Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D side-scrolling action adventure game inspired heavily by the Dark Souls games. Add in a bit of classic Castlevania /Metroid (Metroidvania, as it happens to be know from time to time) and you have the well-executed title currently under the microscope. I’m often told I should kick off my reviews with a brief foot-note on what the game is, so that’s that! Read on if you wish for deeper insight on my experience in our Salt and Sanctuary Review. The short version? It’s awesome.

Look and Feel

Salt and Sanctuary Review 1
Where it all began. It feels like only yesterday, but it was actually two days ago.

It seems the most divisive issue in regards to Salt and Sanctuary is its look. Checking in on developer Ska Studios’ past work, they have a particular art-style that you’ll either love or hate. I personally like it. It’s reminiscent of something you’d find on Newgrounds but with a fair amount more polish. I mean that entirely as a compliment. It has that indie charm but achieves the dark, moody atmosphere it’s aiming for.

The music is sufficiently creepy and intimidating. With my headphones on, it made me wary to go through doorways, afraid of what might be on the other side. Granted, I can be jumpier than most, but it has the intended effect. The switch up to indicate boss fights is also heart-pounding, though I wish there had been a little more variety in the music for various bosses. It might have given them more personality. Not that it matters much, just a minor nit pick.

The spell effects are pleasing and the way the team plays with the darkness as you progress is very effective. Having to light the torch and rely on your one-handed melee weapon until you have access to certain abilities or charms and rings gives some areas a level of depth I could appreciate, and it didn’t out-stay its welcome.

The controls are great, but with my Mage build I ran in to some issues initially when trying to aim spells. Until you get some spread abilities, it can be a little difficult to aim your Flashfire at moving enemies. This may have just been me, but I didn’t find that aspect to be entirely fluid. This faded away once I had access to higher-level abilities though. This problem will be entirely dependent on your build, and it may only refer to the way I played.

For the most part, the Look and Feel are both great. It may not be as imposing as a fully realised 3D experience, but it kept me engaged from start to finish and maintained the tension throughout.

Gameplay

In Salt and Sanctuary, the goal is unclear. As it draws so much inspiration from the Souls series, this is to be expected. You’re hack-and-slashing your way through undead soldiers and monstrous beings to fully explore this land you’re in. You’ll spend most of your time learning enemy attack patterns, countering their actions and receiving “Salt” and gold as a result. Salt is the currency that allows you to level up at your safe havens, established by placing your ornament on the available stands within the game. Gold can be exchanged for various goods from the vendors you install at your various safe havens. This is done by acquiring “Stone” key items, that can then be used to call in a specific facility. Stone Leader, for instance, calls in a bounty-board manager that allows you to trade monster parts for high level recovery items or special coatings for your melee weapons.

To give you the basic run down of abilities, your character is created by yourself and whatever your Class is determines what starting equipment they’ll have. I chose Mage, as I love flinging spells. I was armed with a sword and a wand. As such, I had a melee attack, dodge roll, jump and a flash-fire spell. The good thing about flash-fire is that it homes in on proximity targets within a certain range. Perfect for ranged combat, especially given my complaints about aiming it earlier on. To boil it down, your basic moves are to attack and dodge. You can defend with shields, too, but I never found the need to do so. I simply powered through the difficult encounters, which probably would have been easier had I properly defended myself.

There may yet be a great many comparisons to Dark Souls because this game is literally a Souls game in 2D. The UI, the ability to level up at your equivalent of a bonfire, the loss of salt on death with a permanent loss if you die before retrieving it – so much is a direct take straight out of the Souls playbook, but I don’t hate it for that. In fact, I love that it manages to execute that same feel in a style so different than what we’re used to, or at least what we’ve become accustomed to seeing as Konami and Nintendo don’t seem to be managing Castlevania and Metroid in the way fans might want. The formula is familiar to any souls fan: explore the regions and find bosses as you go. These bosses have set attack patterns and can be lethal on your first try because they react unlike anything you’ve seen before in the game. They’re a brilliant merger of tension and skill-based game-play. A lot of the boss attacks can drop you in one or two hits (depending on your armour and health), so quick reactions are a necessity for these fights. Some are pretty simple, whilst others can be a nightmare. It all comes down to your role. A Mage, for example, seems to have it easy against a boss like (Name forgotten but it’s two ghost spirits wielding a giant axe in the air, and that axe is what needs to be hit to kill them), but against the Fake Jester, they’ll have a harder time as it closes in on you pretty quickly with melee attacks. Nothing beats satisfaction of taking down a difficult boss, though. In my fight with The Third Lamb, I died so much I nearly gave up, but this one time I persevered, made the perfect dodge through its lightning spread attack and just pelted it with a flame barrage (or 30 flame barrages…. who’s keeping count?). In any case, I could write for years on how awesome it is to fight your way through this game and the joy of overcoming previously difficult areas with the help of both personal knowledge and in-game power, but it should be painfully clear just how enamoured I am with that aspect of Salt and Sanctuary, and seeing as that’s the majority of the game, I’m wholly satisfied with the experience.

Salt and Sanctuary Review 3

The Sodden Knight gets flamed in the console war. Playstation fo’ life sucka!

Perhaps by now you’re thinking “Why don’t I just play Dark Souls then?”. You have a fair point, but this game has an interesting addition beyond its similarities to our beloved franchise of punishment, and that’s some excellent platforming. As you progress through the game, you’ll find NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) in the world that’ll talk to you. Sometimes, after a certain boss fight or two, they’ll bestow upon you a “brand”. This will give you a new ability to traverse the world itself. Hardlight, for example, will reveal fog platforms with the help of a lit torch. You’ll also gain access to a double air dash, making those impossible leaps during the early stages of the game seem trivial. A combination of these two mechanics had me gobsmacked as I found Mal’s Floating Castle. I happened upon a fog platform seemingly alone in the middle of nowhere. Having looked around with my lit torch, I eventually tried an air dash in one direction just for the hell of it. This revealed a pattern which eventually led to me being shot up in to the air and in to this bonus area with a boss I imagine you don’t even need to fight. There are quite a few of these extras you can find with a bit of effort, though they’re often smaller than the aforementioned.

I’m starting to drone on, so let’s be a bit more concise. Equipment. You’ll come across various items in chests or just laying around in the world (indicated by a floating light) that you can pick up and equip. This can range from weapons and armour to rings and charms. The rings are especially interesting given their various bonuses, from increased salt gains to reduced lighting damage. Effective use of these can mean the difference between life and death.

Using particular items at a Blacksmith vendor, you can upgrade your weapons and armour. There’s a natural progression to this system that you’ll barely notice unless you become obsessed with it, and the items are also available to purchase (except for high-end) from some beggars during your travels.

If you can’t get enough of this game, not only are we kindred spirits, but there’s also good news! New Game Plus (yep, that too) makes its way over to Salt and Sanctuary, featuring beefed up enemies and increased salt gains. I’ve not noticed any real differences having taken down a good half-dozen of the bosses, but I’ll update should anything significant change in the second play-through. My impression so far is that it’s just more of the game but you carry over your skills, stats, equipment and items. The brands will be reset so you have to get them again from the brand-givers.

To bring this section to a close, as I believe I’ve covered everything, from a strict gameplay perspective, it’s phenomenal. It’s not revolutionary, few games are, but it takes a style I’ve come to enjoy over the last few years and executes it perfectly whilst adding its own twist to the experience. Pro-tip: Effective use of the air dash is crucial in the last battle, and do a bit of Salt grinding in the Dome area. I’ll post a video to show the effective loop.

Story

Salt and Sanctuary Review 5
They hate MAGIC!? Oh, it’s on brother. It’s on like a wonky schlong.

The story begins with a journey across the sea. Suddenly your ship comes under attack from an unknown force and crashes. You’re washed ashore and told by a mysterious figure that you are Saltborn, and you’re essentially stuck on this island.

From there, you’ll encounter a eery scarecrow that covers the screen in a black and white film grain effect as it talks to you. It tells you many a scary thing and asks you inconsequential questions before you can move on.

After that, I honestly don’t know. Much like I am during a Souls game, I’m somewhat confused by the lore. I know I’m inviting the wrath of the avid Internet Historians here, but I just didn’t keep track of the goings on in the game because they’re so disjointed. There’s a Knight that’s on a quest to slay the dragon, a thief that has her eyes on wealth, a sorcerer that I haven’t a clue about – he just gave me a brand. I feel like I missed something – and that’s pretty much it.

Understand that I’m not knocking off points for my own carelessness in following the obscure plot. I’m applying more usual Souls logic to it – “it seems interesting. Parts seem connected. Good enough, I guess!”.

Honestly though? There might be something here for many of you to seek and archive for the rest of us – there’s definitely a mystery to solve in a sense – but I’m not that guy, because it’s inconsequential to my enjoyment of the game. You don’t NEED to understand this game’s “story” for it to be great. It’s great in its gameplay alone, but feel free to inform me in the future if you find something truly terrible about the plot that might have impacted your adventure.

For the record, I did complete the game and have made a very swift carving through New Game Plus. The ending is just as confusing as the beginning, but I enjoyed the ride despite my many, many questions. I’d like to have a chat with Ska Studios and have them enlighten me.

Overall

Salt and Sanctuary Review 4
Stats. Witches love stats.

I didn’t even touch on the gravity pillars! Oh well. You’ll see when you play it, and play this game you should. If you love Dark Souls, Metroid and Castlevania, I see no reason why you wouldn’t love Salt and Sanctuary. It’s a remarkable game that doesn’t do anything new necessarily, but does what it does incredibly well. Play it! Are you playing it yet? You should be playing it already. Why aren’t you playing it!? Oh, you’ve played it? DON’T LIE TO ME! GO PLAY IT!

Review copy provided by Ska Studios.

Looking for More?

We’ve got a whole heap of reviews here at My Games Lounge and there’s plenty to come. From Bare Knuckle Dev’s Resogun review, Respawn Rossco’s Hitman GO Definitive Edition review, Neal Noakes’ work on the Rebel Galaxy review and my own work on many games such as 5 Star Wrestling and Far Cry Primal.

We’ve also started our Entertainment Lounge! Right now we’ve got three March 2016 anime releases from Manga UK reviewed: My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Season 1, Golden Time Collection 1 and Akame ga Kill Collection 1.

Game: Salt and Sanctuary
Review Format: Playstation 4

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