Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Impact Zone (Surf), by Rainbowdragoneyes, for the Picnic Panic OST. 🎵
The Messenger: Picnic Panic!
I've learned that many of the games I've written about and dedicated significant time to are pretty Basic Bitch-level in the indie game scene (Celeste and Hollow Knight are massively known and loved?!); I mostly know this by how few people comparably played and/or were moved by The Messenger: I added it to my followed games on Twitch and frequently see nobody playing it, I mentioned it in chat watching a Hollow Knight speedrunning stream and the streamer had only vaguely had heard of it.
I am very sorry to have learned this! In my initial review I think I shortsold it a bit: I've played it 2-3 times over again, have come to really appreciate the design of the game more and more (especially everyone's favorite parts, the linear 8-bit section) and have really become attached to Rainbowdragoneyes's soundtrack, which has powered most of the Value I've produced selling my labor to companies.
So before talking about Picnic Panic, let me re-state the obvious: The Messenger is very good! I also enjoyed reading about how much the developers were able to squeeze out of the cloudstep mechanic.
So, Picnic Panic: It's a welcome addition! I've read others say that it gives you more of what The Messenger does best, with more linear sections and challenging platforming, which I think is about accurate, but it's not the whole story.
It's true that those parts are my favorite, are there, and are fantastic. The totem boss fight is fun, the "race" section works very well, and the "reward" for the optional collectibles (from both a gameplay section and a story flavor one) is delightful.
But a lot of this DLC is composed of some brand-new sections, which I'm glad to have but didn't love as much. Like The Messenger itself, the devs had a lot of fun squeezing a lot of different things into this game, and it's hard to imagine the player who loves all of them, all the time, equally. I'm thinking of the surfboard minigame, the racing section (which worked for me!) and the final boss.
My big crusade these days is that we should have more obviously-human things in our lives: the media we consume, the internet we "surf," the writing we read and produce. In order for the capitalists to keep squeezing more blood from the stone, everything is targeting ＳＣＡＬＥ™ and consolidating, making so much of life taste like a bland, mass-produced paste unless you work to counteract it.
Not every part of Picnic Panic worked for me, but like The Messenger core game, the whole thing drips with humanity and is obviously made by a group of talented, creative humans who are having fun.
Anyone who follows my online presence can see that Celeste really got me, harder than most other works in any medium for the last 10 years. With that in mind, it's very hard to live up to expectations, and a lot of creators (rationally!) panic pretty hard when something becomes a breakaway success. In my observation, they end up releasing a follow-up that gets praised a little more than I would have, that often commits less hard in any specific direction (think Us after Get Out, or Gentleman after Gangnam Style, or The Witness after Braid…). Luckily, Farewell is great!
I'll throw spoilers going forward, so be warned.
My immediate feeling isn't to drip praise effusively; I feel like one of the new mechanics (the jellyfish glider) falls into the category of Celeste mechanics that are frustratingly hard to get even a functional grasp of. While "there's no RNG in Celeste" is a frequent talking point, certain mechanics (the squid Seekers in the Mirror Temple, Core Lava blocks) introduce a level of chaos or have such a precise requirement for controlling them that they make casual play a less fun kind of challenging.
Other mechanics work great! The a'splosion fish, once I got how they worked, allowed for some delightful obstacle courses. After so much practice in the rest of the game, the last screen made me feel a way I didn't think I'd feel again: that first time you see a screen and think "Holy God… how even?!"
(more spoilers! really, I mean it!)
Thematically, Chapter 9 fits in beautifully. I guessed from the title some of what the "hook" would be (tbh I thought it'd be Madeline mourning Theo, I'm glad it wasn't), but while the first game was about coming to grips with anxiety and/or depression, exploring grief (especially for a person who can really hit a rock bottom) is heartwarming to see. Even the final shots where you see Madeline's bedroom, with meds on the bedstand and little queer support flags by her computer, just radiates empathy.
I love that the hardest obstacles live in Madeline's head. I also love that, Some Time After the core reconciliation of the original game, Madeline and Badeline got to reverse who could comfort who. Badeline's line in Chapter 2 "I'm the pragmatic part [of you]" hints at something I think is hard to articulate: a lot of getting "caught up in your head" about depression and anxiety is a very smart, clever, and capable part of you that is frequently right and helpful. Badeline never has a character-breaking "it's okay to be scared"-type moment for Madeline, but she is supporting her, and there is a sense that they're not in this alone, and that the work of the first game carries forward.
The soundtrack goes bold, too, and demonstrates growth and progression. It took me some time to love the violins, but I have. I think part of my stress with them was the challenge of the game 😅. The composer wrote something I loved, when thinking about its differences from the core soundtrack:
It's been an intimidating prospect, to return to the world of Celeste for one more outing. The original soundtrack releases saw so much love from thousands of people, and so it seemed like an impossible task to follow it up with something new. It was only through creating something different, and adding to the existing sound of the game, that I felt comfortable telling one more story for these characters and world.
Celeste opened doors for me that I've already stepped through, and my professional life is wholly different as a result. There's no real denying that it's created change for everything that is yet to come for me, and so it only made sense that I'd conclude Celeste by changing it, too. The soundtrack to Farewell might be off-putting on first listen, and I don't know if people will like it less, as much, or more than what I wrote first. It's impossible to live up to high expectations, so I did what I always do: try to stay true to what kind of story I want to express, and what emotions that brings out. I hope that worked.
I think this is an incredibly thoughtful and mature way to approach the "what now?" of a breakaway success. She also wrote a delightful behind-the-scenes.
Anyways, I loved the feeling of new challenges and levels. I'll probably install Everest at some point (or move on to Kaizo Mario romhacks, like Grand Poo World or Ninja World 2, which I got to watch the other day).
But first, a break.
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