An (Almost) Grand Canyon

HIGH It absolutely plays like its role model.

LOW Procedurally generated repeated rooms.

WTF You’re a trainee… go get backup!


 

The idea behind Chasm is solid gold — it’s a procedurally generated 2D metroidvania-style game that changes its layout every time it’s played. Combine that with a healthy dose of “inspiration” taken from the heavyweight champion of the genre that is Symphony of the Night, and developer Bit Kid has got a winning formula on their hands. Unfortunately, this gem is brought down ever-so-slightly by random chunks of the map that never seem to fit together well.

Chasm’s hook is that it’s supposed to be different every time a new game is started. Fire up a new save and the game mixes things up! That said, keep in mind that this is not a roguelike — dying doesn’t reset stats or items, and once a save file is started, everything (including the map) stays in place. The idea is to add replayability to the game, but the reality is that this concept is also Chasm’s largest flaw.

While the layout of each area changes, the key areas are fixed, more or less. Transitional connections between maps are always in the same place. Power-ups that allow for double jumping or gliding are still picked up in the same order. Bosses are still knocked off in the preordained line of succession. What actually changes are the rooms that connect these fixed points,  with just a few deviations sprinkled about.

The problem here is twofold. First, I was always aware of where to go, even with a fresh map. Yes, I might have a few extra hallways here and there, but I knew that the first boss would always be in a specific general direction, and this killed any sense of the exploration so vital to the genre. Second, since the filler rooms are randomized, there’s no sense of flow between them. These chunks are made to be placed almost anywhere at anytime, so none of it stands out as unique. In fact, due to the sometimes contradictory nature of randomness, I saw more than a few instances of nearly-identical rooms back to back, or rooms that were clearly just two smaller ones I’d already seen smashed together.

The general blahness of the layout aside, Chasm is amazing. The animations are top quality and highly detailed, and each of the individual zones look gorgeous in their retro glory. From lush jungles to decaying castles, to the way background objects react to the character moving past, it’s stunning — it’s just too bad that none of it feels connected in any real way due to the overall lack of cohesion.

When it comes to items, almost everything in Chasm seems lifted from Symphony of the Night. Quick but weak knives, longer range rapiers, and high damage/slow speed maces can be found throughout. Armor and accessories picked up in the world can influence stats or grant special abilities like increased drop rates for rare items — none of it felt original, though. Even one of the more interesting bits of gear (a hat that grants an attack bird) has a close twin in SotN.

While imitation isn’t inherently terrible, it does mean that players well-versed with Koji Igarashi’s legendary work will not only quickly adapt and overcome Chasm’s somewhat challenging and uneven difficulty, but also quickly realize the best way to exploit its mechanics. For instance, nearly every spell has a direct counterpart from Castlevania including one called a “shield”, although it’s actually the greatest offensive weapon in the game. Much like SotN, this defensive spell will slice through bosses like a chainsaw when fully powered up, negating much of the difficulty for the otherwise-challenging fights. It’s a trick that served players well back then, and one I immediately recognized here.

However, there is one thing that Chasm does differently from it’s forbear, and that’s the inclusion of a mining town which serves as a safe haven to resupply and recuperate. When the adventure starts, a majority of the town is abandoned, and its residents captured. As I progressed and rescued each of these citizens, they re-opened their shops for me. A baker would sell me healing pastries, a blacksmith could craft new armors, and so on. I loved watching this ruined village slowly come back to life and I wish Chasm expanded upon it — it was a nice taste, but nowhere near as filling as I hoped it would be.

Chasm is a fantastic addition to the metroidvania pantheon and the best one since Shadow Complex. It’s frustrating to see it come so close to greatness, only to stumble by following too closely in Symphony‘s footsteps. It would have also done better by abandoning the procedural approach and going for a well-tailored, hand-crafted experience. I loved playing through it once, but there just wasn’t enough to pull me back in once it was done. Rating: 8.5 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bit Kid. It is currently available on PS4, Vita, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via Publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence, Spicy Rats, Alcohol Reference, A Gem I Never Found a Use For, and Simulated Gambling.  It’s pretty tame overall but there are some enemies younger kids might find scary — skeletons, ghosts, zombies, and the like. Nothing graphic or out of place on Halloween, but something to keep in mind.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialog is delivered via text. There’s an item in the game that gives an audio cue that chimes faster the closer you are to a hidden item or wall. While this isn’t required to finish the game, it does significantly help track down some of the more difficult-to-find items. Also, as of this writing, there is no visual way to tell if you are near a false wall.

Remappable Controls: The game can be remapped on a keyboard only. If you are using a control pad, movement is assigned to the left stick while actions such as jump or attack are on the right buttons. Quick spell management is attached to the shoulder buttons on top.

 

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