I've always been seriously into indie games, so when I bought my Switch a couple of years ago, Celeste had only been out for a few months. Along with Breath of the Wild, this was the first game I got on the Switch. I spent hours upon hours playing through the gruelling levels, and it was also one of the first 'difficult' games that I really enjoyed.
I loved how easily yet unobtrusively the game manages to integrate a touching and surprisingly profound story in a simple 2D platforming game that really wouldn't have been worse off without one. But Celeste is so much better for it. Especially in the sequence where you're climbing to the summit, it really makes you root for Madeline in a way that you simply wouldn't have if you weren't so invested in the story.
I've never really grappled with issues of mental health and anxiety, so while I couldn't directly related some of those experiences, I certainly was able to empathise with Madeline. I don't feel it's any one thing that gives the game this quality: Celeste is more than the sum of its parts, and to me, the atmosphere, the music, the pace of gameplay, the challenge, and the combination of all of these made for a transcendent experience. Take for example the part where Madeline plummeted to the bottom of the mountain after the Mirror Temple. Despite how stressful and scary the Mirror Temple was, it wasn't actually incredibly difficult. But the atmosphere imbued it with a sense of malice and danger. The Reflection part of the game was arguably harder, but the calmness of the music and the general experience was not just a welcome change of pace, but it served a greater narrative purpose.
This was the part where Madeline was coming to grips with her anxious self and learning to live with that part of her instead of fighting/getting rid of it.
Despite the challenge of that section, I never felt the sort of pressure and anxiety that the Mirror Temple put me through, because that's the point: life isn't going to be easy even when you're at peace with yourself, but that sense of peace and calm can help you overcome much harder challenges than ever before.
Were there parts of the game that you felt did something similar? Or any other games that had interesting elements like this?
Anyway, these are some things I'll be talking about in my podcast:
Next Level Narrative. Do check it out on Youtube or wherever you get your podcasts.
PSA: I'd love to include some of your thoughts in my future episodes, and will regularly post on here. Please leave a comment and I might quote you in my podcast (will give you credit, of course)!
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