For some reason I thought Celeste was going to be some kind of Metroidvania game. Neither the trailer or the theme of coping with anxiety seemed to suggest that this was going to be one of those stress-inducing Super Meat Boy-type “extreme” platformers, but that turned out to be exactly what it was.
In fact, the first chapter makes it seem like the game was going to be a pretty straightforward Super Meat Boy clone. There’s deadly one-hit-kill platforming, broken up into a series of screens, many of which contain an optional secret item that’s much harder to get than simply progressing through the room. There’s even super secret items, some of which unlock extra tough challenge levels. All sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it?
Luckily, the game keeps from feeling like a stale clone by introducing one or more fun and challenging new gameplay mechanics to each chapter. There are feathers that temporarily turn you into some kind of flying comet, little Cthulhu things that chase you around, angry ghost blobs, annoying gusts of wind, darkness, hot and cold switches, different types of weird boost bubbles, a ridiculous variety of blocks that you can bounce on, ride on, boost activate, and more, and oh shit, so very many spikes and pits.
It’s pretty tough stuff, again, made even tougher if you want to grab all those strawberries, even though there’s no real reason to do so other than the act of doing it (oh, I just got that the strawberries must be a reference to that old strawberry and the tiger parable..).
It’s the B-Side challenge levels that really get vicious here though. After trying the one for chapter 1, I thought “this is ridiciulous, maybe I should just skip these”, yet for some reason I kept at it. They are extremely nasty, much like the challenge levels of the recent The End Is Nigh, and are actually even much longer than those were, but the one saving grace is that you still have unlimited lives to work with and respawn at the beginning of the same screen you died on instead of having to do the entire area over again. That one thing makes it bearable. Still unbelievably tough, but…bearable.
If you get enough hearts from the regular levels and from beating B-Sides you can get into the secret 8th chapter, The Core, where you’ll face yet another face-pounding final-for-real-this-time-I’m-sure set of levels, with one more super nasty B-Side. As it turns out, you even get a “reward” for doing all of this. Yes, you are generously rewarded with the unlocking of C-SIDES for all the chapters, which are amazingly even more difficult, as well as special golden strawberries at the beginning of each chapter, which can only be obtained by getting through an entire chapter without dying. Yeahhhhhh…fuck that. I’m ok with having gotten through all the B-Sides without cheating.
Only a single complaint about it. Later in the game as things got tougher, controlling Celeste with the thumbstick became too inaccurate to be useful. I had to switch to using the left directional buttons because it was the only way to keep doing all the hyper-accurate and hyper-quick direction changes you need to pull off to survive. I don’t know why the thumbstick seemed to work perfectly fine for me in The End is Nigh, but not here. All those hard angle boosts you have to make, I guess.
Anyway, it was a pretty fun game that lasted a lot longer than I thought it would. I spent about as much time on this as I did on The End Is Nigh and enjoyed it almost as much (while Celeste is probably a little less stressful, I just like the overall theme of The End Is Nigh more). The theme of dealing with anxiety was interesting and done in a way that didn’t feel too cutesy or condescending. It certainly made me feel bad about never getting off my ass and working on any of the bigger projects I keep telling myself I’ll do someday. Whether or not I’ll actually change based on the insights this game had to offer, I really don’t know (though I tend to doubt it), but at least in the worst case, I still had a lot of fun playing this game.