Developed by Ska Studios
Published by Ska Studios
Reviewed on Switch (also available on PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC)
In an indie world where the term Metroidvania is tossed around left and right and there is an abundance of roguelike games, it’s nice to see something a little different now and again. Salt & Sanctuary is just that. Taking many inspirations for the Souls series from FROM SOFTWARE, this 2D action RPG is a fresh take on the type of gameplay, but does it stay fresh or does it get stale far too quickly?
The world of Salt & Sanctuary is very dark. The world has been at war and it is your job to help escort a princess to another land to help stop it. That about sums up the story in its entirety. You start off on a ship carrying the princess (whom you never meet at this point) and get boarded by villains. You eventually face a foe you cannot win against and wake up on a shore of a distant land. Your goal is to find the princess. Throughout the game the story doesn’t really progress, and to be honest it isn’t much of a story. Now some might say that this is also similar to the Souls games that this game mimics, but once thing those games do right is adding a ton of lore through NPCs or descriptions on in game items. This game doesn’t do that leaving it a simple save the princess game. A simple story isn’t bad, but with such a dark world I was hoping for something more interesting to keep me interested.
Probably Salt & Sanctuary’s best feature is its gameplay. Unlike the Souls series this is a much faster paced game. Not often will you be sizing down enemies looking for the most opportune time to attack. If anything, this game resembles Bloodborne where you want to rush in with fast paced attacks. It can be quite fun pulling off combos on enemies that cause them explode into tiny bloody pieces and there are quite a few types of weapons that makes sure the combat stays fresh. Defeating enemies nets you salt. Salt is used to level up, which you can do at sanctuaries scattered around the world. Once you level up you will earn a Black Pearl which is used to level up a stat in a skill tree. Here is how you can customize your characters, moving around the skill tree and only adding skills you want whether it is the proficiency of being able to dual wield a pike or to raise your strength to deal more damage with a great sword. The customization is quite impressive and adds a nice change to the typically add point to stat options that we see in games like this as of late.
When you lose all health and perish, all your salt will be taken away and put into an enemy near your corpse. You need to find this enemy who will be glowing to get back your salt. Good news, unlike some Souls games, is if you die on the way to your salt, you will not lose the original lost salt. Your current salt will be taken away, combined with your old salt that can be retrieved from the enemy. This makes getting your salt back far less stressful then games with a similar mechanic. On top of the fast combat, traversal can be pretty speedy. Seeing how this game is 2D there is quite a bit of platforming. Platforming is done well were you can easily climb up to higher areas by grabbing ledges and grabbing on to ladders even while falling. Traversing this dark and twisted world can be a blast, but I am a bit salty about other aspects of the game…
This game sure isn’t pretty. When it comes to the games art direction it looks like an early 2000’s flash game using funky looking fan art. Though the normal enemies aren’t that great looking, some of the large enemy designs are definitely a sight to behold. It is mainly human like characters that look kind of off and just don’t fit this world. The environments look great on the other hand. They are dark, gritty, and full of wonder. Small details like rain and falling leaves help bring this world to life. On top of the style is the actual game performance, running at 30 FPS is fine and all but the game looks really muddy docked on the switch. The game looks to be running at 720p which is shocking because this game isn’t really that demanding and seems to be a game the Switch should be able to handle easily. When in handheld mode, the graphics definitely look better on the small screen. Still, this game is fairly dark and even with good lighting conditions, it’s hard to see everything well on the screen. I prefer this game docked, even at its low resolution.
The games soundtrack on the other hand is a mixed bag. As a whole it isn’t that bad. The eerie sounds given off by the enemies and the environment is most welcomed. Sound effects for using items and menus sound almost taken directly from a Souls game. But there are some areas in the world where music will play. Sometimes it is in a sanctuary which makes sense and helps establish a place of safety. But then while just exploring, one area may start playing some music… and it’s very off. The music, while not bad, seems to not fit the environments at all. Some of the music sounds more futuristic and take away from the games immersion. Music for boss fights are fantastic on the other hand and help intensify the battle.
All in all, Salt & Sanctuary is a very entering game. It’s not the best looking or best sounding game by any means, but it does shine in its gameplay and difficulty. Taking a 3D formula like a Souls game and converting it to 2D is not easy task, and for a first try Ska Studios has done a solid job in bringing a difficult and dark world to life.