Celeste

A game by Matt Makes Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Celeste is a precision platformer starring Madeline, a young woman who has decided to climb Celeste Mountain, which also represents her journey to face her growing depression and anxiety. Her story slowly unfolds as she makes her way up the perilous mountain and has some strange encounters, meets up with NPC’s, and confronts the darker side of her psyche. An old woman at the base of the mountain warns Madeline that she might see things that she’s not ready to see… but she presses forward, determined to make it to the top.


Much of Madeline’s story is completely optional, and the game can be played as a pure precision platformer for those players who don’t wish to dive into the narrative. Even when the player experiences strange occurrences, the game plays them off as potentially being something from a dream. Conversely, for players who wish to experience the story without overcoming the platforming challenges, an assist mode is available, which makes the game considerably easier by providing multiple midair dashes and infinite stamina.


Madeline has a 1.5x variable jump, and she is able to wall slide, wall jump, and climb up vertical surfaces. She has a limited amount of stamina, and if she climbs for a few seconds, she begins to turn red, and she eventually slides back down. Her most important ability is a midair dash, which allows her to dash in eight directions. This move can be used to reach distant platforms, dodge obstacles, and smash through objects. Combined with her jump and wall climbing abilities, she can reach almost any point in the environment.


When the game begins, Madeline can perform a single midair dash, and the dash is only reset by landing on the ground; it does not reset when grabbing walls. Later, she encounters hovering gems that allow her to dash again in midair, and sometimes several gems are strung together over a pit, requiring that she make multiple dashes in succession. Other times, she must dash around obstacles by performing multiple dashes in different directions. These core mechanics continue to be the primary means by which the player engages the environment, but level-specific challenges are introduced later that offer new means of navigation.


Simply making it from one side of an area to the other is a decent enough challenge on its own, but there are also optional strawberries to collect, offering bragging rights for expert players. Often, these strawberries are out in the open and simply require deft platforming to reach. Other times, they are hidden behind false walls or breakable objects. Some strawberries have wings and will fly away if you dash near them, so you have to consider the layout of the environment to find ways of reaching them without dashing.


Interestingly, strawberry collection doesn’t count until you touch solid ground again, which adds an extra layer to the challenge, particularly when attempting to speedrun the game, as multiple strawberries can chase you from screen to screen before they are collected. Once you touch solid ground for a second, the strawberry disappears, and it counts as being collected even if you die before making it to the next room.


The game offers a fair amount of nonlinear exploration, with paths often branching off to the left and right. In some cases, these side paths are optional and lead to strawberries or NPC encounters. In other cases, the player must travel through the area to grab a key or trigger a change in the environment, and then move back through the area to make his way further up the mountain.


There is no map to show the layout of any given area, so the player is left to his own devices as far as exploration goes, but usually the optional paths are the ones that are more difficult to traverse, or those that are behind false walls or breakable objects. Some of these side paths lead to dead ends, while others offer optional routes for ascending. Once the player ascends to the next tier of the mountain, his backward progress is generally blocked, as falling off the bottom of the screen – even when there is a traversable area below – results in death. That said, there are a few places where the player can descend, and these are marked by a glow coming up through the lower opening.


The game constantly asks the player to change how he thinks about the environment and how he makes use of the limited tools available to him. For instance, in the opening areas, there are many moving platforms that speed along quickly in one direction and then come to a sudden stop. By jumping at the last moment, the player can use his momentum to fling himself upward to great heights, or fly horizontally across gaps.


Later, the player encounters sparking clear blocks that he can dash through, and dashing takes him all the way through a block and spits him out on the far side. The player can dash through these blocks in any direction to speed through them, and he can even jump at the far side to use the momentum to carry him further. However, dashing through one of these blocks into a solid wall results in death, so players have to look for gaps of safety, particularly during speed-based challenges.


While the pace of the game is left mostly up to the player, there are a few boss-style encounters where Madeline must engage enemies or run away from them. In some cases, she is pursued by a dark copy of herself that appears in purple and has red eyes, representing her own fears, doubts, and anxieties. In these sequences, shadow-Madeline runs behind her, travelling roughly along her same path, but occasionally takes shortcuts to close ground more quickly. The player must not only outrun this shadow but also be mindful when crossing over its path of movement, and sometimes there are multiple multiple copies of the shadow.


In other cases, the player must dash into enemy creatures to stun them, but these encounters are more about environmental navigation than defeating enemies, as the player bounces off enemies to cross gaps and reach high platforms, and enemies are only momentarily stunned. Sometimes, creatures are in place purely as a means to traverse the area, such as Thwomp-like enemies that you can bash into on one of their four sides, to which they respond by flying in a straight line in that direction.


Some levels see the player moving against the wind, or moving with it to cross large gaps. Some areas feature bubbles that the player can jump into to remain suspended in midair for a moment before dashing forward and popping them to hop out. A feather lets you fly freely through the air, but you can’t slow your movement, so you must steer around obstacles… and flight is only possible for a limited time, so you sometimes need to collect more feathers in midair to remain aloft. Later, the player gains another midair dash, which allows for some added complexity in level designs.


Levels can take quite a while to traverse on a first attempt, and many of them require a bit of trial-and-error to overcome. There is little penalty for failure as levels are short and restart quickly, and the player has infinite lives. Usually, getting killed respawns the player at the doorway through which he entered the room, but sometimes he is respawned at the closest doorway to where he died. In a nice touch, the player can save and quit at any time and return to the game later to pick up from the room where he left off, without the need to replay the level again from scratch.


Levels are connected via an overworld, which is mapped out in 3D. The camera pans around and shows Madeline’s progress as she slowly makes her ascent through multiple themed areas. Each level also contains a hidden audio cassette that opens up a B-side version of that themed area. These B-side levels feature remixed soundtracks and significantly more challenging platforming sequences, while also teaching the player some advanced techniques, which makes them ideal for expert players looking to get something more out of the experience. While these levels are entirely optional, the player must complete some of them in order to access post-game content.


Throughout the game, Madeline has multiple encounters with a fellow named Theo, who also seems to be making his way up the mountain. These dialogue exchanges shed some additional light on Madeline’s mental state and the world around her. As mentioned, Madeline suffers from anxiety and depression, which plays out – often subtly – in her conversations with Theo.


In one example, Theo asks Madeline to take a selfie with him, and she is hesitant to do so. Once the photo is taken, she comments that she is not very photogenic, pointing to issues with self-confidence and body image. In another example, she uses a payphone during one of the game’s dreamlike sequences, and speaks with a friend who appears to have grown tired of dealing with Madeline’s mental issues and anxiety-driven calls in the middle of the night. When she returns to the real world, she calls her mother and describes feeling overwhelmed, and her mother offers support (unlike her ex-friend) but also asks if she is having another panic attack.


Madeline’s decision to climb a mountain seems at first to be a dangerous and irresponsible choice, but it also points to her determination and desire to overcome internal issues that she feels are holding her back, which is her metaphorical mountain. She not only must overcome the physical challenge of climbing the mountain (the gameplay portion), but she must also confront her own feelings of anxiety and fear (the story portion), some of which emerge as gameplay challenges through interactions with the physical manifestation of her own dark side.


Aesthetically, the game offers simple chunky pixel art, occasionally enhanced with lighting effects, while character portraits and dialogue boxes are in HD, and the overworld map is in 3D. The game is accompanied by an excellent soundtrack that mixes piano and synth to create upbeat and occasionally somber tones, with remixed versions appearing in the B-side levels.



2D CRED
Celeste was released under the Matt Makes Games label. Matt Thorson is credited with direction, design, writing, and programming; Noel Berry is credited with programming and art; Amora B. is credited with concept art and high-rez art; Pedro Medeiros is credited with pixel art and UI art; and music for the game was composed by Lena Raine. Matt previously developed the TowerFall series.
The game is greatly expanded from its original PICO-8 release from 2015, now called Celeste Classic, which was developed by Matt and Noel in just four days. The game is a linear ascent-based platformer with optional – and sometimes hidden – strawberries to be collected on each of the single-screen levels. A lot of the core concepts were in place in the original game, such as the dash mechanic, the ability to gain a second dash while in midair, and strawberries that fly away if you dash. The game can be completed in a single sitting in around 30 minutes on a first attempt (if you have the skill), although speedrunners can make it through in just a couple of minutes.


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