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The Challenging Modern Platformer Worth Playing In 2021

Ever since its clean sweep at The Game Awards in 2018, when Celeste was named "Best Independent Game" and given the "Games for Impact Award," the modern platformer has only increased in popularity. Fans and critics alike are discovering the rewarding, impactful story of main character Madeline's climb to the top of Celeste Mountain and her journey with mental health and self-discovery, all set in a pixelated retro landscape complete with plenty of music to enjoy.


But don't be fooled by the inviting design simplicity. Part of Celeste's appeal is how challenging it is. At some points, you might think actually climbing a mountain would be easier. While the controls are basic to master, the ever-evolving demands of navigating Celeste Mountain are sure to keep even the savviest speedrunners on their toes. As you dash, jump, and climb your way up the perilous peak, you're sure to die hundreds of times.

Trying again, and again, and again...

Unlike standard platformers that limit your lives and sometimes make you start at checkpoints in the distant past, Celeste encourages gamers to celebrate the learning that comes along with failure. Developer Maddy Thorson spoke on this topic in an interview with Vice: "We want people to come out of this game feeling capable and powerful, so that means we have to teach them, challenge them, and support them through the failures along the way."


If the difficulty level isn't fitting your needs, try Assist Mode for increased accessibility. Looking for an extreme challenge? Try to collect as many strawberries as you can and, if you dare, unlock and explore bonus levels like the notoriously tricky "b-sides." Though the struggle will be real, it's a relief knowing your progress is saved so specifically that you'll never have to replay a challenging passage you've already cleared twice. You can start off exactly where you left off.

Meaningful messages and deep discoveries

Celeste's story shines a light on the topic of mental health both through its gameplay and its seamlessly weaved-in cut scenes. If you've experienced struggles with depression and anxiety like Madeline, being in her shoes is a chance to know you're not alone.


Through the game, Madeline struggles with self-doubt, fear, panic attacks, and feelings of hopelessness, and at one point, she even hits rock bottom. Her conversations, battles, and interactions with the difficult parts of herself, personified as a character she refers to as "Part of Me," help make these issues easier for her to understand. Not only are the scenes where Part of Me is attacking exciting to play, but they make an important point about how it can feel to struggle with mental illness. Whether you can relate through your own experience or gain a new understanding of what others go through, you're sure to walk away wiser.

Acceptance and hope

Developer Thorson confirmed a popular fan theory through their Nov. 2020 blog: Madeline is trans! While making the game, Thorson was in the process of discovering and accepting their own trans identity. Keeping in mind topics of trans self-discovery and acceptance bring new depth to Madeline's climb. As Thorson wrote, "When Madeline looks in the mirror and sees her other self; when she attempts to abandon her reflection, who then drags her down the mountain; when the two reconcile and merge to become stronger and more complete... that was all unknowingly written from a trans perspective."


While Thorson emphasizes the importance of trans representation and stories, they also make it clear that cis players can still relate and enjoy the game since "trans and cis feelings aren't so different [...] the chasm between transness and cisness isn't such a wide gulf."

Whether this game speaks to your experience, you're looking for a brutal thumb workout to test your platforming prowess, or both, you're sure to get a lot out of Celeste. Even when the levels get harder, remember that the original version of the game was made by just two people, demonstrating once again the persistence, drive, and passion that make Celeste a game worth playing again and again.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.


If you're trans or questioning and would like to confidentially talk with a trans community member for support, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.