Somewhere out there, scribbled on a sticky note on somebody’s bulletin board, lies the secret formula to a successful game. The recipe calls for beautiful visuals, interesting gameplay, and just the right level of difficulty. Because many games often spend all their time on the first two ingredients, the challenge of a game is usually either undercooked or overdone (and I think I’m done with the cooking analogy), leaving players with a sense of hollow victory or hair-pulling frustration. That perfect balance between hand holding and downright neglect is hard to come by in a game, but when it’s done well, you come away feeling like you’ve actually accomplished something. Discord Games’ latest RPG platformer, Chasm, seems to have pulled off such a balance, and what it lacks in unique gameplay it certainly makes up for in difficulty.
Taking place in the mystical fantasy land of Guildea, your character, Daltyn (I’ve never met a Dalton I liked), must head to the quiet mining town of Karthas to investigate the disappearance of a few miners, who could also possibly be minors. Armed with nothing but a sword and the burning desire to prove himself, Daltyn heads deep into the mountainside to begin his quest. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the plot, but “fight the ____ to rescue the ___” is a tried and true method in the gaming industry, they just don’t get any points for creativity.
Chasm markets itself as a side-scrolling, RPG, Metroidvania type of game. I had yet to come across this word in my studies, but a quick peek on Wikipedia informed me Metroidvania refers to platformer games boasting RPG/Adventure elements, specifically focusing on a more open world for the player to explore as opposed to more traditional linear platformers. Each level is procedurally generated, and loading screens only pop up during a larger map transition. The freedom, and oftentimes necessity, to explore every room and backtrack through the map is further encouraged by ability limitations. Many points of the game only allow progression if you find the skill/ability necessary to pass, which is something that can prove to be intensely frustrating since new abilities and these progress points are rarely in close proximity.
The gameplay itself is spot on with many of the successful platformers before it. You can wield two different weapons or powers at a time, armor is hidden throughout each map, and potions can be crafted at save points for future use. A set of basic stats (Health, Mana, Attack, etc.) can be upgraded using the “Essence” collected from fallen enemies, and you’ll sometimes run into the occasional merchant, who is more than happy to sell you weapon or armor upgrades. While the actual fighting is sometimes a drag, the jumping aspect inherent in every platformer is very well done. Timing each jump correctly is easily one of the most challenging aspects of the game. Combined that with moving spike floors, patrolling enemies, and a series of booby traps, and you’ve got a challenge that makes Super Mario Bros. look like child’s play.
The visual aspect of the game is pretty enough. The graphical style and animations are reminiscent of a sharper, darker Megaman, but there seems to be little else to offer. The transition through each level, from the snowy mountains and dreary mines to the dank crypts and mysterious forest, offers an interesting change of scenery, which was much appreciated as I figured my claustrophobia would soon set in if I spent too much time in the mines. The enemies of the game are particularly well-designed, variable, and plentiful, and the bosses I came across offered a nice change of pace to break the monotony of simply swinging my sword around.
Chasm offers a balanced level of gameplay that will keep you coming back for more. Apart from a recent misadventure in Rust, I can’t seem to recall the last time I died more than ten times in a single gaming session until now, and while at times it was completely frustrating (Note: game pads do not hold up well against walls), the wave of relief I felt after finally clearing that ledge or conquering that boss was enough to urge me forward. Progressing through the maps of Chasm actually feels like it means something, and all the tension from mis-timing your jumps and getting stabbed by trolls forces you to become emotionally invested in the game. The difficulty positively offsets its lack of novelty, and the implicit reward of clearing a level starts to actually mean something.
Regardless of its pre-alpha phase label, Chasm looks and feels like a well-oiled machine. Though the story, graphics, and fighting mechanics are all unremarkable, the challenging map design, RPG elements, and overall difficulty all prove to work in the game’s favor. The amount of effort put into playing is reciprocated fully when it comes to feeling accomplished, and while it won’t break any records in terms of novelty, Chasm certainly has what it takes to earn a full playthrough.