Celeste Reviews

947,660 (584,250)
TA Score for this game: 1,245
Posted on 06 January 19 at 18:59
New solutionThis review has 16 positive votes and 1 negative vote. Please log in to vote.
This review is going to be split into two main parts. I think the discussion around this game will likely need to split between the game itself and assist mode. And this won't be some kind moment where I scream down from a high point about how "only scrubs use assist mode". I want this to be an objective and possibly editorial type look at it. But first, a basic review of the game.

Celeste is another game that hearkens back to the days to simpler graphics (with a beautiful edge to them). It's what has become known as "Hi-Bit" for the fact that no game from the 8/16-bit era could have looked or sounded this amazing. And that's where I'm going to start. The graphics.

Celeste's graphics are beautiful. Regardless of how you feel about bit style games in the days of Xbox One, Celeste has a vibrant color palette and detailed environments and character sprites that clearly show you the environment around. Nothing is obfuscated or unclear. Each of the levels has its own distinct feel and motif. And part of this really goes into the gameplay and the specific obstacles you'll face in each level. Each one becomes a showcase for new mechanics the game expects you to learn or understand.

From World 2 onward (World 1 being a bit of a tutorial), the environments have their own feel. World 2 has the blocks of other dimensional energy that you dash through while World 4 introduces you to bouncy clouds. It all has its own flavor.

So how about controls? Well as a 2D Platformer, Celeste nails this part of game design. So many classic platformer style games seem to miss this. Inconsistencies or feeling like it isn't crisp seems to be so common anymore. Luckily, Celeste doesn't have this problem. While the game is difficult, you never really can blame the game for mistakes. It comes down to you mastering the jump/dash/climb abilities (among many other "hidden" mechanics).

The game has multiple levels of challenge and difficulty to it. Besides the main 7 chapters, the game has collectibles for the more daring players. Strawberries are littered around the levels as well as Cassette Tapes and Crystal Hearts. The tapes unlock B-sides of levels. B-Sides are harder versions of the levels which will test your skill while sometimes introducing even harder mechanics. There are even C-sides (which I haven't reached yet). These are very short levels, but will be true final tests of your ability.

This brings us to a sort of editorial portion of the review. Why so soon? Because the story, the controls, and the oft-discussed assist mode all go into this and are very interrelated.

So what is Assist Mode? In it's plainest terms, it allows you to change the game mechanics to better suit your ability. There are four options here:

1) Game Speed - You can reduce the game speed in increments of 10% (down to 50% speed) to make the harder stuff easier to execute.
2) Infinite Dash - Instead of just 1 (and later 2) dashes, you can dash continuously without the need to touch ground and recharge it.
3) Infinite Stamina - Similar to dash, you can grip walls infinitely without needing to touch ground to recharge your stamina
4) Invincibility - Spikes, pits, projectiles (Really anything) can't kill you anymore.

(Short aside - there is one part of the game where Assist Mode is completely disabled, the Pico-8. It's a little game console type version of the game. There is no assist mode for this particular achievement.)

Overall, this is a great idea. I don't fault the developers for creating it or people who have trouble with the game for using it. It's a difficult game. The mode is not for me, and my play time through Celeste will reflect that. At this point, I've completed Chapters 1 through 7, B-Sides for Chapters 1 through 4, and collected numerous strawberries, cassette tapes, and crystal hearts. My play time is already at 12 hours. I've died thousands of times to do this. For those of you checking TA, you might see a time estimate of 6-8 hours for the game. Why? It's assist mode. It really does shorten it all. And best of all for achievement hunters, it doesn't disable achievements.

So why does this matter? Why is it contentious when people talk about Celeste? Who really should care about this?

This brings us to the story of Celeste. Celeste is all about Madeline. She's the heroine of our adventure. Her goal is to climb the Mountain called Celeste. Without trying to spoil the inner workings of the story, the game deals with anxiety, depression, and motivation of our characters. Questioning our own motives and ability and overcoming what stands before us. And this is where the story and assist mode begin to overlap (at least in my opinion).

If games are about having us experience some story and allowing us to live vicariously through something, does Assist Mode give us that? It toes a very fine line. I can't say when or what level of assists blurs or destroys the line, but it changes the game. I've heard people turn on all the assists at the beginning (except game speed) and never experiencing the game without Infinite Dash, Stamina, and Invincibility on. And really, are people experiencing the same game anymore? Does this still let you feel the challenge of Madeline and confronting her demons?

Let me say this again though, I don't begrudge people who want to turn assists on. I'm under no illusion that this game is hard. I don't want to bar off this story and experience to others. Instead, I think what people should see is a mix. Play the game. See what happens. Test your skill. Push yourself. If the game is giving you difficulty, I think the assist to really use is Game Speed. I think what really tests people most is their ability to do stuff quick enough. So starting with Game Speed in many cases will help people with issues of reflex and thinking quickly enough. After this, maybe other assists. But I think that's the really important one that can make this game accessible to more people without losing the experience.

Additionally, I want to talk shortly about the game's ability to teach you. Why put this in with the discussion about Assist Mode? Because there are many abilities and tech to the game necessary to find some of the crystal hearts and finishing B/C-side versions of the levels. I'll give one example here that really was cool, but minor:

During Chapter 2, the Crystal Heart is in an area that most people would never find (I didn't notice it my first time through the level). There is a ledge to climb up that easily looks inaccessible. But there is a way to get there. What you need to do is find out that screen transitions restore your dash. So you'll be zippering up and down a screen transition until you can eventually grip a wall to begin your climb up. And that's just one of these moments (and a simple one at that).

But as you might have picked up on, you'll never see that with all the assists on. And that's why I discuss this all together.

Once again, this review won't try to tell you to do Celeste a certain or definitive way or that you must never use Assist Mode. Instead, I want to present the game for what it is. What the developer created and the passionate way they intended for the game to be experienced (if you read the warning when you turn on assist mode, you'll get what I mean). I realize this is an achievement community and what many of us are here for, but this review presents the other side.

Whichever way you play this game though, Celeste is truly an amazing experience and one of the best platformers currently available on the Xbox One. With it currently being Games with Gold for January 2019 at the time of writing, I can't say enough the value and why you should all play this.
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350,658 (240,235)
TA Score for this game: 2,584
Posted on 01 August 18 at 21:46
This review has 11 positive votes and 2 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
How do you make a platforming game stand out amongst the multitude of similar games? Everything about this game's design was executed in a manner that makes it unique in an already oversaturated genre. I've been playing this type of game since Super Mario in the days of NES and there's still no shortage of them, even now.

The first thing I noticed about Celeste was something that tends to get overlooked in most games of any genre...basic functionality. By that I mean how the game saves your progress, tracks your efforts and organizes its menus. Quite possibly the best save system I've ever seen in a video game, it allows you to save your progress at any point and return to that exact area at a later time. Most games require checkpoints and said checkpoints aren't usually spaced very well. For once I didn't have to worry about finishing up a level before my son's nap ended. I simply selected "Save and Exit", making it as easy as placing a bookmark in a novel. The menus were very organized and easy to navigate, save for one missing feature. My only complaint was that the level selection screen didn't include chapter numbers next to the chapter icons, which can be easily forgiven by the fact that clicking on any icon readily shows you the chapter number, as well as the many stats for that chapter. Plus there are only eight chapters, not including a prologue and epilogue, so it's easy to figure out which icon to click on at a glance. The game itself, while playing, also offers a collectible tracker at the bottom of the screen, making it not only easy to determine how many strawberries you have left to collect in each chapter, but also to track how many are left in each section of the chapter. Players will find this tracker invaluable as they go back to collect every last piece of fruit for that sweet, sweet achievement.

The next obvious thing to address is the gameplay itself. Most of the game consists of jumping and dashing your way through Metroidvania style levels, albeit in a fairly linear direction. Your objective is to get to the top of the mountain, with each chapter taking you to a higher elevation. At one point you find yourself in a mysterious, cluttered hotel, so there's no lack of variety between one chapter and the next. By far, the absolutely coolest feature of Celeste (for me anyway) was Assist Mode. Turning on this mode allows you to enable unlimited dashes (you typically get one at a time and have to dash into powerups to get more), unlimited stamina, and invincibility. By including this feature, the developer has ensured that everyone can enjoy the game's beautiful story, as well as the incredibly rewarding gameplay and progression. This mode is highly criticized by some people because they feel it deprives you of the true essence and challenge of the game but I wholeheartedly disagree. Playing with this mode enabled certainly reduces the difficulty but still leaves the game with a decent amount of challenge and in no way makes for a boring or overly simple game. Personally, I'm not very good at this type of platforming and wouldn't have gotten very far in the main story. This would've been a travesty and I'm proud of my "easy way out" in this game. So whether you're not good at platforming or just get frustrated easily and don't care much for difficult challenges, Assist Mode is crucial to your enjoyment of this game. Just from playing it all with Assist Mode, however, I was still able to understand and appreciate the game's intended difficulty. So I don't feel like I missed out on anything (except perhaps a rage induced controller throw).

The story of Celeste builds upon itself and tells of a young woman's journey to conquer her own negative emotions. At least that's how I interpreted it. You play as Madeline, who's dealing with some unspecified personal troubles and isn't even quite sure why she feels the need to conquer the mountain. You'll meet some colorful characters along the way, including one or two rather unexpected enemies. The story's pacing is superbly done and is accompanied by delightfully appropriate music. In the past year or so, game developers have often been dealing with the issues of mental health in a positive way. This game brings to light the struggle of dealing with depression and anxiety (among other issues) and does so in a wonderful way that I found to be very uplifting. As someone who's been afflicted by these issues for most of my life, I not only identified with the main character's journey but also greatly appreciated it. Celeste deals with these topics in a graceful and positive manner and does so while taking you on a fun and worthwhile journey.

Last but not least are those sweet, sweet achievements that some of us devour like the collectible strawberries in the game. Most of the achievements are tied to simply completing each chapter or collecting a heart in each one. Unlocking the bonus levels, or B-Sides as the game calls them, requires finding a hidden cassette tape in each chapter. These tapes and hearts unlock the B-Sides, as well as further bonus levels called C-Sides. Fortunately, collectibles in this game never get too challenging or monotonous. One achievement requires you to collect six strawberries in a row without touching the ground, which I found difficult during my initial playthrough but it only took me two tries after finishing the campaign. Another achievement requires you to play a minigame that's unlocked by finding a secret room in one of the chapters. Once you unlock it, you can play it from the main menu at anytime. This retro-style minigame tasks you with climbing through several rooms in order to get to the top of the mountain. It requires you to do it all in one sitting and it's basically a simplified emulation of the main game. It doesn't allow you to enable Assist Mode, so it's definitely the biggest challenge of the game for those of us who need the reduction in difficulty. Each time you die, you simply start at the beginning of the tiny room and try that room's puzzle again.

Celeste is the most enjoyable game I've played so far this year and definitely a contender for my Game of the Year. If you like a challenge, this game provides a unique and fun way to test your platforming skills. If you're like me and just want to navigate your way through this character's journey, Assist Mode is your new best friend. No matter which type of gamer you are, this will likely be one of the most memorable and worthwhile games you'll play for some time.
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