I have friends who climb mountains for spiritual tranquility. To them, mountain climbing is an escape, an act that helps them step away from the technology-driven urban chaos. For Celeste's protagonist, Madeline, it's about getting away to find inner peace.
In order to do that, she needs to climb to the top of Mt. Celeste.
Celeste is a gorgeous 2D pixel art platformer game that is much more akin to Super Meat Boy and The End is Nigh as part of the "masocore" genre of video games. As Madeline, you jump, grab ledges, and air dash to platforms, navigating through each fixed screen area to the next. There are platforms that fall, move, and trigger other objects. The developers ensured that the controls' fluidity and responsiveness are topnotch, leaving you no excuse except the lack of skill should your character meet her death.
The core mechanic is wall-jumping and the eight-direction air-dash. You can only air-dash once and is reset when you touch solid ground. Madeline can also grab onto walls, climb up and slide down, but there is also a hidden stamina bar, indicated by Madeline's sprite. It sounds really simple but it's the environments that you go through that make everything a real challenge. The key to this game is speed and timing.
Going through each area demands wit and precision, and the game's death counter will keep track of how many times you've exploded into tiny pixel bubbles. There are no checkpoints in the game; each death will only bring you back to the start of the area. You will die a lot and for some, this might reach to the point of frustration. However, Celeste is quick to remind you that each death is a learning experience and a chance for you to do better.
Each chapter also has its own additional mechanic: weather, moving platforms, keys to unlock doors, and the like. The game steadily teaches you each new mechanic as you progress through the chapters.
Scattered in most areas are the strawberries, which serve no purpose than bragging rights. You will invest many lives in obtaining one in later chapters, as most of these strawberries are placed in sections that require complex button inputs. But once you grab those strawberries, there is a euphoria of satisfaction of overcoming something difficult. Have you ever parried the entire final boss fight in Dark Souls? It's that good of a feeling.
Along the journey, you'll meet characters who have their own reasons for climbing the mountain. Like Madeline, they're on an emotional and spiritual journey. Each one would serve a purpose in helping Madeline find inner peace with whatever she is trying to get away from.
The music in Celeste is just as tranquil as the journey up to the mountain. It's not meant to rush; it's just there to make sure you don't smash your keyboard or controller in fiery fury. It's peaceful and serene, and it ramps up every once in a while when Madeline enters intense areas.
This is not a typical hard 2D platformer, though. There's a lot of crazy in it that can make you wonder about Madeline's own mental state. Nonetheless, the game doesn't lose its charm all throughout. As if the chapters and each respective areas aren't already difficult, there's also the B-Side where things get real interesting. You'll have to play it to find out.