Celeste and Dead Cells: two philosophies of accessibility.
This week I completed two of last year’s best games: Celeste and Dead Cells. It struck me that, while they both support their players, their philosophies regarding difficulty and accessibility could not be more disparate.
Celeste’s developer describes their game as “a platformer about climbing a mountain”. The developer of Dead Cells describes their game as:
…a rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, allowing you to explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle… assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers.
One of these descriptions is simple. The other contains three genre-portmanteaus and a gauntlet throw. As such, I expected the former to be easier and more accessible than the latter. Games are more than their blurbs though and I was delighted as both games subverted my expectations in their own distinct ways.
Celeste, I quickly learned, is a hard-as-nails platformer. I died 2928 times during my playthrough but, because the game never felt like it was judging me, I wasn’t deterred. I died not in violent spurts of gore but in playful poofs of energy and was instantaneously spawned back to the start of game’s mercifully short sections. Celeste certainly expected me to stumble but clearly rooted for me to succeed.
This unbending but kindhearted philosophy permeates the game. It’s present in the rigid but masterable mechanics, in the motivating musical score, and in the plot, which sees the protagonist come to terms with mental illness and overcome self-doubt. A more appropriate blurb for the game appears on a postcard the protagonist receives early on, it reads: “Be proud of your death count! The more you die, the more you’re learning. Keep going!”
Dead Cells is not kind. Named in homage to Dark Souls (the tagline for which is “Prepare to Die”), it’s a game squarely aimed at experienced players. It demands fine motor skill, swift reaction times, pattern recognition, genre familiarity and a heap of free time in order to complete. As a result, if you move swiftly, jump precisely, and slice accurately enough to…