Editors’ Choice: Why Celeste is One of the Best Games of 2018

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Editors’ Choice: Why Celeste is One of the Best Games of 2018

This 2D platformer with a retro aesthetic harbors a deeper lesson about personal growth

Celeste is a game about believing in yourself and the journey to discover what you are capable of.

While that may seem like quite the lofty statement for a 2D platforming game with a retro pixel-style aesthetic, being able to take away such an insightful and empowering feeling from a game is precisely what makes Celeste one of the best games of 2018.

Let’s start with the game itself. At its core, Celeste is a precision platformer where your eventual goal is to climb a mountain. Early on, you’re taught two moves: how to dash (press square and a direction), and how to wall climb (hold L2). The controls are snappy and fluid — at any given moment you feel in total control of your character. Jumping and dashing quickly become second nature, which is critical for game like this, because Celeste is hard.

Moments after starting the game, players are thrust into life-endangering situations. Bottomless pits, spike-lined floors, seemingly impassable chasms, and other deadly obstacles combine to create an almost overwhelming sense of anxiety at first glance. “How the heck am I supposed to do this?”, players may wonder.

This is where Celeste’s brilliant design begins to shine through. Once you start attempting these daunting obstacles, you start to formulate ideas on how it could be possible.

“Well, if I just drop here instead of using my dash…”
“What if i use this moving platform for extra momentum in my jump?”

Celeste rarely punishes you for dying — within seconds of failure, you respawn close to the challenge you were attempting, fresh for another go at it. Having that smooth, almost-instant intermission between attempts encourages you to take chances. You will die a lot in Celeste, but each death comes with a sense of renewed purpose rather than defeat.

Eventually, you’ll conquer what you may have initially regarded as impossible and carry that feeling of accomplishment into the next challenge. The game does a great job of layering on additional mobility elements and challenges at a perfect pace, building on what you’ve already learned while also making sure your next goal is clearly in front of you. This results in a continuous sense of being tested to the best of your abilities, so that any glimpses of self-doubt tend to be outweighed by the visibility of success being so close.

As you progress through the game, a meaningful narrative starts to develop with the game’s main character, Madeline, who has set out on a journey to climb Mt. Celeste to get away from her life in the city. But the further she climbs, the more setbacks get thrown her way, sowing self-doubt and causing Madeline to question whether she should be attempting the climb in the first place.

Memorable characters such as Mr. Oshiro, a ghostly hotel owner who can’t let go of his past, or Theo, a happy-go-lucky selfie chaser, cross paths with Madeline, providing not just conversation, but foils for her own journey of self-actualization. Our heroine interacts with them reluctantly at first, viewing them as obstacles and time-wasters on her own journey. But by lending her assistance, she ends up learning more about herself.

Just like Madeline, I didn’t think about the bigger picture of my journey while I was in the middle of it. My first playthrough was hyper-focused on just conquering the video game challenges in the moment. It was only after I had completed the main game that I was able to take a step back and really reflect on how far I had come. I moved on to the game’s challenging post-story “B-Side” levels with a sense of “Ok, this seems doable if I hop here and drop here” rather than “This seems impossible!” The skills I needed to conquer those challenges were already within my abilities, I just needed to discover them.

One of the elements I noticed early on, is that the game tracks how many deaths you have on each level. My first inclination as a competitive gamer was defeatist: “Ugh, I have so many deaths. I’m bad at this.” But after playing through the game I developed a new perspective: each one of those deaths was a learning experience. I began to see high death counts as a badge of honor for my perseverance, rather than blemishes on perfection. It’s a mindset I’ve tried to apply to other parts of my life as well. Therein lies Celeste’s greatest achievement — its potential to change a person’s way of thinking not only in playing a game, but outside of it as well.

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  • Celeste is fantastic. I particularly enjoyed how effectively it handled challange – it gave you tricky situations, tested your abilities, but never once felt like it was trying to ‘taunt’ you for being bad. It never punished you, didn’t have any insulting, aggravating, or demeaning sounds or gestures when you failed, and always had that charming soundtrack encouraging you to pick it up and try again.

    I wish more games trying to be difficult would learn from this lesson. You don’t need to PUNISH people to have difficulty. You just need to give them something to overcome and just a little push to want to overcome it.

    • It’s not really any different than any other game of its type. Just like Super Meat Boy or Slime-San or etc it’s not that hard at all if you just go in a straight line and pass up all the collectibles, but if you do decide to try to get the collectibles and do the bonus stages it gets absolutely vicious.

  • You know, I see all of these “why this game is great for 2018” posts.
    But nowhere do I see what’s upcoming on the next Tuesday.
    And it’s been this way since before the middle of December.

    If you guys aren’t going to keep up with “The Drop”, with a timely post about what’s coming out, then what use is the stupid Playstation ap?
    I’d say none at all! Because if I can’t see what’s coming out next, then I can allocate funds where I need them to get something.
    Xbox has ended up with an 80% increase from my game puchases, while PSN has had an 80% decrease. Even my movie purchases have been through Vudu instead of PSN.
    Next to go is the PS+ payments. Once those are gone, PS will be done.
    And coming from someone who’s been a strictly PS player for over 20 years, that’s saying a lot.
    I just started playing with the Xbox. But have found that their servers and security are MUCH better. Plus, they keep me informed on what’s coming out next. Even the add-ons.
    While on the PS end, things have gone more erratic and less dependable from every aspect.
    WTF Sony?
    Quit being such greedy bastards, and start giving back to the consumer instead of taking everything.

    • So you’re saying that Xbox is the superior choice for poor people and children who can’t enjoy any media unless the hardware manufacturer personally notifies them about it exactly one week in advance so they can properly allocate their allowance and not have some kind of OCD panic attack? Cool.

      P.S. Remember when a grade school kid found out how to break into Xbox live accounts by just typing in all empty spaces? Good times.

  • I didnt care for it but thats not to say its a bad game, just not for me…!

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