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Salt And Sanctuary

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Ska Studios
Release Date: Aug. 2, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Salt and Sanctuary'

by Fran Soto on May 21, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Salt and Sanctuary is a stylistic, brutal action RPG platformer teeming with visceral combat, deep, diverse character builds, and incredible bosses.

Buy Salt and Sanctuary

Since the inception of Demon's Souls in 2009, the explosion of the "Soulsborne" genre has been seen in almost every format. There have been attempts to re-create the frustrating magic behind FromSoft's genre-defining IP, with many falling short by trying too hard to be exactly like those original titles. There are quite a few games that manage to hit the mark by taking the Soulsborne formula and adding their own flavor to the mix. The latest title looking to take up the mantle, Salt and Sanctuary, comes to us from developer Ska Studios. Salt and Sanctuary takes the Souls formula and translates it into a 2D, side-scrolling, hack-and-slash adventure worthy of controller-throwing frustration. While the title isn't as mechanically proficient as a Souls game, it takes the basic formula and incorporates the quick pace of a side-scrolling platformer.

Starting out, Salt and Sanctuary gives players character creation options by allowing us to choose basic features like class, eye color, hair color and even race. Our character awakens on a ship that's out at sea. We're on a mission to protect a traveling princess, and she's become a target of evil forces. It was a dark and stormy night, and the ship has been boarded by pirates. This event serves as the tutorial by having us fight our way to the top of the ship. As players learn the controls, fans of the Souls series will encounter familiar gameplay. The dodge mechanic works in a similar fashion, even utilizing invincibility frames to a degree. While these mechanics are standard within the genre, Salt and Sanctuary takes its side-scrolling seriously by allowing players to platform. Jumps and ledge grabs, along with environmental techniques, allow for free traversal that isn't felt in other Soulsbourne games. This gameplay twist is what gives Salt and Sanctuary a personality of its own, when the meat of the title relies heavily on established themes and mechanics.

After failing to save the princess from pirates, our ship sinks, and we find ourselves washed ashore in a strange land. We encounter an old man on the shore, and he asks us to pick a deity to worship. Depending on our choice, he gives the player a small totem used to create sanctuaries in abandoned places of worship. Placing a totem on an alter transforms the area into a safe haven, with each deity affording buffs within each area. From here, players can add various merchants to each sanctuary to yield benefits, like weapons upgrades or stat upgrades. The totems we find throughout the world allow us to make offerings to a myriad of NPCs. Some even provide additional services, like cooperative play and fast travel. The main altar is where we can level up our character and add stat points to their attributes.

There are familiar classes, like dexterity, strength, and intelligence-based specs. In addition to these stat points, Salt and Sanctuary offers its own kind of leveling system by providing a skill tree. We're able to build sanctuaries throughout the game that provide us with hideouts and also serve as our base of operations. We can level up every time by paying a salt offering to our religious icon of choice. Salt is the "souls" that are dropped by enemies. We collect it from fallen enemies, and we also lose it when we die. It acts as our currency for purchasing certain items and leveling up. We also need to manage actual gold coins that serves as a second form of currency. While using additional currencies helps open more resources for players, it was a feature that felt out of place since we could use salt to purchase everything. Through my gameplay, I could never figure out exactly why we also had gold when salt was the main currency for almost everything, including leveling up.

The skill tree is large and allows for classes to branch out and incorporate cross-class skills to build hybrid characters whose stats scale with weapons and gear. Being able to decide how each stat is affected per level creates more nuance in character development, but the skill tree seems unnecessarily large. With the ability to also upgrade gear and weapons, there are a lot of factors that affect stat points. While this is a well-thought-out mechanic, this level of nuance doesn't fit with the hack-and-slash, platforming gameplay. Fighting mechanics extend to multiple forms, as we can wield an assortment of weapons in various ways. From dual-wielding to throwing, we're able to change up our attacks to suit our play style. In some cases, shields can allow for blocking and grant buffs. Whereas other titles in the genre lean heavily on character statistics for strategic gameplay, Salt and Sanctuary can sometimes feel button-mashing because of its hack-and-slash nature.

Gameplay is detailed enough, and each big boss has certain mechanics with phase changes. Basic enemies vary in their attacks throughout the levels, and the level design even allows for shortcuts that feed into each area. Boss designs are daunting, with some even requiring some preparation beforehand, like gathering helpful items. There are secret areas that yield better loot if one is mindful enough (and yes, the game strongly urges "Fashion Souls"). The development team has done a solid job with boss telemetry, as each boss has choreographed movements that allow us to respond. Even with as much Souls experience as I have, there were still a few bosses that stumped me for a while. Because the title has such fast-paced controls, it was easy to get greedy and fail so close to success. Salt and Sanctuary's gameplay sets it apart in the genre more than anything else in the title.

Even with these distinct features, it's difficult to say that the title has its own personality. There were times in my playthrough when it just felt like another Souls copy (Side-Scrolling Souls). Yes, Salt and Sanctuary definitely has its own aesthetic, where it commits to a rock soundtrack and hand-drawn visuals. The Souls IP was a genre maverick, and the gameplay has, with good reason, influenced developers far and wide. It's also a technical gameplay style that fits well with a side-scroller.

While Salt and Sanctuary is truly its own game, with themes and elements appealing to fans of the genre, there were moments when it was too similar to its predecessors, and some unnecessary mechanics were added in an attempt to separate itself from the pack. Sometimes, paying homage to something can get caught up in the fine line of copying. However, it is a title that fits well with a "pick up/put down" pace and gives players a lot of choice in how they wish to play. Salt and Sanctuary provides ample replay value in a fun title that is fast-paced and challenging enough for anyone seeking a "Souls-like" game.

Score: 8.0/10

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