Chasm is a procedurally-generated 2D metroidvania from the good people at Discord Games, currently finishing closed alpha, projected to be released mid-summer of this year. James Petruzzi was nice enough to send me a key to try the game out, and try it out I did!
The game begins with a soldier named Daltyn, your hero, who is sent to investigate a mining town. After a recent earthquake, a slew of monsters have appeared in the mines and all the people are disappearing. It’s your job to plumb the depths of the earth to try to find out what happened.
Chasm is impressive before you even start playing, with sprite-work reminiscent of 16-bit classics like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. As the prologue begins, however, it quickly sets itself apart from the classics with its background art and animations; your attacks and jumps are smooth and pleasing to look at, and the backgrounds of the levels are beautiful. Nothing seems jerky or slow; instead, everything flows together exceptionally well. The music doesn’t particularly stand out, which isn’t a bad thing. It fits each scene well, and repeats subtly. It never grates or becomes repetitive, but does a great job of setting the mood.
As you enter the (mostly) deserted town, you meet the first merchant, an old woman selling spells, and discover the game’s first campsite. These restore your health and allow you to save when you rest at them. Eventually, they also serve as a much-welcomed fast-travel point. Until then, you’ll rely on teleport doors: Gates scattered throughout the dungeon that are all linked together. Mercifully, the game provides one of these doors just inside the entrance of the mine, and you discover the second one quickly. These doors exist to expedite your travels through the map, which is great, because you’ll be revisiting earlier parts of the dungeon pretty frequently. We’ll talk about that part later.
I should have brought a hat. Or a coat. Or money.
The combat of Chasm is very simple. You get two weapon slots, where you can equip weapons or spells. Different weapons will give you a slightly different attack, leaving it up to you how you play. Swords have a decent range and average speed; daggers are a little quicker, with a vertical slash which is great for small enemies, but your range suffers. Whips are long-range, weak-attack weapons; gloves are high-damage, short-range weapons. Your spells are similar, but a little more distinct in their differences: Daggers are straightforward thrown weapons with low damage; magic molotovs travel in an arc and then create a line of fire; the magic boomerang has short range, but it’s a sweet-ass boomerang. Nothing changes your game dramatically, but they each have their own merits or traits that make them useful in certain situations, and just fun to play with in general.
Monsters will sometimes drop equipment for you, but it’s rare, so you’re mostly stuck with what you’ve got until you free merchants from the mine. The old woman you meet initially sells new spells and items to increase your magic. The bartender/innkeeper gives you items for trinkets that you find. The blacksmith sells weapons and armor, and allows you to put gems into your weapons for extra elemental damage. The canary and the scavenger appear at savepoints to, respectively, fly you back to town or sell you items. The game strikes a beautiful balance between searching for items and purchasing upgrades that offers a very fun sense of progression to your adventures. You’re not grinding through the same rooms over and over again in an attempt to level up or find new equipment to get better. Instead, you’re exploring new rooms and killing new monsters to get gold or, rarely, new items that you can either use, or sell to buy something that you actually want.
Spiders! Why did it have to be spiders? And wizards! Why did it have to be both of those things!?
Here’s an example: After I rescued the blacksmith, I discovered that he had a broadsword with double the attack power of my shortsword. The prospect of a new weapon combined with its giant damage immediately sucked me in, especially since I’d started running into stronger monsters and my shortsword wasn’t cutting it anymore. There was no “level up so you can be proficient with two-handed weapons” or “Requires level 10.” The game presented me with an item, and all I had to do to get it was keep playing until I had enough gold. I sold everything that I had and I bought it.
With a slow swing, but high damage and a huge hitbox that destroyed everything in my path, I quickly learned to love the destructive power of the broadsword. Equally quickly, the monsters in the mine learned to fear the sound of approaching footsteps, especially if that sound was accompanied by the thumps and whooshes of some maniac jumping everywhere he goes so that he can move while swinging a broadsword twice as big as he is. I began my reign of terror by destroying as many quick, dodgy bats as I could find. Their small hitbox and frenetic up-and-down movements had continuously foiled my shortsword’s horizontal slashes, and even my dagger’s vertical (but hopelessly short-ranged) slices, but now that my sword-swing had its own zip-code, I could finally repay their treachery.
After taking sufficient vengeance against the bats, I continued my path of demolition through the dungeon like a wrecking-ball with a broadsword taped to it. Eventually I found a longsword, dropped by a new type of enemy that liked to move around and make lunging attacks, practically begging to be countered by a quick, mid-range weapon like, say, a longsword! I never equipped it, because nothing could separate me from my broadsword, but the whole encounter really spoke volumes about the game offering different tools for different situations.
They can take my life, but they can never take my broadsword! No seriously, it’s impossible. I respawn with it.
Speaking of tools, now seems like a good time to talk about my favorite part of this game: Backtracking. That’s weird, because that was my main complaint about Unepic, and at first glance, Chasm looks very similar: They’re both dungeon-crawling RPGs with similar traveling mechanics (static rooms connected by gates to different areas), and they both heavily feature exploration of a large map that requires backtracking. So why is Chasm fun where Unepic isn’t?
Let’s start from the top. In order to progress in an RPG, you kill monsters to get loot and level up so that you can buy better things so that you can kill harder monsters to get better loot and level up so you can buy better things. . . and so on. Chasm plays fast and loose with the RPG idea. In Unepic, you have a certain number of points to allocate to different things. In Chasm, when you gain a level, you get a little better, and that’s it. There’s no deciding whether you want to play with magic or swords on this runthrough.
Your equipment isn’t dependent on “whatever these monsters feel like dropping,” either. You kill monsters, you get gold. If you want better armor, you buy it and you die less. If you want a better weapon, you buy it and kill monsters faster. In a more expansive game, this might feel stifling, but here it feels perfect. In Unepic, the merchants sell stock weapons whose value to you will range from “none at all” to “a thing I can throw out if my inventory gets full.” In Chasm, the lack of magic weapons means that there isn’t anything worthless. The value of a weapon is based purely on how much fun you have using it.
But how does it make backtracking, something I hated in Unepic, actually fun? To start with, the teleport doors are semi-frequent, so you aren’t running through an entire segment of the dungeon, just a few rooms. On top of that, the game requires you unlock certain abilities like wall-grabs and double-jumping to access certain parts of the map. That means there’s always an area for you to go back and explore, even in parts of a dungeon that you’ve already been through. Running to a savepoint or teleport room isn’t boring anymore, because not only do you have a new way to traverse the rooms, but maybe there’s a ledge that you couldn’t climb to before! That’s awesome!
Thank god I found that scroll that taught me how to hold onto things.
Death in this game isn’t as harsh as some, but it’s still a point of high tension. When you die, your character respawns at the last campsite that you saved at. Imagine this: you’re three or four rooms into a hallway filled with spikes and mummies, your back is aching from all the treasure that you found along the way, and you just spent twenty minutes trying to clear a jump puzzle so that you could get an Elixir of Life. You look up at your health and realize that you’re almost dead. You can either keep going and face the unknown dangers of the rooms in front of you, or turn back and try to make it through the respawned monsters and traps in an attempt to reach the save point that you know is definitely there. There are like forty spike balls the way you came, but maybe there are like fifty in the other direction. You have to make the decision of going back for safety and health or pressing forward and trying to progress the story with the last vestiges of your remaining health.
As for the story, there isn’t much I can say. You flesh out what’s going on by discovering letters and journals that are scattered throughout the dungeon, and the alpha only includes the first two areas out of the six that will be in the final game. So far, the plot isn’t anything groundbreaking, but since I could only get a few of the pieces that make the bigger picture, take that with a grain of salt. The ending could be the next Knights of the Old Republic, for all I know. All I can safely say is that although the story wasn’t anything I haven’t heard before, what I did uncover was interesting enough to make me want to find out more.
The one enemy my broadsword can’t defeat – Science! … Skull science!
So far, Chasm is a fantastic game that is put together extremely well. The music, design, mechanics and gameplay all come together perfectly. It’s charming in its simplicity, but the challenging puzzles and interesting upgrades keep it complex enough that it never gets boring. I felt like a kid playing Super Metroid for the first time again, each new upgrade filling me with a sense of wonder. I can jump twice now! Who the hell is going to stop me!?
The only time I was disappointed while playing was when I found out that equipped armor doesn’t show up on your character. The fact that my biggest problem with this game is that I can’t wear a hat is almost a positive. If the full game is anything like the alpha, it’s going to be a hard one to top. There are a lot of games that I recommend people should go ahead and buy, but this one is at the top of the list. It’s the only retro-style game that I would choose over 1,001 spikes.
Please don’t tell 1,001 Spikes I said that.
So go! Go, and buy this game! … As soon as it’s released!
Until then, check out that sidebar up top for more information on Discord Games. If you want updates on Chasm’s progress, subscribe to their mailing list and follow them on Twitter!
I’ve been going through my backlog of indie games and reviewing the ones that I already own and enjoy, but now I need something new. If you’ve got a game that you want to read about, post it in the comments! It doesn’t matter if it’s a 10 or a 3, I’m gonna play it!