Did you know that, in literature, strawberries are often interpreted as a symbol of humility, of modesty, of shyness? The theory is that because the hybrid fruit species is grown under the shade of its own leaves, the sweet red foodstuff has a shrinking view of its own importance – or, rather, it knows exactly its place in the world and craves nothing bigger.
In Celeste, strawberries have become iconic. The pixel art fruits have come to symbolise the game, and in fan communities around the world, the humble strawberry has become immediately synonymous with the game. Why? Because collectible strawbs litter the game’s levels. Whether you decide to collect them or not, the fruits don’t serve any purpose – they’re there purely to give you an extra challenge. To build the world. To provide a sweet treat for your protagonist, Madeline (and, well, if you get all 175, you get a tiny little bonus in the epilogue, too).
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It’s funny to me that a symbol of humility and self-worth is the central icon of Celeste. A streamlined platformer, lean and athletic and single-minded in its pursuit of pixel-platform perfection, Celeste is hard. Charting a journey of personal growth via the age-old metaphor of climbing a mountain, the game delights in making you fail. It revolves around stumbling over the finishing line, just about meeting your goal, barely getting through the day.
Madeline can only run, jump, dash and wall climb. It seems simple enough, but the way these nimble tools are realised in her world is sublime. And the journey that you take her through as you learn to hop, skip, jump and boulder your way to the top of the mountain is affecting. In its writing, just like its mechanics, Celeste does a lot with a little. Matching trial-and-error gameplay with a tale about anxiety and depression… it’s a better fit than you’d think, and how the mechanics and the narrative rhyme with each other is a lesson that even the triple-A behemoths of the industry could learn from.
In essence, the central point of Celeste is to embrace that which brings you down – to accept your failings, your foibles, your feelings, and allow them to exist within you. Celeste teaches you that it is indeed possible to hold both success and failure at the same time. And sometimes, that’s even lionised by the strawberries on the stage – yes, you can see it hovering around in that apparently impossible corner of the stage, and you can’t get it, but you can complete the level. That’s something, isn’t it? Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Today, Celeste returns to the Xbox Game Pass service. Even if rock-hard 2D platformers aren’t your usual thing, you’ve got nothing to lose in giving this game a go today. You might just find your next favourite modern indie game. I know I did, last time we were lucky enough to see this gorgeous little game on the service.