Tuesday 20 March 2018

Celeste review: A fist of steel in a velvet glove

Celeste (XO/PS4/PC/Switch) ★★★★★ Age: 12+

Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Homer Simpson wouldn't like Celeste. This is the man who said to Bart and Lisa: "You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try."

But trying (and failing) is pretty much the core of Celeste, a charming yet utterly merciless 2D pixel-art platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy. Prepare to fail, prepare to fall a lot as Celeste navigates the sheer, craggy slopes of a mountain, tumbling to her death time after time as you learn the pixel precision required to succeed.

What could easily be overwhelmingly frustrating is leavened by a heart-warming story softly woven into the fabric of the game. This depth in both narrative and gameplay takes a while to reveal itself. Celeste teaches you its basics - a run, a jump, a mid-air dash - and forces you to beat a dizzying gauntlet of one-screen puzzles that demand split-second timing and a good eye.

But by the end of chapter one, Celeste begins to intimate there's more here than meets the eye. Soon, you're meeting clones of yourself, entering a dream world and bumping into fellow travellers on the mountain.

New avenues of traversal open up and you might even dream of tracking down some of the optional hidden trinkets tucked away in hard-to-reach places.

If you become stuck, or just can't tolerate Celeste's unrelenting difficulty, the game offers a graduated series of assists, from slowing the game down, all the way to permanent invincibility. Used sparingly, they permit the daunted player the liberty to experience the full gamut of Celeste's majesty.

Axiom Verge

(Switch) ★★★★★ Age: 7+

This indie classic has landed on many platforms since its 2015 incarnation but this is perhaps the definitive edition, its premium physical versions coming with an elaborate art book, poster, soundtrack on CD and Blu-ray documentary.

Not much else has changed but it remains a splendid example of the Metroidvania genre, in which exploration of its subterranean caverns is tied to the gradual acquisition of new abilities. But it's just as much the fantastic variety of weapons that lift Axiom to another level. Most distinctive of all is the glitch gun that creates anomalies in the level geometry and scrambles the DNA of the game's HR Giger-esque monsters.

The original's flaws remain uncorrected - chiefly, a tendency to get lost in its sizeable map - but this is a game ideally suited to Switch that demands your attention.

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