platformer

REVIEW:Celeste

It has been my experience that platformers fall into two main camps: the light-hearted, Mario-esk and relatively easy to play type, and the ultra hardcore, pay-attention-or-you-die type of games such as Super Meat Boy.

Celeste, the new game from mattmakesgames (now more than just Matt Thorson who originally started it), falls into this second camp. It is designed to challenge you, in a similar vein to something like Dark Souls: Celeste demands your attention, requiring timing and finger dexterity to get through its levels. If that proves too much, it has an innovative ‘assist mode’ that can help, and it is genuinely refreshing to not feel like your getting a gimped experience because you just don’t have the skill to play as is.

The setup of the game is thus: Madeline wants to climb Celeste mountain. She is completely unprepared for this, as the mountain has a power she has never encountered before, but attempts it anyway. It sounds like a fairly mundane thing, pulled straight out of eighties NES games, but actually the story has a nuance few games attempt.

It deals with mental health in a way few games even attempt, let alone actually pull off, though to the conclusion to that does feel like the optimistic and ‘perfect’ - for want of a better word - solution. That doesn’t mean that the game is anything less than great, I just found it to stumble at the end a little bit.

The minute to minute gameplay is your fairly standard affair of run and jump, avoiding obstacles, though you can also cling to surfaces and climb them. This is governed by a stamina meter that drains, but if you jump off and land on a flat surface it is refilled instantly, as is the air dash you are given at the start of the game.There isn’t really any enemies to take out, instead just about everything that isn’t a flat surface will kill you. It’s not even a case of it will take some health off, you hit the wrong thing and boom, you’re dead, and death comes swiftly and often.

So often, in fact, that after around twelve hours with the game I had died 3089 times. I never said I was good at this type of game, and as I sat staring at that number after the credits rolled, I realized that not one of those was the games fault. Each level is perfectly designed, with the solution and everything you need to achieve it staring you in the face, it is just a matter of whether or not you actually see it.

This is compounded by Strawberries. Each level has a set of collectible Strawberries to get, but when presented with a screen with one of those in it, it can quickly become a case of just saying “Hell no!” and moving on. This isn’t because these screens are badly designed, on the contrary, they are some of the most diabolical sections in the game, but it is a case of whether or not you can be bothered throwing yourself at the problem until you figure it out, dying over and over until you collect that tasty fruit.

Thing is, those collectibles make no difference to the game, they really are just bragging rights for completing tough sections, so if like me you get to a point where you just want to get through it, don’t feel bad for skipping them, it makes no difference to the story or anything. The collectible that does change things are the B-Side cassette tapes in each chapter. These will re-mix the level for a harder challenge, but to be honest, by the time I got to to the end I had gotten everything I wanted out of the game.

I mentioned at the start the games assist mode, and it really is great. The games designers wanted a set experience, and think it should be played without assist mode turned on, which is fair. However, not everyone is of the same skill level, so with assist mode on you are granted the ability to make things easier in a number of ways.

This might be increasing the number of air dashes you are allowed from one to infinite, making Madeline invincible, increasing how quickly the stamina meter runs down and a number of other things. It affects nothing in the story or game, it is purely a way for people to experience the game regardless of skill level. The developers were smart to put this in, it opens the game to a larger audience and gives them a chance to actually complete it.

I actually ended up turning assist mode on, I just found the game that touch too hard. All I did was increase the number of dashes by one, so I could do it twice before having to land to refill it. As I said, I still died over three thousand times and I gave up on trying to get all the strawberries, but I got through the game and it made it just a little bit easier. I didn’t find that it compromised the designers intent, Celeste is still a brilliant platformer that proves challenging even with a little help. It might not be what the experience they intended me to have, but I still enjoyed the game.

In fact the only issue I really found with the game was the last bit of the story, which for me was just a little bit too optimistic when dealing with mental health. That’s not to say such things don’t happen in real life, but the struggle is much harder than what is presented here, despite the mystical underpinnings of the story. As I said though, few games even attempt this and Celeste does a brilliant job, it just doesn’t stick the landing for me.

Everything else is brilliant. The art style is very 16 bit, but has bells and whistles that could only be dreamt of in that era, the music is awesome and the gameplay is as close to perfect as a platformer can get. I played it on the Switch, and it really is the perfect game for that system, as I played for longer than I should have lying in bed at midnight, or just sat on the sofa getting lost in a challenging section.


If you want a great platformer with a story that is more than ‘stomp on these things’, Celeste is the game for you. It plays brilliantly, looks and sounds great and has plenty of meat to sink your teeth into.

Review: Super Mario Odyssey

There is an old saying in gaming circles: “Never count Nintendo out”. It’s simple, to the point, and if any year in its history proves it, it’s this one. Not only did they release a fantastic console in the Switch, they dramatically overhauled The Legend of Zelda to make it probably one of the best games ever made, and now they have unleashed Super Mario Odyssey, a game shows they are still the masters of the platformer.

Talk before release was that Odyssey is a spiritual successor to the Super Mario Galaxy games, and to be honest I can see why that comparison was made. Each level has different themes and secrets to explore, and trust me there are plenty of secrets. More than that though, is the feeling you get when playing: it just feels right.

It might sound stupid, but from the first push of the thumb stick it’s like you just know everything is right, after a few minutes of play you are lost in Odyssey’s world, all your woes falling away as you explore each level. Even when you decide to move to the next, the feeling you haven’t quite found everything sticks with you, until that is you get lost again.

I played the game on a trip home from London recently. The train took just over two hours. I started playing when we set off, and put it down what I though was half an hour later. Turns out I was just twenty minutes from home and I had lost an hour and half just exploring the game, and if that doesn’t mark it out as great I don’t know what will.

Story has never been a Mario games strong point, and if I am being honest the same is true here. Shockingly Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser again, this time with the intention of forcing marriage upon the said strumpet, but he also nabs Tiara, a Bonneter who becomes the princess’ err...tiara.

Mario of course runs to the rescue, but this time is joined by Cappy, Tiara’s brother, who wants to help fight Bowser and his minions and save his sister. This is where the new game shows it’s distinctiveness. Cappy is actually a very useful little guy, Mario can throw him up, down and all around to fight enemies and collect coins, maybe even solve the odd puzzle. The most unique thing Cappy does, however, is allow Mario to ‘capture’ various creatures around each level.

The capture of a creature turns it ‘mario’, which basically means it gets the plumbers distinct moustache and cap, and let me tell you there is something quite magical about seeing a T-Rex in that state. It then grants you that creature's special ability, so for example capturing a Goomba allows you to stack more and and more on top of each other to reach high ledges or treasures. It’s a great mechanic, and allows the designers to hide things in some brilliant places.

Power Moons are the treasures I speak of, and are used to power the Odyssey, a airship the two friends use to chase down Bowser. They are placed anywhere from ‘in plain sight’ to ‘take two hours to figure out’ and each level contains more than you first think. This where you can see a similar design philosophy to Breath of the Wild. In that game something new was discovered every few minutes and the same is true here.

Turn a corner and you might find a new puzzle to solve or a hidden area containing a moon. It could lead to a boss fight or some of the purple coins littering each level, or it might even just be the top of a ridge looking out over the sea, a cool little vista for intrepid explorers to find. This is what drives you in Super Mario Odyssey, you are never quite sure what is waiting for you next.

Once the credits have rolled the game drops you back in, letting you go find all the other moons you might have missed, and I am almost certain you would have missed some if not a vast majority, there is just that many to find. It is unfortunate that revisting kingdoms means you can purchase a bunch of moons from the in game store on each without having to explore, but honestly its not that big of a deal.

There is unfortunately one major downside to the game: motion controls. Now I will always be a fan of the Wii, it was a great system that introduced gaming to the masses, but for the most part motion controls should have died with that system. Here it only works if the joy-con’s are undocked and frankly, no one plays the switch like that. Those devices are either connected to play in handheld mode or attached to the bundled controller dock that comes with the system.

I am not saying it is impossible to use the motion controls in any other state, but it’s certainly easier when the joy-con’s aren’t plugged into anything. Moving the full system around when playing in handheld mode is just a nightmare and it is jarring when playing with the controller attachment. If they had put those moves onto a face button it would have worked so much better and allowed for more creative use of the various powers by players.

To be honest though, that is the only complaint I have about the whole game. Playing is like sitting down for a chat with an old friend, after a few minutes its like you were never apart and that is what the Mario games personify, the feeling of an old friend come to see you and enjoying each others company.

Super Mario Odyssey shows Nintendo’s willingness to try new things with its core franchise, and somehow they manage to keep the same great feel the best of the previous games had. It updates everything for a new generation and I am certain this will become some of the younger gamers out there game of the generation, one of those that is looked back on in years to come with misty eyes and a slightly inflated, but no less justified sense of nostalgia. In short, it is a masterpiece.