Would you be willing to die 4,612 times in pursuit of a few hundred strawberries? Celeste quickly posits that its focus is in scaling a mountain, in confronting and overcoming your demons even as they scream at you to stop. But we all know that it’s really about the strawberries.
Celeste’s challenge (and to be clear, much of its magic) is self-imposed. It lies in you making an assumption that the game is lying to you in its earliest hours. “Strawberries will impress your friends, but that’s about it,” reads a postcard addressed to Madeline in an early loading screen. “Only collect them if you really want to!”
That’s game director Matt Thorson goading us. It has to be. He wants us to ignore the bloody strawberries so that he can saddle us with some sort of crappy ending 18 hours later, forcing us to crawl back through the entire catalogue of challenge rooms picking them from the most perilous locations Celeste Mountain has to offer; an exercise in anger management, a cautionary test for any players that don’t yet have ‘accidental’ damage insurance covering their Switch. Only collect them if we want to? Yeah, right… we see you, Thorson.
Celeste is, after all, a modern indie game – those strawberries will inevitably end up as a metaphor for something. Because there’s no way that the game would have us break our fingers for something as redundant as, say, baking a strawberry pie to appease a millennial you met up on the mountain, an annoying old woman, an illtempered ghost, and the manifestation of your Myspace profile picture, right? Right.
Celeste makes the pursuit of its allimportant mystery strawberries easy enough. No matter how challenging this excellent platformer may seem at any one time, each of its puzzles are heavily rooted in logic. They play by the internal rules that are quickly established in each of the seven core chapters, presenting an ever-escalating and invigorating series of navigational challenges. A checkpoint is never further than a screen away, and you should expect to never see any sort of game over screen or punishment for your numerous, numerous failings.
And, just to be clear, you will fail. Over and over. Failure is the catalyst for obtaining success, each of Celeste’s screens feeling like a fresh opportunity to overcome adversity with skill and dexterity. In many ways, Celeste feels like a natural evolution of the micro-challenge design popularised by Super Meat Boy. Bettering the indie classic with a more forthright pacing, hypnotic soundtrack, and poignant narrative frame that smartly leverages your ever-escalating determination and levels of stress as a way of exploring anxiety.
Celeste is excellent, an almost pixelperfect platformer that will impress, regardless of whether you become obsessed with its collectables or not. And as for the strawberries, we wouldn’t like to spoil the surprise entirely, but what we will say is this: we see you, Thorson. You’re going on the list.
above: While Celeste usually feels fair, it can occasionally cause heartbreak due to some strange path-finding decisions, which is particularly annoying given the labyrinthine design of a handful of its areas.
above: Matt Makes Games is now responsible for two of the best games of the generation: Celeste in terms of single-player, and the excellent Towerfall: Ascension for multiplayer action.
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