Friday, August 3

Review: Salt and Sanctuary [Nintendo Switch eShop]

It’s time for another possibly bombshell admission… I’ve really never been fond of the Dark Souls series. While I love a good challenge and am a rabid roguelike fan I simply find the mechanics in the controls and game systems of the Souls games I’ve played to be annoying. With this in mind when I heard that Salt and Sanctuary was aiming roughly to be a 2D version of that series it made me curious what precisely would be coming over. The result certainly gives flashes of that franchise, with a pretty high degree of difficulty and big, bad boss fights, but where Souls tends to annoy me I found this quite approachable… for the right audience.

Aside from the brutal boss battles the most notable mechanic here is the method of collecting experience through salt that you can only redeem once you take it back to a shrine. This creates a pretty delicious quandary as you explore… when to go back in the interests of not dying and losing everything you’ve just been working for. Even once you’ve made the decision to go back a wrong turn or tricky foe can make it all go to hell in a hurry. Fortunately, if you do die you’ll have the opportunity to get your salt back if you’re able to defeat that foe without dying again. However, if you died deep into enemy territory this can be really bad news so you’ll want to make your plans very carefully.

Combat is heavily dependent on the class you opt for from the beginning and varies quite a bit depending on your choices. As you gain experience and level up using the initially-intimidating skill tree you’ll have more opportunity to refine your skills to suit your tastes but it pays to find what works for you and develop it the best you can. That’s because your tendency to fall to foes both big and small can be painful. You’ll need to keep an eye on your stamina and keep even low-level enemies from managing to gang up on you or they can put you down. A strong grasp of the nuance of everything you have to offer is key to boss fights, and it will likely take a few attempts to see everything they have to throw at you as their tactics tend to change as they get closer to death. That said, in at least one case I was able to cheese a boss with a cheap repeated attack so always be sure to try a little bit of everything in the event they have a surprising weakness.

Certainly the lack of explanation for just about everything there is in the game is a bit of a weakness. I’m not sure whether the goal is to have people slowly and painfully learn the ropes or whether the expectation was just that people would confer online but this game has a rough start, especially if you don’t read up on tips and tactics to help you get through the early stages. The other glaring omission that can get annoying is that the game has no map. Considering how labyrinthian the world is, wrapping back on itself to provide for easy access to deep areas of the map as you make progress, it would be helpful not to have to commit all possible routes to your memory. Especially when you find yourself deep into things and your health begins to dwindle this can be aggravating. A final concern is with the very washed out art style, which at times can make picking out details a challenge, particularly at a small scale in handheld mode. Similarly at that scale some text can be tough to make out, though in general since there doesn’t tend to be much text to read as a whole this isn’t as big a problem as it could be in other more text-heavy titles.

All in all Salt and Sacrifice delivers what it set out to do admirably, and for myself the comparisons to the Souls series are a positive since they mostly overlap what I appreciate in roguelikes. If your expectation is a well-explained and story-rich adventure of some kind you’ll be sorely disappointed, though there are bits to observe and learn here and there the emphasis is most definitely on brutal and bloody combat. If that sounds like something up your alley it should give you a solid challenge to last you a little while, especially if you plan to experiment with the game’s varied classes.

Score: 7.5

  • A stiff and bloody good challenge
  • Game mechanics that will tempt you to stay out just a little longer, often creating tension when you get close to death
  • Tough and generally memorable boss fights you’ll typically need to work hard to get through

  • Scaled down into handheld mode the text and washed out visuals can make for some muddiness at times
  • There’s very little in-game guidance, which can add to the initial intimidation and challenge unnecessarily
  • The lack of a map is unusual and, at times, annoying