Note: Bit Kid Inc. provided us with a review code for Chasm in exchange for our fair and honest review.
You’ve put in your time as a lowly trainee, no doubt scrubbing floors and handling your fair share of horse manure. Now, the time has finally come for you to become an official Guildean Knight, and there’s a proper task for you to take on in order to prove your worth. Dispatched to the isolated mining town of Karthas, you discover that the townspeople are largely missing – taken to the caverns below by unknown forces. Since the town provides vital resources to the kingdom, it’s essential that you solve this mystery, and get the town back up and running again. With that, your adventure begins, as you work to unravel the mystery of the civilization underground, and tackle your first official mission as a proper knight.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I view the tag “retro/metroidvania” very similarly to the way others view “early-access/battle royale/open world/survival” titles: overly cautious, and hoping that the developer didn’t just slap some buzzwords into the description to nab a few more sales. However, it doesn’t take long for you to discover that Chasm isn’t an empty promise: it’s a nearly 6-year long labor of love on the part of Bit Kid (formerly Discord Games).
I first ran into Chasm at PAX West last year, though its history goes back quite a bit further than that. Designed by James Petruzzi and Tim Dodd, the concept and earliest traces of Chasm go back to 2013, before an official Kickstarter campaign was organized and raised nearly $200,000 for development. Now, after 5 long years of waiting, the promised day is here!
If you’ve played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or more recently, Bloodstained, the gameplay should come as second nature to you: you’ve got an attack, a backwards-dash, a jump, and a secondary magical attack that can include daggers, boomerangs, axes, and much more. As the game progresses, you obtain “artifacts” that give you additional abilities to help navigate the broader world (er, cavern).
There’s plenty of danger to be found in the vast labyrinth of caverns below: zombies, beetles, cave trolls…flying lion-bat monsters that shoot fire. You know, standard monster-fare. These enemies, all wonderfully designed, each have their own attack patterns: early enemies moving slowly, with attacks that are easy to anticipate as you get a handle on the gameplay, while late-game enemies have no problem unleashing flurries of attacks without hesitation.
Of course, it’s never a single enemy that’s the real threat. Instead, it’s the combination of mobs produces some seriously challenging levels. Fans of Super Smash Bros. will recognize “edge guarding” as a very real thing in Chasm.
Speaking of edge-guarding, let’s talk about a very real element of Chasm: platforming. You’ll find yourself having to navigate across disappearing blocks over spinning blades of death, or boiling vats of acid. Alternatively, you may just be climbing up a long, abandoned mine shaft, where one wrong step means undoing the last 60 seconds of your life. During these times you’ll be jumping about, hanging off cliff-edges and/or hoping your jump was at the right time and angle to make it out successfully.
Generally, I don’t mind a fair share of platforming challenges – but don’t be surprised if you find yourself frustrated at some of these encounters. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t your traditional Castlevania feel, where your pixelated avatar drops like a sack of bricks if you miss the platform by a pixel. However, the fluid gameplay can lull you into a false sense of security and mobility, which can make these platforming segments even more frustrating.
While we’re on the topic of frustration: the difficulty curve can certainly be unforgiving at times. While the bosses can be quite difficult themselves, I found on a few occasions that a combination of regular enemies can prove to be uniquely challenging. There were a few times I found myself having to go back and farm experience to gain a level or two in order to progress more comfortably. Either that, or I found some nice equipment to help give me the upper hand.
Chasm features a fairly extensive equipment and magical item list, as any good action RPG should. As you adventure through the caverns and free villagers, more resources and shops become available: a blacksmith, magic item vendor, potion brewer and others.
To Chasm’s credit, when you find that perfect combination of weapons, combat feels really great. Tossing a boomerang right before a backwards dash to maximize damage, utilizing spears to compensate for range issues against certain enemies…there’s a lot that your knight can do. As you lay waste to the monstrous hordes that inhabit the caverns below, you’ll discover even more powerful weapon, armor and spells that slowly turn you into a bona-fide badass.
Now, you’re going to need all the help you can get, because the caverns below are big. The labyrinthine sprawl consists of hundreds of rooms as the supernatural lore is fleshed out, and new areas are uncovered. In its strongest bid for replayability, Chasm’s crown jewel is in its procedural generated dungeon: each time you load up a new game, the caverns below are completely different. While a standard game will typically run about 8-15 hours of game time, re-visiting Chasm becomes more appealing when you know that everything could be turned on its head during your second time through, or your third, or your 10th.
If you’re really looking to whet your appetite for pain, there’s also a permadeath, “Hardcore” mode. You die once, you die in real life. Ok, maybe not, but you only get one swing.
Complementing the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics is the charming retro aesthetic. While going “old-school” is all the rage, there are certainly ways that it can go horribly wrong. Chasm preserves the classic 16-bit feel with just the right tweaks and enhancements to put together a vibrant and interesting world that’s ripe for exploring.
If the visuals weren’t enough, Chasm is also accompanied by a strong soundtrack. Once again channeling that old-school vibe, there’s a richness and depth to the various themes as you venture further into the caverns below. Whether you’re exploring verdant, green caverns or barely avoiding bubbling acid-pits, the music certainly helps to bring everything together.
Outside of the procedural engine mechanic, Chasm isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel when it comes to Metroidvania titles – and that’s okay. If you’ve been backing/following the game since the beginning, you know full well what to expect at this point: and I’m here to tell you that it’s everything that you wanted it to be, with a little whipped cream and a cherry on top.
If you haven’t heard of or seen this game before: platforming and difficulty frustrations aside, I strongly suggest you check it out. For $20 you’ll get a fun, dungeon-crawling romp that will easily give you 20-30 hours of entertainment – I definitely recommend at least two full completions.
At the end of the day, after 5 years of delays, production updates, and multiple showings at conventions across the country, Chasm re-affirms the old saying from Nintendo guru Shigeru Miyamoto: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
- Gives the "-vania" in "Metroidvania" titles a much-needed boost
- Combat is simple, but solid
- Retro-design is executed well
- Great soundtrack
- Hardcore mode + procedural dungeon engine = replayability for days
- Difficulty curve can be wildly unpredictable at times
- Platforming segments lose their charm pretty quickly