Procedural generation, Metroidvania elements, and pixel art are pretty much ye olde indie game recipe in 2018, as a ton of games are looking back fondly on the NES/SNES-era of games when there were only two dimensions to worry about as you explored a fantasy setting, and one such game that's adding to the list is Chasm from Bit Kid Games. After a Kickstarter campaign that got people interested, this retro romp is here to try and prove itself, much like its protagonist who's trying to show he's worthy of becoming a knight in the kingdom.
How does one prove oneself worthy of knighthood though? Well, our task is to attend to a distress call from a town nearby that's vital for producing goods for the kingdom. When we show up to the town, all we find is an old man that tells us monsters have come and taken the citizens away after they all chose to use explosives to find new materials in the town's mines, unwittingly unleashing all kinds of unknown ghoulies into the caves and the town above. It's then your job (as you might have expected) to go down and see what all the fuss is about.
The procedural generation comes in the form of the caves and caverns you explore, so the layout might be totally different for you as it is for a friend who also tries to save the town. The Metroidvania elements come in your exploration of said caves, only having limited save points and unlocking shortcuts as you go to make your life a little easier. Sprinkle in some bosses, new abilities here and there, and drape it all in a retro style, and there you have the basis of Chasm
We'd rather say it was inspired by Metroidvania's rather than a Metroidvania itself, since it isn't quite as open-ended as the most extreme in the genre. There's really only one main path to follow at any one point, and extra branches aren't long and arduous. Exploration off the beaten path will reward you, granted, but it's nearly always clear where to go and what to do, which helps prevent things from becoming intensely frustrating if you perish.
One brief perusal of the Steam page will tell you it's also inspired by "hack 'n' slash dungeon crawlers" as well, and again you can guess what that means: a lot of melee weapons, and the odd extra attack you can unlock, like throwing axes or a knife gun, letting you mix things up between short- and long-range. You can buy new abilities as you progress by saving the relevant townsfolk like merchants and blacksmiths, so the game constant unfurls new layers to keep things interesting.
You'll be familiar with the smorgasbord of enemies, a greatest hits package if you will, as we meet zombies to werewolves and everything in between on our journey, all of which become increasingly difficult to kill. Learning the rhythm of their attacks is key - even more so with the bosses - and you learn, adapt, and overcome with each passing duel. More kills also mean more XP too, in turn giving you better stats and more coins to spend on better stuff; a loop which is a touch comparable to a roguelite.
As expected, you also unlock new ways to traverse the environment as well, from a double jump to the ability to grab on ledges. As with attacks, these introduce new flavour as you move along, but it's not reinventing the wheel: it's platforming at its core, but with a few bells and whistles. That said, you'll need to be darting and jumping about once several enemies come at you in a room full of traps, so simple doesn't mean easy.
The environments are perhaps the game's strongest suit, as you move from the basic dark caves to lofty halls, crypts, and a lot more wonderful places. It's clear the Castlevania inspiration throughout all of this, and the story interweaves nicely with these places, since you're getting gradually closer towards finding out about the mysterious civilisation that once populated the caverns, which in turn leads you to more sinister places. Lucky for you though, you've got a professor by your side to give you clues on what's going on.
It'll come as no surprise to get to the end of this review and hear us say that Chasm, for all its lovely environments and engaging gameplay loops, doesn't really offer anything different to what we've seen. It's your standard Metroidvania, with fantasy elements and enemies we've seen time and time again, either when these games were original in style or in their indie revival decades later. It's worth playing if you like these sorts of games, and should keep you entertained, but doesn't do much other than fit snugly into the genre and add to the heap that's already out there.