The latest title from TowerFall creator Matt Thorson and his talented team puts a young female protagonist at the forefront of its story to fantastic effect. At a glance, Celeste is a punishing 2D platformer that’ll have you balling up your fists in anger from time to time. But it’s also a moving tale about overcoming adversity while dealing with anxiety, depression, and the other pitfalls of coming into adolescence.
As young Madeline, you’re tasked with climbing the titular Mount Celeste. For the sake of letting the narrative unfold as it would in the game, I won’t spoil any of it beyond that simple bit of expository text. Your sojourn up the mountain as Madeline is just as unforgiving as the game, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll soldier on through it simply to see what happens next.It’s a fairly straightforward narrative that seems bereft of deeper meaning at first, but as you forge valiantly ahead you come to know Madeline for the stalwart person she is, a deceptively simple character with plenty of resolve and respect for the things she doesn’t quite understand. But eventually you come into contact with the more “negative” side of Madeline, voicing doubt, cruelty, sarcasm, the things in the back of our heads that drag us down every day. You'll recognize quite a few of her statements and ideals as that voice the longer you play.
You may be tempted to stop playing several times, but Madeline’s can-do attitude even as she contends with the manifestation of her negative thoughts is infectious. There are several lessons to be learned as you painstakingly ascend the mountain with her and the companions she meets along the way, but perhaps the most important is that, even in the fact of extremely difficult and harrowing circumstances, you should never give up. That’s part of what enamored Celeste so much to me, and cemented Madeline as an important female game lead, of which we can always use more.
Celeste gets all of this across without any voiced dialogue, with Simlish-like caterwauling replacing what would normally be spoken lines from seasoned voice actors. But you don’t really miss it, especially with such a personable and inspiring young woman at the helm of the game. Madeline is a heroine to look up to, even in her weaker moments, and that’s part of what makes Celeste an excellent game. If you're looking to rise above one particularly difficult moment in your life (or the first of many) then look to Madeline and company for some inspirational ways to go beyond what's keeping you down. Even if it means climbing a mountain by your lonesome, spikes and all.