Thanks to Matt Makes Games for the review code
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 01/25/2018
In this action platformer, you take control of a girl who embarks on a quest up the mysterious Celeste Mountain, a place filled with secrets and mysteries as she confronts her inner demons. The story isn’t as in-depth as an RPG, but I did feel that it was well written to the point that it’s best to not mention much about it and instead encourage you to watch it unfold with your own eyes.
Considering how this title was based off of a very simplistic flash game, (something that I remember playing in my High School fondly) Celeste has gone through a massive visual upgrade, with the pixel art now feeling like a title out of the 32 Bit era instead of the 8-Bit computer aesthetic of the retro version. Dialogue appears in this game and during these scenes gorgeous character portraits pop up to accompany the text, along with amusing gibberish.
The soundtrack deserves some praise as well, containing a lot of soothing and suspenseful tracks to guide you along the mountain, a lot of which I enjoyed so much that it makes me wonder if there will be a soundtrack release of some kind in the future!
Upon completing the short tutorial level, Celeste introduces you to a basic control scheme, where you move with the left stick or D-Pad, jump with the B button, grab onto walls and with the ZR button, and dash in eight directions with the Y button. In no time at all, I was able to get comfortable with this control scheme, enjoying the slow but steady start of the first chapter which taught me skills such as the wall climb and using a moving platform to launch yourself in another direction with the jump button. The game is split into multiple chapters, each containing plenty of secrets hidden behind alternate paths, akin to a metroidvania. These secrets are great fun to find, and help this game stand out more than just another super-hard platformer that wants you to get from point A to B, as most of the time spent during my playthrough consisted of me hunting down these secrets, and trying over and over again to clear any tricky rooms that lead to said challenges.
Considering how the controls in this game are really, really tight, it becomes second nature to use the simple controls to conquer any challenge you come across, even if it seems absolutely absurd at first. The only problem I encountered with the controls during my time with the game was a pretty annoying one where upon touching a green crystal (that allows you to dash again in mid-air without having to touch the ground again) the game was briefly pause for a split-second, which messed up my concentration during the first hour of the game until I finally got used to the stutter. Nevertheless, rooms with multiple green crystals at once were a pain to go through since the normally smooth pace of the game would constantly stutter as I collected the crystals, which are usually in rooms which require precise timing and aiming to complete.
Speaking of rooms, this game operates on a room-by-room system, not unlike Tiny Barbarian DX. Scattered around the many rooms that make up a chapter are hidden strawberries, which when collected will float in the air around you until you touch solid ground. These are the main collectible of the game, and there are quite a few of them hidden around each chapter, so searching for them without dying is all part of the fun! Other items that are hidden include B-Side tapes, which consist are sets of harder levels to complete, and Crystal hearts, which are so hard to find that I’ve only been able to see one out of reach, and haven’t been able to collect one in the four chapters I’ve played and replayed so far. Thankfully, Celeste is very forgiving when it comes to difficulty, respawning you at the beginning of the room upon death, which makes it very easy to try and try again on any particular challenge, since none of the rooms are that long, and you can save and quit at any time, making this a perfect pick up and play platformer for the Switch’s portable play.
Last but not least, Celeste also includes the original flash game buried away as a secret in one of the chapters. While this game is only twenty minutes long, a complete contrast from the length of the main adventure, (which can get to be quite long if you go for 100% and try to do the chapters deathless) it controls just as tightly as the newer experience, although it lacks the exploration elements in favor for a system where you just make it to the top of the mountain, and there’s no way to save. Just like the main game, you can keep trying a screen over and over again, so even this challenging minigame can be beaten with practice.
In conclusion, Celeste is a stellar addition to the Switch’s eShop lineup, being a super tight platformer that contains light exploration elements in order to keep players motivated to retry previously completed levels. Surprisingly, the Switch version of the game manages to share the same replay value of the other versions, despite lacking the achievements found in those ports. This is thanks to the fact that the achievements were given for basic stuff such as collecting every single secret item in a stage or clearing the story and not for doing anything out of the ordinary. In other words, you can still hunt down every single secret item in each of the chapters as you replay them for better death counts, and thus 100%ing the Switch version is no different than 100%ing the other versions of the game, which is fantastic considering how many switch titles leave out replay value by sacrificing achievements that are linked to random in-game moments that aren’t tracked outside of the achievements, so it was smart that the focus was put on the collectibles instead of the more minor things such as the death total. (but you can still challenge yourself to go for a lower death total on both the main story and the original minigame, hidden away) The only real problem I had with the game came from the irritating pause from collecting the green stamina crystals, as I found it to break the normally smooth pace of this platformer. Still, while Celeste might not be anything revolutionary or inventive, it is by far one of the best action platformers I’ve played in recent years, reminding me of indie classics like VVVVVV and Guacamelee, and being a title that I feel can stand among the best of the Indie scene.
The best part of Celeste is that unlike Super Meat Boy and The End is Nigh, other titles that focus on super hard platforming challenges, Celeste has an assist mode that makes the game accessible towards those who just want a relaxing, basic experience. It’s not forced on the player, it’s never offered as a “You Suck Powerup” like a Super Guide would be, and it’s not something that hinders the experience for the hardcore. This is exactly the way easier difficulties in a game should be, and combined with a normal difficulty level that’s still very forgiving in a way that prevents you from getting stuck for too long, it makes Celeste far more enjoyable and accessible to all, which is the biggest strength of this fun gem. I give Celeste a 9 out of 10, and I strongly recommend that any fans of action platformers check this game out. It’s the perfect type of challenging platformer while also satisfying those who love to explore and collect everything they find, offering a spectacular experience that is the best of both worlds.