There’s no denying it – the genre of 2D adventure games has become quite overcrowded in recent years; especially after the widespread success of Shovel Knight. Each year seems to be filled to the brim with new entries, and even dormant titles like Mega Man and Metroid have received long-overdue continuations. Developed by Discord Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Chasm is the newest addition to the addictive Metroidvania style games.
Chasm starts out with a simple premise: a small mining town in the mountains has suddenly ceased its operations. A wet-behind-the-ears recruit from the Guildean army is sent to investigate this odd occurrence. Upon arriving at the beautifully snowy town of Karthas, you discover that its residents are gone – everyone, except for the mayor. He explains that the townsfolk have been abducted by monsters from the mines and implores you to rescue them. Being a courageous knight, you prepare to venture deep underground to uncover the cause behind their disappearance and restore Karthas.
Once in the mines, your hero is free to go wherever you please (well, almost). Finding and freeing the missing townspeople should be your first priority. Most of them are locked up in cages within the mines and other locales, and saving each one unlocks their services back in town. Among them are a blacksmith and a mage, both of whom will provide you with useful armaments and spells. Moreover, each person has an associated side-quest which generally requires the acquisition of an important item. Many items, spells and weapons can only be obtained through these interactions.
Levels in Chasm are generated randomly before each playthrough. Often, this means that environments may look overly simple or unremarkable. In this case, however, already pre-designed rooms are randomly merged together to form a gracefully coherent world. Beyond the mines, you will discover Paris-like catacombs, an underground forest, and many other exceptional locales. Despite that, some locations still seem substantially more distinct than others; rooms with intricate decor and backdrops are far more visually appealing than bland, repetitive tunnels. Shortcuts are scattered across all regions, which allow for a quick and painless transitioning between locales and a safe return to town. Each environment demonstrates a unique theme, accompanied by a fitting musical score.
Certain pathways are initially inaccessible and this is where Artifacts step into the spotlight. Various Artifacts can be found hidden within the numerous locales, are equipped automatically and provide useful abilities. Some allow you to slide along the ground, while others grant a wall jump for ascending vertical environments. Most of them also grant access to previously out-of-reach areas. With that in mind, just because you can go somewhere, doesn’t mean you should. Some regions are populated by exceedingly powerful monsters and require better equipment for comfortable traversal.
Your character can jump to traverse levels both vertically and horizontally. Jumping height is determined by how firmly the button is pressed, directions can be changed mid-air and controls feel very responsive overall. However, certain mechanics, like jumping from walls, are not fully intuitive. In order to perform a wall-to-wall jump, you must hold the direction of the wall that you’re facing, but if you let go and jump too soon, your hero begins to fall. There’s no damage from hitting the ground, but it does make certain platforming sections unnecessarily frustrating.
Platforming is mostly solid, but what about the combat? Each region is populated by a wide array of enemies; some are simple reskins, but, surprisingly, most are unique. Battles unfold in real time and you have a galore of weapons and, later, magic at your disposal. In addition to those, you can perform a swift backstep to evade incoming attacks. Though magic can be switched at will, I found the lack of hotkeys for restorative items quite odd. It doesn’t impede gameplay in any significant way, but it would be a convenient feature to have. Defeating monsters grants experience points and you periodically level up. Stats are improved automatically and there are no complex skill trees to develop; combat is mostly based on equipment and your own skill.
Initially, you are equipped with a basic sword. Stronger weapons – including daggers, maces, and whips – are obtained from treasure chests, dropped by enemies, and later purchased from the blacksmith. Apart from the obvious attack power, each weapon has an attack speed and reach not represented by stats. As a result, it is fun to experiment with any newfound weapon. Some weapons might have less power, but way more speed, leading to more damage-per-second, and therefore higher damage output. Your character can also be equipped with a range of armour and accessories, which not only improve basic stats, but often grant unique abilities. Somewhat unfortunately, unlike weapons, they don’t change a character’s appearance in any way.
In addition to melee weapons, there’s also magic which provides the only source of ranged attacks. A variety can be purchased from the mage and each spell can be further upgraded and used in different situations. Enchanted knives are thrown in a straight line, for instance, while axes fly at an arch. Spells consume valuable MP which is mostly replenished by destroying countless lanterns within the environments.
Eventually, you will reach a boss fight, indicated by a threatening red banner. As you would expect, these battles are much tougher than most regular encounters. Saving beforehand is important, as dying and having to retrace over 30 minutes of progress can be very disheartening. Progress is saved by visiting sanctuaries distributed evenly across each locale and, upon saving, health is fully restored.
Chasm doesn’t feel imposing at first but significantly builds up in difficulty at around the halfway mark. Combat becomes demanding and learning each monster’s attack pattern is mandatory. I found that most of my failures were a result of complacency, and not due to an unfair challenge. Based on your performance, a medal is awarded upon completing the game and several difficulty options are available for consecutive playthroughs. If you’re particularly masochistic, Chasm also has a Mortal mode in which death is permanent.
Chasm might not be the best representative of its genre, and competition is fierce. It doesn’t necessarily provide a fresh experience or a particularly memorable story either, but what it does do is extremely well polished. It controls very well, has appealing pixelated visuals and a diverse sound composition, and combat is satisfying. More importantly – its world is fun to explore. In fact, I enjoyed the exploration aspect so much that I ended up with a 100% completion rate on my first playthrough.
If you’re looking for an engaging 2D adventure game, then give Chasm a chance. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.