Short Stories and Freewriting

Celeste Editorial

Conquering more than just a mountain

I’ve never been too keen on the idea of consistent failure as a learning concept when it comes to platformers. Games like the recent The End is Nigh drove me to unparalleled fits of frustration, despite the tight controls and level design. There’s just something about the difficulty that can drive even the most level-headed men to insanity after enough attempts. In spite of my thousand plus deaths, by the time I reached the credits, I was actually blown away with how much I genuinely enjoyed Celeste.

When I first saw the trailer for Celeste, I was immediately sold with its presentation. I’m a sucker for pixel art, despite how it has become a more common trend in recent gaming years with hits like shovel knight. The art within the game is clean and at times serene, matching the grace and beauty of a dangerous mountain with its delightfully simple character sprites and expressive portraits. Levels themselves are also displayed with all the key info readily available, without screen clutter at all. As almost a pseudo sort of reward for completing a chapter, you are shown various detailed splash arts showing the end scene of the chapter, which only adds to the sense of accomplishment. The same attention to detail that the art has also carries over to the games excellent soundtrack, which carries with it some haunting piano pieces, ambient music, and some electronica that gets the blood pumping in the harder areas. It’s a great medley of different pieces that just click with the areas you’re put in, and they only enhance the experience.

Celeste accurately showcases the difficulty of climbing a mountain with no experience, which is reflected within the plot and the gameplay. The game opens up with our incredibly stubborn protagonist Madeline at the base of Celeste mountain, with the sole intent of making it to the top. Along the way, you meet a charming cast of characters from the loveable selfie-taking Theo, to the odd Mr. Oshiro who manages the local Celeste mountain hotel. Most of them try to dissuade you from climbing the mountain not just because of Madeline’s lack of skills, but because there are supernatural implications behind the mountain. Throughout the game, the supporting cast mentions strange happenstances with the mountain and how it shows its climbers what lies within them. Celeste mountain without a doubt had this sort of silent hill vibe to it that was in the back of my mind as I kept playing. You experience these weird hallucinations and flashbacks into Madeline’s past which give some wonderful insight into her reasons behind climbing the mountain. Seeing Madeline coping with all her past troubles by trying to challenge herself to this extreme turned out to be rather poignant. She is clearly battling her inner demon in both a literal and metaphorical sense which I won’t spoil the specifics due to how powerfully it is represented. Whereas certain games lose their steam towards the end, Celeste hits you with one final stride of sheer glory when nearing the summit.

While the plot was deceptively good, how does the gameplay hold up you might ask? To put it bluntly, pretty damn good. What initially sold me when seeing this game was the pure simplicity behind it. The game focuses on a few simple concepts and using the clever level design to show how these mechanics flourish. Madeline’s primary abilities consist of an omnidirectional dash that she can do once in the air, as well as climbing a vertical surface for a brief time. It takes mere seconds to get a grip with the controls and most of the time I didn’t feel like my deaths were cheap because of how the levels were laid out. A bulk of the levels are made of single-screen challenges with some bigger rooms thrown into the mix for good measure. It’s great that the bigger stages offer a lot of screen real estate, which is something that is a necessity for these types of “hard” platformers. Many of the stages are going to take a reasonable amount of attempts to tackle per screen. Yes at times I got peeved, thinking that the timing for this is ridiculous, because it can be. The game expects a fair amount of inputs out of a player at any time in a small window. I had such an instance in the third chapter where you’re expected to do some almost unreasonably tight diagonal dashes with a small margin for error with a checkpoint and stage gimmick that was aneurysm-inducing. When you finally understand how and when to jump, dash, and climb your way through the stage, you’ll feel an incredible sense of flow and joy after crushing something that may have caused you 20 plus deaths. Each of the games’ chapters also offer some sort of gimmick as well and thankfully none of them overstay their welcome. Early chapters have you dealing with these sorts of traffic blocks that move at what feels like mach 2 once you grab or stand on them. Even better is that you can use the momentum from them to reach new heights and discover secrets which there are a lot of. The games primary collectibles are strawberries and hearts. Strawberries act as more of a completionist sort of checklist rather than a specific reward which I found disappointing, but still obligated to snag. The most they do is have a slight impact on the ending. The hearts however act as the games “super” secrets if you will, and you’ll need every last one of them if you want to see the late postgame content. Some can be found in more obvious parts of the levels, but figuring out how to exactly do them can be a real head-scratcher. The only one that immediately clicked for me was around the halfway point of the game where you see a block that looks REALLY out of place. The block looked like it was out of Super Mario bros. 3, and lo and behold, it was a reference to one of the secrets within that game. Needless to say I was pretty overjoyed when I grabbed the heart because of some old school gaming easter egg. In addition to the hearts, the game also features some even crazier alternate versions of levels called the B-sides. Once you find the mixtape in each chapter, you’ll get access to these. Expect more spikes and much more tricky jumps going into these because they can be an absolute doozy to deal with. The main games difficulty curve is rather reasonable with a few spikes here and there, but the B-sides amps it up considerably from the get-go which is only recommended to those with patience and dexterity.

On paper, there is a lot to be skeptical about Celeste. It was another hard pixel platformer that was probably going to make even seasoned gamers rage at times. When I did finally pull the trigger on the switch’s eshop I was glad I did. I was treated to one of the most engaging platformers I’ve played in quite awhile. I recognize that it takes time to let games kind of settle into their throne of being considered a classic, but to me, this game just absolutely nails it in a lot of regards. Celeste is not a game for everyone because of its high challenge, and that’s okay because, despite the deaths and the difficulty, the game accomplishes its goal of being a damn good platformer.

Aquarium

Sadness. A seven letter word with a feeling that is so palpable. It’s a feeling that if left unchecked can drive someone to death. If I had to describe the feeling, I would say it’s like having the pressure of the ocean looming over your entire body. It feels unshakable, crippling even. It’s strange, I love swimming. It gave me this odd sense of empowerment at one point. The feeling of conquering some sort of terrain that we clearly aren’t “built” to do. I relished in the idea of being better than what was expected of me. I knew I shouldn’t have come here. I’ve had moments where I’ve stared at the ocean just wondering what it’s really like beneath the depths. Beneath that aquatic hell, beneath all the negativity really. My mind was in a constant loop of catastrophic thoughts while staring at the ocean. I couldn’t quite understand why but I wanted to envelop myself in its mysteriousness and see how bad it really was. I took off both of my shoes and left them at the shoreline and swam into the darkest depths of the water. I swam until I felt like my lungs were giving out. As my vision slowly started to obscure I found a tiny cavern and swam up to it in the hopes that my efforts weren’t for naught. I swam up and reached a tiny ledge and propped myself up to it. I sat near the edge staring at the water, simply staring at my grotesque reflection. It showed me all of the things I hated about myself. My physical scars, my odd mental habits, my twisted desires. It showed it all. I turned away and just stared at the dripping stalactites of this small cave and simply cried.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed but I had felt even worse coming to this tiny cavern. I had prayed that experiencing the darkness of the ocean would have made me grateful for something positive, anything really. I wanted to believe that tackling it head on was the answer, but it only made things worse. I am isolated in this cavern, away from the hell’s of the outside, but I am faced with my own personal hell, being by myself. I shivered so intensely in that brief moment and I could feel tears fall down my eyes. As I shivered I felt the water slowly envelop me. I could feel the pressure start to get to me as I noticed the cave in entrance slowly fade away from my eyesight.

That same pressure submerged me into the inky black depths of the water. It is so, painfully, blurry. Opening my eyes felt like a chore. Come to think of it, trying to stay afloat itself felt like the most strenuous activity known to man. Something as simple as breathing felt like gasping for air. What’s worse is that under this ocean nobody can hear you. Sure fish can glance at you, possibly even viewing you as a meal but they can’t provide you the oxygen and life that you so desperately deserve. Why does this feeling permeate my entire body? Maybe I deserve this. I start to gasp as the lack of oxygen starts affecting me. What have I done to deserve this? Am I simply doomed to this cursed existence? I want out of this miserable existence. I want to breathe. I am living in a human aquarium, and my owner will not let me breathe.

My Paradise

Fresh air, birds chirping, sky shining down. This is paradise at it’s finest. It’s interesting to think about the difference between isolation and solitude. Isolation implies a form of being alone in a negative connotation, something that doesn’t quite seem like someone chose it out of their own volition. Solitude is what I prefer. I consider it a voluntary sojourn that is needed to help revive the individual. Sometimes I take the time to escape from my room and the digital world to simply find a nice quiet area to just admire nature around me. There’s a park I like going to, a park where I spent most of my youth simply enjoying the playground and going down the slide. I’m older now and I can only reflect upon my past memories which is fine with me. I prefer to use the past simply as a learning tool and not have to lean back on it to determine the person who I am. When I was young I used to only focus on what was in front of me, like the swings, the slide and even the little bridge that would rock back and forth as I jumped on it. Perhaps I was more in the moment then. Now I have a much broader perspective and I’m noticing all the little things in the park that I didn’t see before. I can hear the cars of the town drive by in the distance faintly reminding me that I am part of the world. The squirrels are playfully gathering their food for the upcoming cold season and making the occasional rodent noises. The birds chirp in an oh so lovingly tune akin to a musical. The butterflies dance and twirl around my head as I sit in quiet contemplation. The trees silently exist as their leaves fall to the ground to signify the passage of time. It all feels so soothing.

I used to come to the park out of a sort of obligation to isolate myself from others and the world after things felt like too much. Now I just come here out of a desire to appreciate this tiny piece of paradise, my paradise.

A Mindful Walk

Walking, an activity that many of us do on a daily basis. It’s something that has become an almost autonomous action at this point. Have you ever paused while walking and asked yourself “How are my steps affecting the earth? Am I affecting the world in a positive way?” I used to consider these things while sitting down for a break during walks. I would find a cozy stone, a thinking stone if you will and I would just sit for a second. Sometimes I would nervously pull out my phone when passersby would come my way in an effort to look busy. It’s so easy to forget that not acting busy can actually be good for you as it opens up more avenues for interaction. It’s easy to just look at a phone and not acknowledge the world around you, the real world not the digital one. I’ll let you guys in on a secret, recently I’ve been leaving my phone at home while I walk to try and focus on my surroundings. It’s been pretty liberating if I’m being completely honest. In this day and age, it’s expected to always be connected so to speak regarding communication. What if we’re engaging too much in only one kind of communication? What about the need to immerse ourselves in nature?

“Wow, this rock really does have a powerful effect, hard to believe it’s only been a couple of minutes.” I stood up from the rock and put my shoes back on. As I tied the lace to my shoe I looked up toward the sky. What was once a dark maelstrom looming above my humble neighborhood became a clear sky with the sun beaming down in a ray of light on the road ahead of me. I took a deep breath and walked along the road back to my home with a trail of flowers being created behind my every step.

Waterfall

Wash away all the anxiety, make it vanish in a manner that is respectful to its original owner. It’s funny that I refer to it as an owner. As if it has its own sort of space that it takes up in someone’s heart. It’s kind of true though. We have a bad habit of internalizing all the pain and stress we absorb into our body on a daily basis and truth be told, I express it quite a bit in my writing. Sometimes it’s good because it lets me get it all out, but sometimes I feel guilty expressing so much negativity all the time. It’s times like these where we need a reprieve from life and to focus on the good and wonderful things. Like a plant, we take in that which we are given and it shapes who we are. I believe that we can choose to take in these experiences as nutrients and allow us to flourish.

When I feel anxious I like to picture myself under a waterfall and imagine that my soul is being purified under the gentle stream trickling over my shoulders. I focus on my breathing and emphasize a slow and deliberate rhythm with my inhales… and exhales. I open my eyes slightly and look at the pool of water below me and take delight with all the aquatic life beneath me. I can see fish dancing around in various patterns like hearts and stars. I never imagined that nature could be so beautiful with its almost divine qualities. With my legs cross and my posture aligned in a manner that allows for proper form, I take another inhale… and hold it… for a long time… so long that I wonder how many more ellipses I can fit into one inhale… and exhale realizing how long of a sentence I just wrote… and tell myself… “Right here in this moment, I am at peace knowing that the waterfall is within me”.

Pink Ocean

On the rare occasion, I have pleasant dreams. That’s not to say that my mind is constantly polluted with nightmares, heavens no. Although sometimes it does need to cleanse itself of all the daily stresses we face. But now isn’t the time for nightmares, now is the time for all the wonderful things in the world like water, the purest of substances and the color pink the purest of colors. Water, the most beneficial of all the drinkable fluids on this bright planet. Much better than the harsh chemicals found in soda which is the equivalent of liquid arsenic. I keep getting ahead of myself with the negativity, my apologies, it just comes and goes you know? Where was I…. right! Water like the ocean cleanses all the evil and refreshes the troubled spirit from the corruption that harms it. It’s important to remember to bathe in the healing salt crystals found in the ocean more than anything else in life. But what if you don’t live near this well-spring of rejuvenation you might ask? Physically you may not be able to take the ocean with you wherever you want to but I know a technique that can help. Close your eyes for a moment, well not while reading this of course but you get the gist of it. Now focus on your breathing. Imagine the calm ocean breeze passing you by with the occasional seagull chirping its own tune in harmony with the tides rolling in. That same seagull also glides down in front to display a brief dance with his friends to remind you that you are not alone in this abode of comfort. The tides have this sense of lulling you into a trance where you and the ocean become one synchronous being. It relaxes you and you seem to drift along the shore with it as well. Tiny fish swim alongside you making sure as not to intervene in your personal space which you hold so dear. Why do you hold it so dear? Because others can ruin it? Or is it more personal? The ocean reminds you that it’s always okay to feel and be one with your feelings, and without shame either. Now one thing I didn’t mention is the color of the ocean. This ocean isn’t blue, far from it. This ocean is pink! While this may seem insignificant, to me color is everything. This same pink ocean also has some magical qualities too. For instance look at the ground below you. The sand has formed a small floating island beneath you with a single palm tree and a fishing rod beside it. The ocean knows that you crave a blissful retreat from the harshness of daily life, and it is happy to accommodate. You grab the fishing rod with your back against the palm tree. You cast it into the pink ocean below with the most peaceful smile on your face as the sun sets over the horizon. In this moment right here, right now you are truly happy.

Darkness

Darkness had its own way of transcending within my tiny room, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it looked like a cell from the outside. I can still hear the sweet succulent sound of suffering from the room next door. I hear the breathing come and go and I smirk when it goes silent because I know that they’re one step closer for their soul to be snuffed out of existence. To some, I may sound vengeful but there’s a bit more than that. The person in the room next to me is the embodiment of my anger and hatred. She took her own form much before my own and I wanted to believe that I was just being delusional. She is a human being after all right? At least that was the general consensus on the surface, but to me this person forsook their humanity long ago. She was once a kind soul who welcomed me into her abode but looking at us now seems to paint a different tale altogether. When I look at this creature my once calm and poetic demeanor immediately shifts into the untamed beast ready to explode from anxiety and pressure. This same beast that is silently caged within my very being just waiting to erupt. “Charles, your dinner is here.” “Leave it at the door Nick. I’m contemplating.” “You won’t have to keep doing that much longer buddy. The way the warden puts it he’s thinking about letting one of you free.” “You put in a good word for me I assume right man?” “Of course, your behavior has been mostly good, aside from when you leave your cell.” He was right, in my room, I could be here and express myself fully within my thoughts but out there with her I could feel this silent nagging sensation crawling under my skin telling me that my existence is flawed. The air out there is tainted and I can feel myself choking on the very molecules that have come to provide me with life. “It’s not my fault she has the defect man. You guys don’t want to let me use a mask so what else can I do? My brain just isn’t functioning like myself out there.” “Look we took you in so you wouldn’t have to be alone out there, do you really want to brave the infection out there as well?” I didn’t and I couldn’t stand that this woman was the cause of this god-forsaken situation to begin with. I thought dementia was supposed to corrupt the mind not the body? “You’re right I don’t but it’s a local thing man. Only area that’s warped is my house.” “Yeah, and we don’t want anyone near it. It may be dormant but that mutation in her is still being researched. Nobodies ever seen this chemical come from a person before.” He’s right, even the bubonic plague pales to the severity she’s experiencing. She kept complaining about eyesight and headaches that I just assumed that was a by-product of old age, but when her demands kept becoming so unreasonable I just had to mention it to her. Unsurprisingly she didn’t take it well and next thing I knew she was convulsing on the floor and a noxious gas emitted from her mouth that filled the entire place with the smell of bleach and chlorine. I ran out as fast as I could but it wasn’t long before the neighbors called for an ambulance when I had passed out at the door. Several weeks later and some phone calls from my mother asking what the hell happened drove me nearly to my breaking point by being stuck in here. It was kind of like my room at first, quiet meditative and appallingly isolating but I tried to make the best of it despite the constant boredom. I heard some coughing on the off occasion but I was so indifferent to the thing in the room next to me that I wound up treating it as white-noise after enough time. Coughing turned to heaving and the gas she once emitted turned into sludge. I can still see it in the hallway occasionally through the filter that they installed, but no matter how easy it was to ignore the coughing, the sludge itself penetrated the last bit of stability left in my rational mind. How could someone just spit that out of them? Science taught me otherwise but fiction kept endorsing the idea that there is always the possibility for the strange and wondrous. Before the incident, I kept her at an arm’s length both out of pity and necessity that I couldn’t help her and that I needed her to live. With no money, I anxiously pondered what would happen if she left. Would I starve? Would I not have a roof over my head? When your only hope is to desperately cling to something you despise you can’t help but wonder if your existence even matters in the first place. Was I destined to be miserable? I asked myself. Or was this the cruel plan of some sadist god? That house was more torture than the cell, with every waking moment an exercise in futility. At least here they gave me a typewriter to let me be myself. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning to tell you the news Charley. And please stay positive my friend. I hate to see someone in your position.” Then just get me out of here if you want to help me out. “Yeah, I’ll do my best Nick but no promises.”