Is the winner of The Game Awards 2018's Best Independent Game still worth playing in 2019? Yes! So, let's jump to it.
Celeste has you play as a mountain climber named Madeline who suffers from panic attacks. She travels to Celeste Mountain because she wants to prove to herself that she can do anything. Along the way, Madeline meets an old hermit who lives on the mountain, a fellow mountain climber named Theo, the dark part of herself referred to as Badeline, and Oshiro, a ghost who's in charge of an old hotel. By the way, we are not exactly sure who Badeline is: the scared part of Madeline, the evil part, the pragmatic part, or a combination of the above. Anyway, while Madeline tries to climb the mountain, she is sabotaged by Badeline who tells her that she's not a mountain climber. Eventually, Badeline succeeds and Madeline takes a big fall off the mountain but ends up okay because she lands in a pool of water.
Determined to keep on going, Madeline reaches the top of the mountain but it is only possible once she stops fighting with the other part of herself. In the end, the story of Celeste is one of positivity, perseverance, and belief in oneself. Much of that comes from Madeline's dialogue as she's always so positive as well as Theo who is a reliable pillar of support.
I thoroughly enjoy the pixel graphics and there's a lot of attention to detail. For example, one weird thing that I noticed is the hermit in the prologue who keeps laughing infinitely after you finish talking to her. There are plenty of bright colours in most levels which I absolutely love, too. All of that being said, I understand that not everyone appreciates pixel graphics.
More importantly, Celeste has some very creative gameplay which is easy to pick up and play yet it's also very difficult. For the most part, it's intuitive to understand as the campaign can be completed by merely jumping, dashing, and wall-climbing. Madeline's journey takes her through 7 increasingly difficult stages on her way to the top of the mountain. When I say difficult, I mean it as you will probably die many hundreds of times to get to the top. Thankfully, there is no penalty for death. Whenever you perish, you're transported to the start of the screen that you're on and your death counter goes up by 1. On a successful attempt, most rooms can be completed in seconds. Each stage is thematically unique and has its own music, too. If you haven't heard the soundtrack, give it a listen; you won't regret it!
Anyway, the first level is an abandoned city which has many platforms that toss you around when you step on them. Stage 2 is a dream level with blocks that you can dash through. Stage 3 is a haunted hotel and my favorite. At the end of the stage, Oshiro tries to kill you so when he charges at you, get out of the way! Stage 4 is a cliff side with annoying wind and clouds to jump on. Stage 5 is a temple full of mirrors and monsters trying to hunt you down and the end of this stage features the Crystal Theo sequence where you have to ferry Theo's crystal to the end. Stage 6 is a cave with feathers that make you fly, bouncy blocks, purple blocks that make gurgling noises, and an enjoyable boss fight with Badeline at the end. Stage 7 is the final one and has 6 sections, 1 for each previous stage.
Each stage starts out fairly easy but gets challenging quickly. This is Celeste we're talking about; it definitely isn't a cakewalk. You'll need to fly through the air with precision and wall-climb like a pro if you want to make it to the summit alive. Even more challenging than the 7 main levels are the B-sides and C-sides. B-sides are unlocked by finding special cassette tapes while C-sides are unlocked by finishing all of the B-sides and the challenges in these bonus levels can be ridiculously insane. There are also 200 strawberries that you can collect. As far as I know, you don't get anything special for finding all of them but who could resist trying to pick them all up?
So, is Celeste worth your time and money? If you're somewhat skilled at 2D platformers and you have the patience to crawl your way through a difficult game then yes! You will die a lot but the sense of challenge is extremely forgiving when it comes to dying. Even if you're not very good at Celeste, you can turn on Assist Mode to make things easier for yourself. With it on, you can reduce the speed of gameplay, give yourself more dashes, and even become invulnerable. It isn't the way that Celeste was designed to be played but for many players, this makes it possible to enjoy it without becoming too frustrated.
Celeste has an active speedrun scene and for good reason as it's very difficult to beat quickly yet speedrunning it can be enjoyed by just about everyone. By jumping and dashing in a certain way, you can Hyperdash which makes it possible to move much faster than regular dashes and results in a fast-paced challenge. I enjoyed Celeste so much that I tried speedrunning it for myself and beat stages 1 to 3 in 12:20. I even talked about Celeste in my SGDQ 2018 top 10 list where I chose the exciting TGH and yoshipro race for top spot.
Celeste is a well-polished game in almost every way. It has an engaging and relatable story, awesome music, great level design, and an exceptional amount of care was taken to ensure that moving around is fun for both casual and competitive players. I think the graphics are spot-on but not everyone will like them. Anyway, if you love 2D platformers then you should at least give Celeste a try.