Casually, Celeste is a simple, yet difficult, platformer where you only have four movement options. You can walk, jump, grab, and dash. Together, these mechanics are used to their fullest extent to overcome the obstacles spread throughout each level. You grab onto blocks to activate their movement, allowing you to obtain momentum that will send you flying through the air like your favorite superhero, or you can dash through dream blocks that will regenerate your dash and allow you to quickly move throughout the second chapter with minimal time on the ground. The four simple mechanics can be used in a variety of ways that makes Celeste feel challenging, but never overwhelming.
When you learn movement tech for speedrunning Celeste, everything changes. Suddenly there are a plethora of ways to dash, including hyper-dashes, ultra-dashes, wave-dashes, dash jumps, extended versions of nearly every way to dash, and finally a demo-dash, which makes Madeline, the games protagonist, have a smaller hitbox during her dash movement, allowing her to slip by obstacles that were once considered extremely dangerous. After learning all of this tech, I learned that the game I thought was simple was actually one of the most complex platformers I have played.
Suddenly the obstacles found within the levels lose their meaning, as doing hyper-dashes, where you dash forward while crouched, can launch you from one end of the room to the other, allowing you to ignore the pesky spikes filling the middle sections of rooms, and some strats, such as the yeet, can make rooms that take awhile to traverse take absolutely no time at all. The dash techniques can be chained together to create amazing spectacles that made me drop my jaw upon witnessing. The Celeste I knew was gone, and what took its place was something unbelievable. Something that not only tests your identification of obstacles and where they will lead you, but one that tests whether obstacles are needed, and puts your movement skills to the test.
My time of being a speedrunner is extremely limited. I started early last year running Minit which had very few technical strats and was mostly straightforward, then Bastion’s any% category which taught me a lot about glitches and how amazing menu storage is, Celeste was a breath of fresh air, but one that my lungs could not handle. I was quickly overwhelmed, but consumed with determination. Celeste’s speedrun is very daunting at first, but after learning the different dashes, you want to improve so you can prove to the levels, and to the world, that you can outsmart the games obstacles.
This isn’t about me, though. It is about how the strats and speedrun of Celeste contributes to the story. In Celeste, Madeline’s journey up the mountain is a metaphor for her battle with depression and anxiety. Badeline, what the Celeste community has named the main antagonist, represents Madeline’s mental health struggles, and throughout Madeline’s discussions with supporting characters like Theo, she discovers that living with depression will be difficult but she has to work with it to form a better version of herself. One that does not run from her mental illness, but embraces it and fights the problem head-on.
The game ends at the top of the mountain, where Madeline and Badeline have combined, giving Madeline a better outlook on life, and a cool new ability where she can dash two times with her purple hair. This highlights the importance of working with your mental health and not ignoring problems. Learning the speedrun strats of Celeste represents combating the recurrence of anxiety and depression.
When you have issues with your mental health, it is usually not a one time thing. New awful events happen and you are left at the bottom of the abyss searching for a way out again. You are confused and panicking, hoping that you will see the light that will get you out of the darkness. When mental health issues do occur, you try the new techniques you used to cope with prior events, and you keep adapting and doing what is best for you.
Through my couple weeks of speedrunning Celeste, I have learned countless strategies to get through levels, and I know which ones I am good at and which ones I struggle with. Every time I run Forsaken City, I try the strats that I want to learn, sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed, but the weight of the succeeding and failing is heightened. Mistakes kill runs, successes encourage confidence.
When I got out of my first struggle with mental health, I felt relieved, but sadly I was not informed about mental health back then and did not know the feelings I once had would come back at full force. I felt invincible when I stopped coming home feeling pins and needles running through my body after every day of freshman year. The pain I was in, the constant lust for sleep, everything stopped and I thought that phase was, well, a phase. Little did I know, the feelings of grief when losing someone important to you, again, can bring back the darkness.
When I entered this new state of emotional degradation, I knew that I would be relying on friends and doing things that would keep me busy and happy. Some things, like deep conversations about my mental health, were extremely scary for me. I already get anxious about conversations, but conversations about my grief get me really anxious. The pins and needles return, but this time I fought through it. Sometimes I tried safe strats, little conversations here and there that would add a little time to the ticking time bomb. Other times I broke down and let everything out, regardless of how it made me feel at the time I knew it would be what is best for me.
The combination of these attempts at self-help paid off. I climbed out of my grief pit with a new understanding of myself and the world around me. The journey of speedrunning Celeste has changed my outlook on the game and its message, it has given me goals and more knowledge about various ways to improve myself, and through this brief period of learning Celeste I have grown emotionally attached to the game, and to the act of running it.
The simple mechanics caught my attention during my first playthrough of the game, and the complexity of the mechanics, and the potential they held, kept my interest, and will continue to inspire me for the rest of the year. There is always ways to get better and get yourself out of the darkness. You will have to try, fail, and try again. Find out what is best for you and accept that at times you will not be okay. You have all of the potential in the world, regardless of what you think of yourself, or what you have been told, continue living and dashing through life with the knowledge of your identity and your place in the wonderful, yet flawed, world we live in.