I want to preface this piece with, I adore Metroidvania games. My first was Metroid II on the Gameboy waaaaaaaay back in the early 1990s, and I played it through … more times than I can remember, actually.
I loved the Metroid Prime series. I’ve loved other games in this genre space.
When the Chasm kickstarter landed in the heyday of amazing indie games on Kickstarter, I was instantly sold. Beautiful pixel art, innovative and interesting roguelike and procedural generative concepts, and I was there for that.
It came out a couple of months ago now, and I was excited. They held true to the PS Vita release, and that’s where I’ve been playing it.
If you want to experience the game that I’m experiencing, my seed is
I didn’t get into it right away as there’s been a glut of great games demanding my attention, including the excellent Timespinner, that I had also backed, that launched in September.
So having completed Timespinner, I finally dove into Chasm.
The good parts
The parts I’m enjoying are a good place to start, as there are things that are good.
In spite of some major disappointments for me, like Hyper Light Drifter, the Chasm team held true to a PS Vita port, and it is a good port. It holds a solid, high framerate, and it looks smooth and silky.
The graphics held true to their lovely pixelly style, with smooth animations and good design and great rendering and I’m definitely enjoying the look of the game.
The music is overall nice. Not intrusive, generally enjoyable. I wouldn’t have it in my normal rotation, but it fits the game nicely.
The Parts that Annoy Me
Yeah, that’s it for the good stuff. It looks great. It’s got a good framerate on the device I’m playing it on.
The bad stuff.
Let’s talk about that.
How Slow can you Go
After Timespinner, the speed that your avatar traverses the world is painfully, painfully slow. Ponderous, like dragging yourself through treacle.
Good movement speeds are extremely relevant in a Metroidvania game given the amount of backtracking, and Chasm never gives me the sense of “Ooo, new power, I wonder what that just unlocked.”
Instead, a new power is a dreadful feeling of oh ffs I have to walk back there now.
This is not a good feeling.
Prepare to Die Edition
Things in Chasm are pretty lethal. Perhaps not as lethal as in Dark Souls, but without caution and learning attack patterns it’s oh so easy to lose a considerable amount of health to enemies, especially when traversing a new area, especially when that new area has not yet dropped newer armour to compensate for the higher damage output of the enemies.
This is combined with save points that are best described as “sparse”, and pathways back to the town above being infrequent at best, providing an end result of “congratulations, you died, now spend another 10 minutes walking back to where you died.”
Combined with the intensely slow walk speed this is … not … very … fun.
Having just reached the Magma area the lack of save points is even more prominent, and climbing out successfully was a chore.
The real icing on the cake of “are you kidding me” here is that every death kicks you back to the main screen. It’s not a huge huge deal, but, wow it’s frustrating every time you have to go through the menus and back through the loading cycle once again.
Where next? No actually, where next?
It’s a Metroidvania game, so there is some expectation of “you should go exploring and figure out where you need to go next”, and I’m okay with this. I love Metroid games, and the whole “I really have no idea where to go next” style of exploring can be really great.
Timespinner did this really well, and I was really enthusiastic about re-traversing the map and trying to figure out what I’d missed, to explore more and uncover more.
Chasm, with its painfully slow walking speed, makes this process of “I have literally no idea what I should be doing now” a huge part of the tedium. I want to want to explore, and I don’t. I’m currently in the process of grinding my way through all the maps with the Secret Detector item turned on, trying to figure out what I’ve missed, and just
Doing this was the only way I was able to figure out how to even get into the Magma area, as I had literally no idea I was supposed to take the MacGuffin to that particular door.
Actual game design things
One of the major selling points was that Chasm was intended to be structured as a roguelike, with a procedurally generated world and a level of replayability not generally offered from other Metroidvania-style games.
Unfortunately, after the brilliant Dead Cells, this design mentality shows how badly wrong this approach can go.
One of the core ideas I’ve bumped into in game design is that any space that’s been developed exists for a reason. It must do, right? Otherwise why was effort spent on that area, that art asset, that particular thing. This is a concept that crops up in film editing as well, where stripping back content that doesn’t advance the story is a necessary part of making a good film.
Chasm shows exactly why this is a necessary idea, as there are just, so very many rooms through the whole game that just … exist. They’re full of enemies, they’re long and tedious to walk through, and there’s just … nothing … there. It’s filler, through and through, a space to slowly grind the player’s health down and endure more of the tedious walk back to whatever killed you last time.
Unlike a game like Super Metroid where I felt like I was invading the home of these creatures, or Timespinner where I was running into defensive emplacements, these enemies just exist, a disconnected obstacle.
The spaces never feel cohesive, or designed, or intentional.
Rogue Legacy leaned hard into the implausibility of the spaces, and explicitly made the player feel like this was a challenge to be overcome, not a space to be explored.
Dead Cells seems to have a much better procedural generator, as each area actually feels like it could be real, or lived-in, that I am invading the spaces of creatures or I am wandering through intentional defences. Not always, there’s blind alleys and other bizarre aspects to the levels, but it rarely feels as … artificial as Chasm has.
This extends to the powerups that never feel coherent and, beyond the double-jump and wall-grip, never provide a reason to use them. There’s a forward slide. I used it to get by perhaps three blocked passageways. That was it.
That was all it was for?
Generic white dude
After Timespinner, there’s just so much disappointment at how generic and dull the protagonist character in this game is.
I called my avatar “Dude”. It completely fits.
I really resent the movement speed
I’m just going to keep hammering on this point, that the movement is really, really dissatisfying.
In the early game I even found a hilarious softlock, as I was using dodge-backwards to get around faster. I dodged backwards into a cutscene where I needed to stand on a button and …
… couldn’t move …
because my movement speed via dodging meant I wasn’t in the right position to stand on the button.
Close the game, restart the game, reload my save, walk tediously back to the room, don’t dodge in this time.
I’m still playing it. As mentioned, I’m playing on the PS Vita, and portable consoles like the Vita or the Switch mean I can just pause the game and pick up as and when the space exists.
It’s a game that fits really well into those fits and spurts, into a room or two before whatever I’m waiting for is finished.
But it’s such a mediocre game, and I wish I could pry myself away from it for that.
Overall, I don’t recommend this game. If I had to score it it’d be a 5 or 6 out of 10. It’s got some value, but it doesn’t advance the art and it has some serious flaws that reduce the overall enjoyment.
I kind of regret backing it, actually?
If you want something you can pick up and get kind of annoyed at, it’s certainly a game for your Vita. I’d call it a hard pass on PS4 or PC, and why I play it will fill the same role once the Switch port lands.