I played a Rogue-lite game a while back called A Robot Named FIGHT! (Steam link) that tried to make a randomly generated Metroid-style map every run. It generated an upgrade in each section that allowed you to open a door into the next area, and so on, much like a classic Metroid game.
Here’s the thing: it totally succeeded in doing that… but it turns out the things that make Metroid great, like exploration, secrets, and “gating”, become asinine and irritating in a Rogue-lite. And without a human touch, all of it felt just… empty. Nothing was exciting or interesting.
I remember seeing trailers for Chasm what feels like ages ago, and it’s been on my radar since then. But the second I heard it was both a Metroidvania and procedurally generated, I was concerned. Both of these qualities are becoming cliches in the indie sphere, and both of them are quite easy to screw up. (Also, it’s not like Metroidvanias have ever really suffered from replayability problems, like… the speedrunning community basically started because of Super Metroid.) From other reviews I’ve seen, some people actually like the game feel and combat design unlike Patrick, so actually playing the game might be more fun for some people. But it seems to me that a problem with A Robot Named FIGHT! shows up in Chasm, too. Without a real human being there to breathe life into the structure, the design of Metroid-style maps usually become vapid, depressing slogs through identical tunnels. It’s a lot like the original Metroid on the NES. The caves seem to go on endlessly, showing no sign of variation or surprise. Everything feels… empty.
I actually want to point out a game that’s been in the news recently: Dead Cells. (website) I returned to it after reading the Kotaku article about it’s (honestly awesome) internal structure, and found myself enjoying it a lot more than I originally was. Regardless, I’d like to point to why I think Dead Cells gets it’s Metroidvania structure so right. To me, one of the keys is, rather than having players traverse space to backtrack, the game has players simply “backtrack” by returning to routes on successive runs. With games like Dead Cells, I am convinced that there is some way to synthesize these two genres, but it’s a dangerous and fickle combination.
I’m genuinely bummed Chasm, after six years of hard work, has such basic structural flaws. But at the same time, I can’t be too disappointed, because I sensed this coming a long, long time ago.