able to draw out the “true self” of any climber, an integral part of Madeline’s story. The mountain itself is over 3000 meters high, with multiple areas to trek across divided into chapters. From an abandoned city to an equally abandoned hotel, you will find your way across the numerous stages each chapter presents as you ascend higher and higher to the ultimate prize: the summit.
As with any puzzle-like game, the platforming challenges become progressively harder as you get further into the game. However, the game never forces you to deal with the same puzzles over and over again. Celeste continuously introduces new obstacles and mechanics even in the middle of a chapter. You are constantly being challenged by a new environmental object that requires more than just jumping onto a platform or holding onto a ledge to overcome it.
The core stages can be quite difficult, especially when you’re still trying to figure out how to make it to the next stage. But for some, especially those with experience in platformers, they may want something even harder for them. Sure, the stages hold strawberries that provide additional objectives and difficulty to the level that they’re in, but people want more. That’s where the B-Side levels come in. Unlocked by finding cassette tapes hidden in each chapter, Celeste’s B-Side levels are significantly harder versions of the levels their cassette tapes reside in. They require a mastery of the seemingly simple mechanics of jumping, dashing, and climbing in order to get anywhere. If even the B-Side isn’t enough, there exists C-Side levels where it goes without saying that they are even harder than their predecessors. But if you’re the average person and just wants to play the game as is, the A-side of Celeste will be more than enough to challenge you as you become increasingly aggravated over the many deaths you will inevitable sustain from the ascent.
Worry not if you are concerned the game proves to be truly impossible for you to beat; there exists a feature called assist mode to allow you to play the game at a much more relaxed pace. Here, you are able to adjust the game speed, enable infinite stamina, adjust the amount of air dashes you may have, and even turn on invincibility. Even if you just want to get past an incredibly difficult stage, assist mode will ensure anyone can complete the game from start to finish without feeling insulted that the game made it too easy for them.
Madeline vs. the Mountain
The frustrations you feel for climbing the mountain isn’t just felt by you. Every mistake you make is a mistake Madeline makes. Though you may be the player, this is her journey. Her reason for climbing the mountain will not be revealed outright at first, but as you grow to learn about her and the extent of her depression and anxiety, you will understand and perhaps even relate to her angst, her emotional breakdowns, and her absence of clarity. Celeste isn’t just about the mountain: it’s about Madeline and the inner turmoil she faces and the stages she goes through to come to terms with who she is.
The mountain is key for Madeline here. Just like how the state of depression is a source of frustration and despair, so too is the mountain, with its seemingly endless stages and inaccessible heights. No ordeal is without its setbacks, and Mount Celeste has no holds barred. Spikes will impale you. The wind will knock you off ledges. Creatures will incapacitate you. But with every passed stage comes a step further in getting over the negative mentality that chains Madeline. Every chapter cleared, a cathartic feeling that is only surpassed by the final, climatic moment of the ascent.
But the climb isn’t meant to only help Madeline. You, the player, may draw inspiration from Celeste’s message. Perhaps you won’t be able to fully emphasize with Madeline as you do not share her issues. But surely, there has been plenty of times where life has brought upon you a figurative mountain you felt you could not overcome. In those moments come negative feelings of uncertainty and overwhelming pressure. But every mountain has a path to the top, be it a literal or metaphorical mountain. The important thing isn’t to just find the path; what’s truly important is to believe that you can find the path, believe in yourself that, even if there seems to be no way out, there is a way, and you will find it. Celeste tells this in such a beautifully put way that many fans out there have written about how the game has helped and inspired them in their own lives.
This has been a rather unconventional review, but I wanted to emphasis that Celeste is much more than just a platforming game. The message that Matt Thorson wanted to throw at you is one that is to be carried with you throughout your entire life, when your path is unclear and the dark recesses of your mind try to eat away at your sense of purpose. But the acceptance of your situation is the vital ingredient for moving past those obstacles, even if it is something you can never truly be rid of. Celeste is a game that is not only fun but also inspirational for empowering you with the “on top of the world” feeling that you can do anything. And sometimes, that boost is exactly what you need to keep going.
You can find Celeste on Steam here.
Celeste is also found on itch.io here.
The game is also available for the Switch here.