Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite game music, alternative games, and more.
In my line of work, I don't 100 percent games that often (as in, completing every little thing). I never get that Platinum trophy in the distance. I never go out of my way to collect every doodad, nor do those more difficult tasks. Often, I just do the mainline stuff, a few side things here and there, and that's it. Meanwhile my colleague Mike Williams is a crazy person who methodically completes everything he can in open world games; he even played through Assassin's Creed Origins twice. (Or so the legend goes.)
But for me, and probably everyone else besides dear Mike that writes about games for a living, I have no time for such things. Usually it's onto the next game (or more PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds). Yet the latest game I've reviewed has baited me into something different for a change. It's consumed me. Unlike most games I play for work, I'm still playing it well after I filed my review. I'm on a quest to 100 percent it.
That game is Celeste, the latest game from Towerfall creator (among other developers) Matt Makes Games. It's my favorite game of the year so far (yes, I'm aware it's only January). At its core, Celeste is a fairly traditional platformer: it takes on a retro-inclined pixelated style, the player's abilities are resigned to simplicity with a jump, wall grab, and dash. It's a polished, heavily precise platformer, the type of game that gently teaches you more about it as you move along, and is unafraid to challenge you. Fittingly, Celeste gets more complicated the deeper players get into it. Some levels offer bosses that chase you. Some offer small mechanical finesses, like a bubble that shoots you in the direction you point it.
Celeste's main storyline is challenging on its own, but the real challenge comes in everything else around it. Whether that's collecting every strawberry that litter rooms, tackling the alternate "B-Sides" of levels that are downright brutal, or tracking down the secretive Crystal Hearts to unlock the special final chapter, there's loads more to do in Celeste long after you see the credits roll.
And that's what I've been on a journey to do all weekend long. I'm being methodical about it: inching chapter by chapter as I collect the strawberries I missed, hunt for each chapter's Crystal Heart, and complete its arduous B-Sides. Even though I've long unlocked enough Crystal Hearts at this point to access the game's mysterious chapter eight, I'm holding off for now. I want to complete everything before that point before I enter the mountain's mysterious core.
Playing Celeste this way reminds me of how I played games when I was younger, and had more time to tackle insane milestones. When I was a teen with a PlayStation 2 and no income, one of the only games I owned for years was Kingdom Hearts, and I played it religiously. I could blaze through the entirety of it relatively fast. I kept a journal cataloguing the best spots for grinding out certain items on that path to craft the Ultima Keyblade, the strongest weapon in the game. I knew the most efficient ways to grind to level 99; making the endgame bosses a piece of cake, and the secret boss of Sephiroth just a matter of precise dodgerolling.
With Celeste, I'm not being that deliberate. The only notes I scribbled are still the ones in my notebook while I was playing it for review. ("These spikes," is one of them. Who knows what spikes they were referring to.) I'm not writing down some makeshift-language, as I did when I played Ni No Kuni and Fez. Still, Celeste is capturing my attention in ways little games do. Even when I love a game, it's rare for me to go back to it. Celeste is breaking that trend.
I imagine once I collect everything, I'll put the game down for good. I'll move back onto multiplayer experiences being my "free time" games. The book will close on Celeste, and I'll be back to moving from game to game without ever looking back. But in the meantime, I'm still loving the experience, even as other games like Monster Hunter: World and Dragon Ball FighterZ tempt me in the distance (I actually picked up the latter, and spent a large swath of the weekend playing Celeste on the couch as my partner went full Super Saiyan). Little did I know after big games conquered the hectic final week of January, a quaint game about a girl climbing a mountain was all that I really needed.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
- Dissidia Final Fantasy NT [January 30]: Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is quietly making its way to the PlayStation 4 tomorrow. It bears the same name as the PSP game, but otherwise it's quite different, focusing on teams instead of one-on-one battles. It will be mostly online, so fans of the single-player RPGs need not apply.
- Night in the Woods (Switch) [February 1]: One of our favorite games of 2017 is making its way to the Nintendo Switch. If you want a taste, check out Caty's Night in the Woods-inspired mixtape.
- EA Sports UFC 3 [February 2]: EA's latest stab at the UFC license arrives on February 2. Its main attraction is its revamped striking system as well as its new career mode (though it won't be featuring a FIFA-like story mode). Fun fact: All of Joe Rogan's new lines are pulled from pay-per-view commentaries.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Bowser's Road from Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 marked brand-new territory for Mario in 1996, and the game's soundtrack reflects that shift into uncharted lands. There's no such thing as a poor Mario soundtrack, but 64's tunes match up to their environments in ways few other Mario games manage outside of Galaxy and maybe Odyssey. I suppose Nintendo saves its best for Mario's 3D romps.
Bowser's Road is the song that plays in each of 64's Bowser-oriented stages. Thinking back, I believe it's the first time Bowser received any kind of distinguishing lair music since the original Super Mario Bros. Mario Bros 3 just recycled the generic fortress music (I guess Koji Kondo was saving the best of himself for the game's iconic Bowser battle music). Bowser's become a bit of a joke villain over the years, but Nintendo's not against occasionally letting him bristle his spikes and brandish his claws, either. The foreboding tones of Bowser's Road warns you you're on the path to a serious encounter.
Am I glad this song was redone for Super Mario Galaxy? You bet your butt I am.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I'm back on my bullshit: that bullshit being perusing the latest and greatest game jams that are gracing itch.io. This week, FlatJam will be concluding, but that doesn't mean there aren't already a wealth of great submissions from independent developers. FlatJam is always a game jam that I try to keep my eye on, as game makers create truly 2D interactive works using household items: from markers to other papercraft. Last year's and i made sure to hold your head sideways from Jenny Jiao Hsia was a clear standout.
This year, I found myself drawn to Road Trip, from Scotland-based game designer Emilie M. Reed. Usually, the participating games in FlatJam catalogue a specific moment of the creator's life in 2017. Road Trip is different though: instead of capturing a moment that really happened, it captures a dream of going on a road trip for Reed, or "a fantasy that seems out of reach" as the description reads. You can play the collage-like flat driving game from your browser on itch.io.
Mike's Media Minute
Holy crap. As The Last Jedi finally slides out of the Top 10, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle continues its amazing box office run. Jumanji has made $338 million domestic, putting it at #5 on the highest grossing films for 2017. It beat Sony's own Spider-Man: Homecoming and it's on track to take down Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 next.
Speaking of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji beat it and Spider-Man 3 to become the third highest-grossing domestic film Sony Pictures has ever released, behind only Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. And both of those are in contention. When it comes to the worldwide chart, Jumanji sits at #9 for 2017, just behind Thor: Ragnarok. These are great numbers of a mostly unrelated sequel/reboot, which is why Sony has the next Jumanji in the planning stages. They're looking for a December 2019 window, which would put the film up against Star Wars: Episode IX, with Sony looking to repeat the battle between The Last Jedi and Welcome to the Jungle. Can a Jumanji sequel repeat the feat?
It's not all Jumanji though! Another quiet success story is The Greatest Showman, the musical about the life of P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman. The film opened to a mere $8 million, looking like an eventual flop on its $84 million budget. But then it went up the next weekend. Then the next and the one after that. It started to fall in January, but those falls have been small, in the 10-to-15 percent range. With that run and the foreign grosses, The Greatest Showman has not only crawled its way to profitability, it's also landed on the Top 10 list of all-time musicals.
Both runs, coming from films in the last month of 2017, are simply amazing and it's been a joy to see them perform.
This Week's News and Notes
- The secret appeal of Monster Hunter: World: re-creating your cat when making your Palico companion. As you can see, it's already taking Twitter by storm.
- The Sea of Thieves closed beta has been ongoing over the weekend. Mike had a chance to play it and share some of his thoughts. It's hard to get a read on where this one is going. Will it be a success? Will it slip beneath the waves unnoticed?
- It's Panzer Dragoon Saga's 20th anniversary today. Hop on over to The Ringer for their massive retrospective, which includes comments from one of its key designers. Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of those forgotten classics, so make sure to honor its memory and check out this deep dive.
- An oldie but a goodie: Bob's conflicted feelings about Monster Hunter as a vegetarian.
- Dragon Ball FighterZ for the PC has a really clever way of reducing its graphical settings: it essentially turns it into a retro game. As some have pointed out, it basically goes so far back that it becomes an Atari Lynx game. What a clever idea.
- In Case You Missed It: Nadia wrote this excellent Monster Hunter retrospective last week, which tracks its rise from Japanese handheld darling to global success.
- Axe of the Blood God: The latest episode of our RPG podcast continues its deep dive into Cosmic Star Heroine while also discussing the recent BioWare news. Special guest: Bob Mackey! Subscribe here!
- Finally, what are you playing this week? Monster Hunter? Dragon Ball? Celeste? Something from your backlog? As always, share and discuss in the comments!