Review: Celestial Mechanica

I have a journalistic bias towards adorable robots. I should make that perfectly clear before I begin here that my heart melts at the thought of R2-D2, Josef and the unnamed hero of Celestial Mechanica. They’re so adorable, they think they’re people. Thankfully, Celestial Mechanica has a lot more to offer than just a cute mechanoid with a nostalgia-inducing retro aesthetic and the most powerful soundtrack I’ve heard in a game since Bastion.

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Celestial Mechanica reminded me of the games I used to play when I was growing up. There’s the simple plot that exists primarily to frame the game’s mechanics: the Earth, falling apart, is saved by the intervention of the celestial bots. The establishing cutscene cuts to the protagonist, thrown from the heavenly city of the Mechanians for an undisclosed crime, crashing to Earth. A fellow exile greets you and invites you to follow him for a chance of redemption, a chance to return to your home in the sky.

Then you pick up the power-up that lets you jump. It’s a Metroidvania style game, with exploration and re-exploration key; getting the jump power-up lets you traverse the forest shrine, which gives you the double-jump power needed to complete the water shrine and it continues in a similar vein for the rest of the game. While I’ve described the game as Metroidvania, it almost inverts the decisions of the Metroid series. It’s light and airy where Metroid is techno-punk and oily. The biggest danger is a misjudged fall, not a vast army of piratical space-goers. Most importantly, where Metroid wraps its human protagonist in emotionless mechanical armour, Celestial sends forth a mechanical life form that somehow evokes the essence of humanity: coping with rejection, redemption and determination mark the driving forces of the sentient metal creature we inhabit throughout the game.

It’s a shame that the controls mar the experience at times; inexact controls can often leave the character sliding out of control during the more stressful jumps. The respawning helps alleviate this, with each death plonking you at the beginning of the screen, but when that means repeating a finicky set of jumping puzzles, it can slant the game towards mildly irritating instead of charming. That doesn’t happen terribly often though, so the game rarely deviates from its immense amounts of charm.

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The graphics are retro-styled, as seems to be the fashion in modern indie games, but with a significant amount of polish and the decades-old feel of the graphics is matched by an equally hand-crafted feel. The soundtrack augments this feeling completely, in one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve heard in recent years. Rekcahdam, the composer of Celestial‘s soundtrack, has captured the rural and slightly alien motif that runs through the game perfectly; it’s perhaps the crowning feature of an already fantastic game.

That said, I have to take a moment to point out the in-game advertisement. There’s an NPC you meet soon after completing the forest shrine that passes on a map for use in-game, but also tells you that you can listen to music by pressing a button. I promptly did, assuming this to be a jukebox that would play during the game, only for my browser to erupt from my desktop, the composer’s Bandcamp page displayed. While it is a stunning soundtrack (and I really hope you’ll buy the soundtrack, to show your support for this indie gem), I can’t help but wish this in-game ad was excised and replaced with a more immersion friendly advert on the main menu. The developers have worked so hard to create such an inviting and charming world that breaking the immersion is an incomprehensible choice for them to have actively made.

Don’t let that put you off though. Celestial Mechanica is full of character, is an excellent short-form platformer and is completely free from the developer’s website. It’s worth the small investment in time and please, please buy the soundtrack; it’ll be perfect for when the Earth is saved by galactic robotic saviours.

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