A decade ago, Metroid fans were starving for exploration-based action/platformers. These days, that drought is over. Many developers are taking cues from Nintendo’s sci-fi classic, and Bit Kid is one of them. This studio’s take on the formula features a young knight on a journey to rescue a wayward mining town from the imposing creatures that occupy its caverns. Chasm features all of the Metroid hallmarks: creative upgrades, fearsome enemies, and gorgeous backdrops. Unfortunately, its twisting labyrinths feel randomly slapped together – which they are.
When you first set foot in this remote mountain town, it appears to be abandoned. The townsfolk have been kidnapped by monsters and locked away in a dangerous tangle of underground mines. You explore the depths to rescue the citizens, earning unique tools that allow you to overcome obstacles as you delve into haunted burial chambers and moss-covered underground waterways. Some of these upgrades are mundane, such as the lantern that lets you see in the dark. Others, like the climbing gear that lets you wall-jump up vertical shafts, are fun to use and open up a variety of new areas to explore.
Combat is straightforward, and each cavern is teeming with unique monsters like rock golems, mining ghosts, and scythe-wielding rats. Chasm’s attack-and-dodge battles are intuitive, and getting a handle on most creatures’ attack patterns is easy. However, your equipment can make a big difference during these encounters, and new weapon drops are frustratingly few and far between. I battled for every inch through two whole zones before I finally gained a new piece of armor that turned a previously unpassable hallway into a breeze.
These chasms are full of more than old mining equipment and ghouls, and you encounter plenty of townsfolk looking for a way out. Saving these civilians restores the above-ground town and gives you access to new stores like the blacksmith or the -alchemist. Rescuing these people was nearly as rewarding as finding a new piece of gear, and I loved seeing my town slowly come back to life.
Aside from battling monsters, Chasm features a number of exciting, handcrafted platforming sequences, and I held my breath as I white-knuckled my way across a series of spike traps or jumped across crumbling platforms above a poison-filled pit. Memorable sequences like these make Chasm’s moment-to-moment action compelling, but that occasional excitement doesn’t hold the entire package together.
In an effort to create an endlessly repayable game, Bit Kid designed Chasm as a procedurally generated experience. When you begin, the entire network of caves is randomly stitched together to provide a unique playthrough. The longer you play, the more issues stem from this lack of curated content. For example, save points are often spaced too far apart. The random nature also kills the pacing; I went for one long stretch without finding any upgrades and then hit three in quick succession. This approach to design can keep things fresh in games designed for quick runs, but Chasm doesn’t operate that way. One playthrough takes about 12 hours, which means you’re stuck with the same dull, random configurations that entire time.
I was happy to find new equipment and other treasures, but these caves don’t have enough hidden secrets to make scouring them interesting. You also backtrack a lot, which becomes a slog. On the whole, Bit Kid’s randomized structure undoes so much of what Chasm has going for it, and it drained my enthusiasm for seeing what was around the next corner, because I knew it was just another random chamber.
Chasm is full of great platforming moments and environments, but these elements are randomly assembled into an uneven experience. Bit Kid succeeded in creating a Metroid-style experience that unfolds in a new way every time you play it, but I would have rather had one playthrough that was consistently entertaining.