The game's visual design makes leaps and bounds of advancement from Ska's prior entries in some areas, but remains frustratingly stagnant in others. Environmentally and more abstractly, Salt shows a great deal of refinement and individuality. Its aesthetic of choice eventually begins to overstay its welcome, but I find it hard to argue against my initial amazement at its use of symbols and angles. My interest found no handholds, however, in the character design. In most areas of my life, I strive to find something to appreciate in situations that I don't quite enjoy or understand, but I found myself quickly disinterested in my own avatar as anything more than a means to an end; something through which I could exert my will onto the game world. It's disappointing, too. Gradually outfitting my character into clothes that don't imply he or she's a homeless zombie is one of my great joys in the Souls series.
At times, playing Salt & Sanctuary is like stumbling into a strange closet-shrine filled with Heditaka Miyazaki body pillows, but it accomplishes the challenges of condension with a deftness belying the fact that Ska Studios is comprised of little more than a husband and wife combo. It obviously doesn't win a great deal of accolades on creativity, but to pass the game off as nothing more than a Souls clone would do a disservice to the care that went into its air of mystery and enticement for exploration.
Stumbling around in the darkness while trying to remember which ledge to climb on to get to the other forest is one of those things Metroidvania fans are used too. This holds especially true when they bound up a ledge and encounter a demon they needed to avoid for at least a dozen upgrades. This remains true in Salt & Sanctuary, and the game is better for it. Blazing into the unknown and poking our heads into hidden alcoves were delightful, but not revelatory. It was not until we downed our second boss after more than a couple of failures, The Queen of Smiles, where I was sold.
Salt & Sanctuary is equal parts ingenious and impenetrable. Taking obvious cues from its progenitor in the Souls games, the combat is brutal and tough (though fair), and the story is glimpsed best in fragments for you to piece together. Mechanically, the game is engineered so you know it’s your fault when you miss a jump or don’t quite block that arrow you knew was coming. It’s got some cheap tricks, of course, but subsequent visits should have you learning how to avoid any surprises along the way.
Delightfully labyrinthine and surprisingly deep, I think Enoch and myself found a great more joy in S&S than we initially expected out of a 2D “Souls Clone.” If you’re a fan of Souls, check it out. If you’re a fan of Metroidvanias, check it out. If you're just really into satisfying 2D combat, check it out. The handful of hats it wears, it wears with style.
The Co-Op Experience: Join your friend’s world as a sellsword for local co-op
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