Chasm is a challenging, polished and pigheadedly old-school Metroidvania.
It’s a deeply old-fashioned game—by design, of course
It seems like a simple job. Travel to a nearby town and rescue a few villagers who have gotten themselves lost in the local coal mine. But when your rookie knight arrives in the snowy hamlet of Karthas, he learns the true horror of what has happened. Something terrible has been awakened in those deep, cavernous mines—something evil— and it’s a good thing the knight has brought his sword along with him. Chasm is a side-scrolling platformer in the Metroid mould, with games such as Castlevania, Zelda, and Spelunky coded into its DNA. The titular chasm is the mazelike network of tunnels that yawns beneath Karthas, from the dusty coal mine just below the surface, to the ancient dungeons and arcane temples hidden in its depths.
The feeling of plunging into a dangerous, unknown world, of being an interloper, is a powerful one. You can’t help but wonder what lies at the bottom of the caves, but the deeper you go, the more dangerous it gets.
Enemies on the first few floors are easy to kill. Rats, skeletons, bats. The usual suspects. Later foes, however, are deadly, requiring patience and precision to slay. But they’re always predictable, and learning their patterns is where the skill lies. Memorizing and dodging a volley of fireballs from a demon, then sneaking through a hole in its defences to deal the killing blow, is very satisfying.
But your fumbling early attempts to learn those patterns can be frustrating. When you die in Chasm you’re kicked back to the menu, and forced to reload a save. Getting back into the game only takes a few seconds, but it feels like a lifetime when you’ve died at a boss for the tenth time and want to just get it over with. And save points are often far apart, which means retracing your steps can get repetitive.
But whenever I’m annoyed by something in Chasm, I’m won back over by how wonderfully it plays. Everything you do is precise, and it’s clear developer Bit Kid, Inc. has spent time tweaking the controls to make them feel just right. Your moveset is basic at first, but as you explore the chasm you unlock moves such as grabbing ledges, sliding, and double jumping that increase the game’s complexity.
There’s a procedural element to Chasm, meaning every playthrough is different. But it doesn’t feel like a load of machine-generated tunnels stuck together. I never once got the sense that I was playing something dreamed up by a computer, and if you told me my version of the map was hand-crafted, I’d have believed you. And if you like a particular layout, you can save the seed code to play it again or share it with friends.
In the spirit of Metroid, keeping a mental map of the world, in conjunction with a simple map that’s filled in as you explore, is essential. Thankfully, there’s also a teleport system that makes quickly returning to Karthas to resupply fairly easy.
DOWN AND OUT
Your journey continues ever down, fighting bosses and minibosses, uncovering secrets, unlocking new abilities, and finding new weapons. Weapons radically change how Chasm plays. Using a knife means you have to get uncomfortably close to enemies to attack, but it does a lot of damage. The satisfying crack of the Castlevania- inspired whip gives you a bit of distance. The mace is slow to swing, but hits hard. Sometimes if I was struggling with a boss, switching to another weapon would suddenly make it much easier, which adds a nice layer of strategy to the game.
There are some light RPG elements too, with enemies spewing out little experience orbs that boost your health, strength and so on. But otherwise it’s a deeply old-fashioned game—by design, of course—and that means it can be gruelling at times. You’ll have to repeat sections over and over to master them, and I found my patience wearing thin more than once. But that’s part of the deal in these kinds of games, and if it’s a quality, polished Metroidvania adventure you want, you can’t do much better than Chasm.
Beautiful pixel art and tight, refined controls make Chasm a fine modern Metroidvania to sink your teeth into.