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Review: Celestial Mechanica

A trailer is a powerful thing. It can hype you up for a game so much that it can be detrimental to the actual product. I have to admit, when Kyle first linked me to Celestial Mechanica’s trailer, my reaction was “OH MY GOD WHY DOES IT LOOK SO AMAZING?!” It hit all the right spots in my gaming tastes: awesome music, awesome art style, exploration, nostalgiaploitation. It went so far as to skyrocket my expectations when I got a hold of the game.

Humans, being the bastards that they usually are, went as far as to make the actual planet fed up with humanity’s wrongdoings. The planet attempted seppuku, but then came celestial beings that saved the world and which the humans revered as gods. After fixing Earth, the beings built a castle above the clouds called Mechanica. There they watched for 100 years, barely making any contact with Earthers. The game starts with you, a Mechanican, exiled from the flying city and falling to Earth. There you meet another of your kind who wants to go back to the castle and teach that big bully, the King, a lesson in manners. Of course, being the Gordon Freeman mute that you are, you follow him.

I’ll note that my first playthrough was with the unpatched version and that it wasn’t a nice experience. The patch didn’t actually fix any of my qualms save for one, but the few days downtime before my second playthrough of the patched version let me cool off and look at the game from a different angle.

Celestial Mechanica is not an amazing game, I will give you that. The trailer doesn’t necessarily lie to you, but I think it shows just the right fragments to make you think there’s so much more. It is a very basic Metroidvania game and really rough around the edges. It’s a speed run game.

Despite its cheap price (around 4 euro as of writing this), it is pretty short. I don’t think it was meant to be a long game in the first place, but the game seems more like a beta or proof of concept than a full game.

I say this not only based on the length. Like in Metroid, you will encounter environmental obstacles that you won’t be able to overcome at first, but will soon find an appropriate ability and unlock parts of the game that were inaccessible before. This is, however, done very basically and straightforward. Save for one hidden ability, most of your newfound powers will only unlock one obvious route and the levels never “branch out”. Another thing that makes it seem unpolished are the actual animations. The death animation, the “claw” animation and a lot of other ones are pretty crude with very few frames.

But the aesthetics themselves are amazing. Even though the developers claim it’s inspired by SNES titles, the graphics personally remind me more of the Mega Drive (or Genesis for you Americans). There’s a distinct Western style to the drawings, mostly akin to the newer cartoons of the West which blend the best of both anime and US cartoons. And all that perfectly translated into pixely goodness. But to be honest, would anyone expect anything less from the artist of Super Crate Box?

The soundtrack is also extremely good and can be bought separately. Even if the game doesn’t appeal to you, you should give the OST a listen and purchase it if you like it. I can honestly recommend it without any qualms.

I cannot advise you not to play Celestial Mechanica, but if you decide to, keep in mind that it’s very straightforward and it will leave you feeling like there’s a good chunk missing. If what we have before us was advertised as a tech demo, or a beta, I would be all over it. I think it is a very solid basis for a good game and if the authors spend another year on it and expand with more shrines, more secrets, more enemies, more narration, more… everything, it would amount to something truly amazing. One can see that they know the genre and how to handle it and I wouldn’t mind coughing up something like 13 euro for a richer experience.

Platform: PC and Mac.

Developer: Roger Hicks and Paul Veer.

Genre: Metroidvania platformer.

Time: 1:10 on the first playthrough.

Gripes: seems unfinished in quite a few ways.

Get it for the: beautiful aesthetics, amazing soundtrack, good foundation.

Full disclosure: PXOD was given a PC review copy of the game from the developers. The first playthrough was of version 1.01 and took 1:10 hours, while the 1.20 patch, which fixed bugs, added a hidden power and an actual ending took 46 minutes. The review is based on the experiences in 1.20, taking into account only the playtime of the the older version.