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Celeste and Designing Difficulty

By Andrew Dalman

Celeste is a game that came out a few years ago that I am only just now getting into, and wow, this game is amazing! In case you haven’t heard of it, Celeste is a brutally hard 2d platformer, and I really can’t praise this game enough. The art style is gorgeous, and the story of depression and anxiety is told masterfully. The music is on point and really helps drive home the feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, and discovery. I think the best part of this game however, is the difficulty. Difficulty in gaming has been a problem for quite some time, some people argue that accessibility should be the core of a game so people can simply enjoy the art and story that a game is trying to tell, but others say that if players don’t put in the effort to experience it, then they shouldn’t experience it at all. Celeste handles this expertly by engineering levels that will make grown men break down from the challenge. This by itself doesn’t sound like a good idea, but the difficulty settings is where I think it really shines.

The easy mode doesn’t just let you breeze through levels, but rather allows you to adjust the difficulty yourself to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. There are several different categories that you can adjust: you can slow down the game to pinpoint your jumps, you can change the amount of dashes you have if one area is giving you trouble, and you can even make yourself invincible. The game allows you to adjust how much of an assist you get, you can slow the game down to 90% of its normal speed or 50%, and you can give yourself 2 dashes, three, or infinite. When you activate the mode, the game warns you that it’s not meant to be played with these settings on, but that if it will make your experience more enjoyable then to turn them on. The game makes it vividly clear how it is intended to be played, so there is no confusion or shame when using this mode, which I admire greatly. I decided to do a small experiment based on these settings: I told my sister to play through the first level (she’s not good at games) and she got really upset about 10 minutes in because she knew she was playing poorly. After that, I told her about the easier mod and let her engineer her own ideal difficulty, and I never heard her complain again, she’s quite enjoying the game.

The next thing I did was ask her a few questions along the lines of “would you say making the game easier made your experience more enjoyable?” She agreed and brought up most of the points I’ve made in her reasoning of why. Celeste has found the perfect balance of “why is this game so hard” and “why is this game so easy” by allowing players to pick where on that spectrum they will enjoy themselves the most, allowing players to be challenged based on their own ideas and beliefs, while also letting them enjoy the incredible story that the game has to offer. Even though it’s an incredibly hard game, it allows itself to be accessible by virtually anyone, and I think more games should follow in Celeste’s footsteps. Also, in case I haven’t made this clear enough, you should go play this game, it has great game play, it’s cheap, and has hours of content in the main story alone; not to mention the secrets.

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