Every so often a game comes around that surprises you. Looking at this year’s lineup, we can already anticipate greatness from the likes of God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, and some others. There were some great games in January, historically a pretty slow month for games with notable exceptions including last year’s Resident Evil 7. While Dragon Ball Fighters Z finally delivered on the dream of playing a video game that was visually indistinguishable from the anime and Monster Hunter World showed that it could be a better Destiny 2 than Destiny 2, the game that truly took us by surprise was an unassuming indie game about climbing a mountain: Celeste.
2D platformers are a dime a dozen, especially by independent developers. However, Celeste sets itself apart in several ways. Controlling the protagonist Madeline is as precise and fun as playing as Mario in Super Mario Odyssey, a game made by Nintendo’s best developers. The game design alone makes Celeste a contender for Game of the Month, but it’s everything wrapped around it that is significant.
Celeste is a game about fighting your inner demons and confronting mental hang-ups rather than running from them. Climbing the treacherous mountain is a great allegory for this theme that is played out through both gameplay and heartfelt cutscenes. Every character you meet is fully realized and loveable, even the more malign ones. The story about climbing a pseudo-sentient mountain is oddly relatable and may even induce tears. The art direction is beautiful and only outdone by its addicting adaptive soundtrack, which is worth a listen if not a purchase. For a genre that is typically only concerned with offering a fun gameplay experience, Celeste delivers more, more, and still more to the point that a $20 price tag feels like a steal. Truly, every element of the game excels at what it attempts to do and reviewers around the internet are recognizing this.
Matt Thorson, creator of the hit game Towerfall, headed this project. After Celeste, Thorson will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest names in independent development alongside Jonathan Blow (Braid) and Phil Fish (Fez).
Through Celeste, he’s set a new bar for indie game excellence and accessibility, by creating a brutally difficult game that is never frustrating and by including modifiers that enable players of all skill levels to progress through the story. You will undoubtedly see Celeste’s influence in game design small and large for years to come.
Admittedly, Celeste wasn’t on our radar until its praises were being sung far and wide, but it has since become one of our favorite games of all time. It is a masterclass in indie development and modern game design. Every inch of the game is a glowing testament to the small but talented team led by Matt Thorson. It is a modern treasure, an instant classic, and nothing short of a masterpiece. We’re ecstatic to extend the first Game of the Month of 2018 to Celeste.