‘Celeste’ acknowledges anxiety, introduces ways of approaching it

Craig McKinley, Staff Writer

Mental health is an important topic that often lacks the discussion it warrants. It’s sometimes covered in different types of media, and mediums such as games do this even less often. With all that said, I’m delighted to share a game that considers the topic effectively. “Celeste” describes anxiety with realistic responses to experiences, fiction-based analogies and cues from the music and the screen. Not only did Maddy Makes Games and Extremely OK Games manage to express this in their story, but they did so without significant sacrifice in the rest of the game. While this type of experience isn’t entirely expected from a two-dimensional game with jumping and climbing, this surprise is well worth playing through.
The player experiences “Celeste” from the perspective of Madeline, a woman trying to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain in spite of her anxiety. While many video game stories focus on doing something grand such as saving the world, this one is more personal and smaller scale. She’s not climbing the mountain for anyone else. She’s only trying to prove to herself that she can make it to the top.
During the story, she meets multiple characters that she can’t always discern as being for or against her. These personalities often appear to be more for or more against, and Madeline second-guessing herself makes understanding these characters more difficult. But often when Madeline is offered help, it creates a personal scene and sometimes even offers the player advice that has real world applications.
“Celeste” isn’t just narrated through words though. It also makes effective use of environmental cues. The graphics use light, darkness and complimenting and contrasting colors to draw the eyes to emotional scenes or important game elements. This is helpful in a game such as “Celeste” where the pixel resolution isn’t a priority. The music also carries weight when necessary, and at more positively significant times can fire the player up. Players of “Minecraft” may be excited to hear that Lena Raine, who worked on some newer music tracks of “Minecraft” was also behind the soundtrack of “Celeste.”
As well told as the narrative of “Celeste” is, it’s not experienced passively. Whether it’s better or worse for the player, they will need to take an active role in progressing the story. Playing through each level, while demanding at points, can feel rewarding and be very forgiving. Thanks to precise movement and challenges to overcome and feel good about, victories often feel earned. What’s even better is that upon failing a challenge, the player continues from the last checkpoint they passed. This is the start of every room, and sometimes more often, in “Celeste.”
Still, the default experience can still be difficult, as it requires quick reaction, solving of movement-based puzzles and observation of moving elements. Thankfully, there is an option to make the game more approachable. Assist Mode is available as an option to help with precision when avoiding obstacles or treat hazards as something safer. While “Celeste” couldn’t feasibly be made to be entirely accessible to everyone on every device, as its only software being distributed on existing hardware, the effort toward being playable by many of those devices’ users is good to see.
Playing through “Celeste” to the point of its credits is wonderful, and I’m glad both that it pushed me to rise above its challenges and even suggested its approach toward anxiety. While I personally appreciate the game’s level of difficulty, I also know not everyone enjoys this difficulty in their activities. I recommend these players try Assist Mode if they feel they need to, even if it isn’t a universal or perfect solution.
I also recommend checking the game’s options for visual accessibility settings, as the default setting may not work for everyone.
“Celeste” released in early 2018 and I really found it worth going back to. I highly recommend “Celeste”, available on many digital platforms such as Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam (PC), Epic Games (PC) and Itch.io (PC) to those willing to give it a try.