Although Chasm offers a rare, procedurally-generated twist on the classic Metroid formula, it is a contrast to the Sea of Imitators due to its challenging combat. Monsters roam between the intertwined boundaries of an underground hiding place, demanding skillful swordwork and stubborn determination to survive. And it is in this deadly dance against tumbling zombies, scurrying rats and all kinds of creepy-crawlies that make Chasm really shine. The tense bouts leave sweaty palms and an increased heart rate, which pulls you deeper and deeper into the depths.
As a recruit stationed in a castle off civilization, Chasm points to a larger world waiting to be explored. But once you've been chosen to investigate the riots in a small village, it quickly becomes clear that the mysteries of the world must be left behind more pressing dangers. Diaries that you discover as you explore mines, temples, and jungles explain why evil beings are summoned, but history does not offer an interesting spin on a ho-hum premise. The small narrative appeal comes from the citizens who release you from cages. Each person has their own story to tell and run errand for you and give you someone to fight as you eradicate the enemies.
Fortunately, battle is the main difference from abyss. Melee combat is the predominant form of attack, and there is a wide variety of swords, hammers, knives, and other melee weapons that can be found throughout the adventure. Fighting is heavily dependent on timing, as you must learn the behavior of each enemy to have a chance of survival. For example, weights, you can throw yourself down with a sweeping sword strike that can be avoided if you know what to expect, but could spell your fate if you're too slow. The clear signs of each enemy make sure that it is your ability to fight and not set cheap tactics.
Patience is often your hardest enemy as soon as you learn an enemy's attack pattern. Monsters can take half a dozen blows or more to die, but only one mistake can throw your life into the sand. Attempting to score another hit on a hopping Grilla or Boomerang litter skeleton can be a suicidal strategy. The enemies exploit even the slightest mistake, and there is no worse feeling than dying because of your own hubris.
The first half of Chasm offers a hard but fair challenge as intense as one would expect when there are demons and spirits running around. There are only a few points. Trekking over unknown places with little health makes every encounter tormenting in the right way. Even a bat – among the weakest of all video game opponents – can trigger terror in your heart. I died more often than I wanted to admit from a fly swarm when I became cocky that no insect would be my end. Whenever I came across a branching path, I poked my nose in every new area, hoping a safe spot would relieve me of the pressure. Mostly an undead knight or green slime was waiting, and I had to calm my nerves as I prepared for another fight between life and death.
Bosses are a formidable threat in these early hours, if you are still weak and inexperienced. Like normal enemies, bosses telegraph every attack, so it's up to you to make too many hits. The first boss in the game – a Wendigo who can become invisible and cling to the ceiling – kept killing me before I mastered his attack pattern. Finally, the victory was incredibly fulfilling because I knew I had the victory, and I was looking forward to the new challenges.
Chasm emphasizes the "Vania" in Metroidvania You get points for every opponent you kill. There are dozens of weapons to collect and equipment to customize your character to your style of play. How slow but powerful weapons? Take an ax! Do you prefer faster with less range? Instead, opt for a handy knife. In addition to melee weapons, there are also ranged items that use your magic knife. Hurl distant enemies or throw a Molotov cocktail to set the ground on fire. None of them are as satisfying as a sword, but they can be very useful when things get overwhelming and you need a little help to make progress. There's also food and potions to cover up when you're feeling annoyed by a specific opponent.
However, all these extra items lead to an unbalanced level of difficulty as you go deeper into the adventure. Although I never started to grind, I often went back and killed every enemy I met while retouching the underground world. At the end of the game, I was so powerful and the enemies were so easy, I never felt threatened. I defeated the last two bosses in my first attempts, which seemed impossible after fighting for hours to kill these early bosses. The last boss was so light that it was almost funny. I just stood under it, never devoting myself to its many attacks as I hacked and slashed at its glowing weak spot. I had more than half of my health when he died, and felt the dull ache that only a climacteric final battle can produce when I saw the credits.
I started again, this time on Hard difficulty, but I could not find the sweet spot I was hoping for. Hard is, as you expect, hard. Not unnecessary, or even unfair, but harder than I could have endured as a beginner. It's really a shame that the balance of difficulty is so unbalanced. I enjoyed playing every second of this game, even when I killed enemies without working up a sweat, mainly because the combat mechanics were so satisfying. But I missed that creeping danger of the early events that I could die at any moment.
The randomly generated levels also sound more impressive in theory than in practice. Yes, the stage layouts were different for the second and third time, but not so different that it felt like a whole new adventure – the rooms were mostly the same, but in slightly different positions. That does not mean the random element is bad – my first time was so funny that any extra incentive to start over is appreciated – it's not as eye-catching as I was hoping for.
I'm a jerk for beautiful pixel art, and Chasm is full of rich backgrounds and well accomplished enemies. It's the little details that make the difference. The rats are eagerly wagging their tails at them, making them look almost sweet as they hit them hard on the back with a hammer. The Meatman in human size is as disgusting as his name implies, and it almost felt like a killing by grace as I struck his muscular heart with his sword. Each new creature brought its own joys, so I was happy that there are nearly 90 different enemies to meet and kill.
Even though his mistakes are obvious, Chasm is a well-crafted adventure, and during the more than 12 hours I spent playing my first time, I only lost once. That's a big bonus in a genre where losing is often the most frustrating aspect. Even after I finished, I wanted to try another adventure to test my fighting spirit against tougher opponents and find the one secret I missed the first time. It's a shame that randomizing the world is not a big deal and the challenge could be better balanced, but the excellent fight and visual design will ensure that your time with Chasm is well utilized.