TowerFall Ascension may arguably be my favorite party game of this generation. While the chaotic combat and level-design are big reasons for that, the tight platforming always stood out to me as its unsung hero. So much so that I found it strong enough to support an entire game around it.
Fast-forward years later and TowerFall masterminds Matt Makes Games serves up their follow-up, Celeste. As Madeline, your goal is simple: climb to the top of Celeste Mountain. Okay, mountain climbing is far from “simple” and Celeste’s Super Meat Boy-esque difficulty attests to that. But like Team Meat’s celebrated platformer, Celeste turns challenge into enjoyment with butter-like controls and instant respawns upon death. Similar to TowerFall, Madeline can jump, grab/climb walls, and air-dash to traverse the apparently hundreds of platforming segments. And it all feels incredible thanks to the wonderfully (and deviously) crafted levels.
Additionally, I was struck by the game’s welcoming attitude. I instinctively went out of my way to grab collectible strawberries, braving several platforming trials in the process. However, Celeste flat-out tells players they shouldn’t feel obligated to do so as gathering them serves as little more than bragging rights. There doesn’t seem to be any special powers or endings tied to the number of strawberries collected. It’s only a number to show friends how awesome you are. I like and respect the idea of immediately dispelling the urgency of collecting, allowing me to focus only on climbing without feeling dirty about leaving stuff behind. An in-game tip reassuring players that dying a lot only means they’ll learn more offers another instance of Celeste’s warm and fuzzy demeanor. It’s a message that feels genuinely comforting instead of patronizing.
The simple presentation won’t win any visual accolades (even among its retro-inspired brethren) but its bolstered by cool effects. Madeline’s tale of overcoming personal challenges and/or demons by scaling this mountain has shown a surprising amount of heart so far, backed by a few endearing side characters.
I sprung for the Switch version of Celeste, but it’s also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. When comparing the various Switch configurations, handheld mode is by far the way to go. It just feels right playing it in my hands and the visuals look crisper on the touch screen. Playing on a TV with a pro controller feels great control-wise, but the pixel art looks less appealing blown up on a larger display. Twin Joy-Cons are a fine option as well. Only the truly insane/desperate should consider playing this precision platfomer using the hand-cramping single Joy-Con option.
As something of a platformer connoisseur, Celeste impressed me immediately with its tight controls, expertly crafted levels (the ones I’ve played at least), and engaging narrative. I’m surprised at how quickly Celeste hooked me into conquering its mountain-sized challenge–it all but sold me after the prologue chapter. Platforming fans should absolutely give Celeste a look. I’ll post a full review once I’ve triumphantly reached the summit.