Celeste review

last edited 2023-10-07

Celeste is a precision platformer about a girl climbing a mountain to overcome self-doubt.


I might not have played Celeste if I'd understood at the time that I don't like precision platformers categorically, but I didn't. So, I'm not going to rag on it here for being one, I'll just link the article where I explain what I mean by precision platformers and why I don't like them.

Game genres I don't like

Other than that, though, Celeste gets everything right about the gameplay. There are quick retries, autosaves with reasonable section length, and I never had a single death that seemed like it couldn't have been avoided without foreknowledge. You always get enough time to react to things after you see them.

There is also an "assist mode", which is an excellent implementation of an easy mode. It lets you choose various advantages like adjusting game speed or unlimited wall-climbing stamina and you can turn them on or off at any time. I used it to get around a bug causing one section to be impractical. Uniquely, it's not framed as a persistent setting or something you're *supposed* to do, but as an emergency tool, encouraging everyone to only use it after seeing from experience that they can't proceed without.

Difficulty settings are good!


The story was definitely more interesting to me than the game. I didn't much like screen after screen of precision platforming with sparse dialogue and no end in sight. (I was much happier with the chapter where you can see how many checkpoints you have left before the end.) I didn't do the optional challenges and I definitely wouldn't have finished the game if not for the story.

The game really cares about its side characters. Everyone you think is a one-time use NPC turns out to have multiple sides and be important and interesting in their own right. While the game is about Madeline's story, it shows that everyone else has a story too, and that's awesome. The writing is really good. I don't think there was a single line of clumsy or boring dialogue.

The artwork is really good, and the voice byte system is more sophisticated than Undertale's and allows a character's voice to change tone while still sounding like the same character. And I just love the way they sound, they're cute and charming.

My favorite part of the game, by far, was when Madeline and another character spend the night around a campfire and there's loooots of dialogue. It's all so good and the characters are so likeable, and it's so cool that you get to choose what order they go through the conversations topics in, and you pick options where each one of them speaks first, so it's like you're controlling both characters! I think there's a lot of unexplored story design space based on the idea of controlling more than one character (Bad End Theater is a good example of it). I was disappointed that nothing like this ever happens again.

There is one major story point that I dislike. So, the prologue establishes Madeline's potential growth arc by briefly showing her as self-doubting or mildly depressed. It's foreshadowed that the mountain has magical properties, that it makes you face your true self or something, and the main antagonist is Madeline's evil alter that people seem to call Badeline. Badeline represents Madeline being sabotaged by self-doubt.

But when Madeline defeats her in the mid-late-game climax, Badeline doesn't get vanquished or absorbed, but becomes an ally. This just doesn't work because it contradicts the idea that Badeline is not literally a separate person but a personification of a weakness. It would work if she became an ally in a way that still represented self-doubt (if she became the voice of rational caution - but then that wouldn't fit this story), but the way it happens, she just ceases to represent self-doubt. She's a metaphor that no longer represents anything.

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