Review: Celeste (PS4)

Review: Celeste (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC, Mac, Linux

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Celeste
Format: PSN (748.68 MB)
Release Date: January 25, 2018
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), £15.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I’ve previously used psnation.com as an outlet to profess my undying love for TowerFall Ascension, the local multiplayer battle arena game from developer Matt Makes Games. Needless to say, I was excited to hear about their follow up project Celeste, and intrigued to learn that while it would possess the same look and platforming feel of TowerFall, it would be a single player narrative.

Games like TowerFall Ascension are what made me a believer in the Indie movement and solidified for me their place in the oversaturated games market, proving that they can in fact compete with Triple-A for my time. Whilst 1,000 person teams, $100,000,000 budgets, and $100 ‘special edition’ price tags can result in incredible experiences, gameplay will always be king in my heart.

Celeste would absolutely excel upon the merits of its tight controls, pixel perfect platforming, and exhilarating sequences alone but in addition to that, there exists a heartfelt narrative about the perils of life itself.

Even more interesting is the parallel drawn between the game’s difficulty and your protagonist’s run ins with serious instances of denial, anxiety, and depression to name a few. There really is something incredibly special here.

Gameplay:
You play as Madeline, a young woman who is unsure about the elusive origins of her desire to conquer the titular Celeste Mountain. She faces adversity from the very beginning, as the first NPC introduced makes a mockery of what she believes will be an inevitable failure of a journey to the summit.

Navigating the game’s eight chapters will most certainly prove difficult but the shared determination between player and protagonist, you conquering tough platforming puzzles while Madeline overcomes her inner demons, creates a brilliantly rare and nurturing motivation.

An aspect of the game design that keeps the player engaged is the convenience and immediacy of the retry. Before you have a chance to reflect upon your fatal mistake, you’re thrown right back into the action on the same screen that caused your demise.

Prior to even attempting the game’s most difficult challenges, I had a death count of over 1,200 and every spike that impaled me, each disappearing platform that fooled me, and all the optional collectibles that taunted me sparked a staunchness to continue the climb.

The moment to moment gameplay of Celeste consists mostly of navigating a static screen from point A to point B. The puzzle element comes by way of figuring out the nuances of that navigation within the confines of Madeline’s capabilities.

Armed with only basic movement, a multidirectional dash maneuver, and the ability to cling to walls with limiting stamina, reaching the next screen will demand a combined platforming proficiency and puzzle prowess.

While it might not sound like much on paper, the gameplay is brilliant in its minimalism. During one early sequence, a boss of sorts chases Madeline across multiple screens and forces the player to abandon the methodical planning they’ve learned thus far.

Checkpoints become less forgiving and retries more frustrating, completely changing the gameplay dynamic for this section. This sort of refreshing variety is what keeps your limited interaction with the game world from ever feeling stale.

One hundred seventy-five strawberries are hidden throughout the game, usually on completely optional dead end screens that are often more difficult than their adjacent counterparts. While the strawberries offer nothing more than bragging rights, each chapter houses a cassette tape that unlocks the area’s B-Side.

B-Sides are much more difficult, remixed versions of the chapters they’re based upon and attempting to complete them will surely add countless hours to your clear time. There is substantial replay value here.

The story is told through the dialogue between characters while the writing is so accurately natural and authentic. Akin to the thought provoking narrative style of Night in the Woods, Celeste uses light humor, irresistible charm, and human uncertainty to tackle the insurmountable inner turmoil faced by Madeline and cast. Nailing down the evasive words necessary to convey the feeling of one’s inability to understand what it is that’s plaguing their feelings has never felt so relatable.

Thankfully, Celeste allows the player to tailor the experience to their liking. If the game is too hard and accessibility is a problem, use Assist Mode to slow the game’s speed or give yourself unlimited stamina and air dashes. If you’re a speed runner that just wants to skip all cutscenes and attack a targeted time, that option is also available.

Celeste is an incredible platformer with a narrative that takes the player on an emotional roller coaster and either or all of those parts are there to enjoy as you see fit.

Visuals:
At first glance, the game may look like just another 8-bit Indie platformer, but all of the modern amenities enhance the retro pixel art style. The camera zooms in and out for dramatic effect or to draw the player’s attention to something on screen, especially during character interactions. The different chapters each have their own distinct look while the backdrops and glowing touchpoints are nostalgic yet refined.

Standing out against the 8-bit world are the animated HD dialogue boxes through which the story is told. The speaking character is displayed alongside their text, expressing emotions and making faces that match the conversation’s atmosphere. Falling in love with the characters is easy as they come to life through excellent writing and relatable circumstance.

Audio:
Although there is no voice acting, the tone and pitch of each character’s nondescript mumbling is modified to align with the context of the colloquy. Like a serious version of the exchanges between characters in Banjo Kazooie or Yooka Laylee, the cast will quickly become identifiable and the emotions they convey translate accurately.

The music is also top notch with a retro feel. I was taken back to the epic, bombastic, building crescendos of NES games like Ninja Gaiden. With greater sound capability and more variety than the soundtracks of the games that inspired it, the remarkable tunes coincide with the weighty burdens of the subject matter.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
From the very first jump, Celeste just feels right. You’re taken through a virtually wordless tutorial and prompted with clever level design, forcing you to figure out the navigation. Followed immediately by engaging gameplay and invigorating challenge, the journey’s outset is captivating as they come. The golden seal of this complete package is the unexpected story’s surprising manipulation of the player’s heartstrings.

Difficult games are often praised when the player can only blame themselves for failure. This is certainly the case with Celeste because its simplistic mechanics are so meticulously polished that players will always know what they did wrong.

Matt Makes Games had already surprised me with TowerFall Ascension, the 8-bit game with which I’ve logged the most time of any PS4 title despite the platform’s incredible Triple-A offerings. This time, they’ve achieved and combined both staples of what Indies get right – rock solid, 2D platforming gameplay and a gut wrenching, introspective narrative.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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