The closest to an excellent modern Igavania we’ll probably ever see.
Going into Chasm, I knew that it had some sort of procedural generation in a Metroidvania style and it took a long time to come out. My only experience with the game was briefly at a PAX East long ago, and since I played it, it had likely undergone numerous changes, owing to the six-year development of the project. Eschewing the baggage of a long-in-stasis Kickstarter game might be hard, but if you focus on just what Chasm is when it launches on Nintendo Switch, you’ll uncover a loving ode to the Koji Igarashi-led line of Castlevania games from the early 2000s that sets itself apart from similar fare with great controls and a distinctive take on procedural generation.
First things first: Chasm, despite what we’ve all come to expect from the phrase “procedural generation,” is not a roguelike. It has a consistent semi-linear adventure that fills in the margins with freshly-generated rooms. So the overall structure and path is the same, but the experience is varied enough to make replays feel a little more different. While I was aware of this hook while playing, the level design never made me painfully aware of the generation. I experimented playing the opening hour with other variations and while a part of me feels like maybe it would be better off with a consistent world, the idea works well. If you’re one to replay games, this element of Chasm makes it immensely replayable. Each return is warm and familiar but different enough to feel fresh.
But all that replayability would be junk without the rest of the game being strong. Thankfully, it very much is. Your hero journeys to a town that has been decimated by monsters, so he hops down the titular chasm and explores caverns and ruins to save the villagers. Combat is very much in the vein of Castlevania, as you can have a melee weapon and a sub-weapon to do most of your damage. A backdash straight out of Symphony of the Night is also at your disposal. The melee and sub-weapons come in all shapes and sizes, with the melee options including swords with long windups, quick-jabbing daggers, and long-range whips. The sub-weapons are almost identical to those from Castlevania, with daggers, arcing axes, and molotovs. The combat isn’t overly complex, but thanks to the variety of weapons, armor, and gear, it can be customized to fit a variety of play styles.
Exploration in Chasm is rewarded greatly, as taking the critical path can often miss out on the trapped villagers and their various requests. As you find villagers, they settle back into their old roles in town, giving you a wider breadth of options to unlock items, weapons, and more. Villagers have their own side quests that can then unlock more stuff. It makes for a nice gameplay loop, because even when I wasn’t that sure about what to do next to further the main story, I seemingly always had new areas to explore and uncover.
Like games in the Metroidvania style, hidden items open up traversal and new areas. None of them were really that surprising, amounting to things like a wall jump ability or a lantern to light up dark areas. It’s still cool having that “Aha!” moment and going back to old areas with a new ability, but it felt more like checking a genre trope box than anything else. That’s my biggest knock and it’s ultimately one that doesn’t bother me much because everything else about Chasm feels so good.
While the competition for this style of game is fierce these days, Chasm stands apart from the sea of similar games, mostly due to its excellent controls and the sneaky depth of its combat. This world is a joy to get lost in and thanks to the unique take on procedural design, it offers a multitude of ways to re-experience the game even after completion. Aside from some minor issues with the ho-hum traversal upgrades, Chasm is an inspired take on a well-worn genre. If you long for the days of annual Igavanias, Chasm’s one of the better modern stabs at that glory.