It's About the Journey
It's About the Journey
Release Date: Jan 25 2018
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBX1, Switch
Metacritic: 93 (Switch)
Eager to play any new good-looking Indie game for my Switch, I picked up Celeste for the platforming challenge and the promise of a narrative-driven game not quite knowing what exactly I was getting into. What I thought would be a bite-sized platforming challenge to satisfy dull moments over the next few months at work ended up being a late night gaming session furiously trying to reach the top of Celeste Mountain, a journey I'd like to have again and again.
The premise is simple; your name is Madeline, and you are going to climb Celeste Mountain. You are warned that this is no easy task, but you are not giving up and going home. The gameplay echoes the themes of difficulty and perseverance: you are met with a series of screens containing platforming elements meant to challenge and outright frustrate you, and when you die, you seamlessly warp back to where you came. The levels go something like this:
1. Jump, wall-climb, wall-jump, and air-dash your way across the screen
2. Die to something tragically unexpected
3. Try again, having learned what to do.
The game boldly displays your death count after completing each level, and encourages you to be proud of dying lots of times - it means you're learning! The game does have robust options for making it easier ("more accessible", in its words), such as altering the game's physics and becoming invincible, but it strongly encourages you to play it on normal difficulty your first time around - which, as I'll get to in a moment, is actually a narrative point.
What makes this game so special is the effect that Celeste Mountain has not only on Madeline, but on you. At the beginning, you and Madeline are both there for the same reason - "idk, to reach the top?" As Madeline goes on this journey she slowly figures out that it is actually about self-discovery and recovery. What seemed like a platforming challenge that you're doing just to "beat the game" becomes an introspective and therapeutic experience that is relatable and powerful. I not only wanted to progress to advance the story, I wanted to progress so that I could join Madeline in experiencing Celeste Mountain.
My goal going into this was to beat the game, but I realized later on that goal wasn't as important as the journey itself. This game brings light to and respects Depression and Anxiety in ways that I've never seen in a game before. There's actually a part of it that I remember now whenever I'm starting to feel particularly anxious. It's by no means a depressing game; on the contrary I felt immensely calm, happy, and accomplished each time I played it. It really encourages you to deal with the problems in front of you and persevere in the face of frustrating challenges and the weight of your own thoughts.
But it's not just about that. It's funny, it's beautiful, and it's intriguing. There were laugh out loud moments, there were gorgeous scenes and music, and there were creative concepts that blew my mind from a creator's standpoint. Pixel art once again proves that it is indeed timeless, and the game makes great use of it. The hand-drawn pictures aren't as timeless imo, but still cute. The music was very catchy and never a chore to listen to; I've had a couple themes stuck in my head this week and they're pretty relaxing to listen to while you work!
I cannot recommend this game enough. It's stood out among all the games I've ever played as one that is VERY special and deserving of praise. It was a short and at times frustrating experience, but particularly empowering. I'll definitely want to revisit it again and again. Pick up Celeste on any platform for $20 and enjoy the hike.