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Salt and Sanctuary (PC) artwork

Salt and Sanctuary (PC) review

"Platform Souls"

Salt and Sanctuary (PC) image

Salt and Sanctuary begins with a shipwreck. You awaken within the pitch black innards of a vessel in calamity. During a horrendous storm, a Lovecraftian horror emerged from the watery depths, and now it aims to reduce your ride to splinters. You amble to the deck to meet the beast, but the tentacled demon snuffs out your spirit in seconds and demolishes the watercraft. You sink below the storm-maddened waves and all but drown. Though you survive the encounter and come to rest on the shores of a misty island located nearby, your fate might be worse than a salty grave at sea...

The prelude described above makes one thing clear: you've embarked on a voyage that will send you through hell. After regaining consciousness on the beach, you draw your pitiful blade and the once-dead inhabitants of the coast proceed to knock your teeth in. From the moment armed zombies surround you when you enter a fortress near the shore, you know that you're going to spend the rest of the campaign toiling for an advantage over your relentless opposition. Maybe you'll learn to roll with Salt and Sanctuary's punches, or perhaps the game will utterly destroy you.

The foggy, sandy environs give way to a hill littered with patches of grass and reanimated corpses. Your first few bouts might prove difficult as you acclimate yourself to Salt and Sanctuary's physics. However, handling the game's combat system should prove a snap if you're familiar with a title known as Dark Souls. Raising your shield stymies oncoming arrows, and rolling to the side prevents you from losing a limb. In response, you swing your sword and watch in awe as undead heads satisfyingly separate from bodies and roll down the knoll. Blood sprays from stumps, covering the scenery in rich crimson. You also get a few gold coins and a tiny helping of salt (which serves as experience in this quest), likely extracted from the tears of fallen Salt and Sanctuary players, whose dying apparitions appear throughout the isle.

Salt and Sanctuary (PC) image

Although the contentment of slaughtering evil highlights the Salt and Sanctuary experience, the game makes doubly sure to knock you down a few pegs every so often. You might feel like a hardened warrior while you're butchering weak bats and bullying possessed porcelain dolls, but once you run afoul of a skyscraping, armor-clad foe or a hulking monstrosity, hope and confidence both diminish. Perilous situations tend to guard helpful rewards, however, so you steel your resolve to meet the unstoppable opponent head-on. Sometimes you score just enough slashes to fell the titan. Other times, your blows do little more than tickle him before he brings down his hefty, crushing foot. You die, you respawn and you try again.

Unfortunately, your demise is not always predictable. For instance, you might spot what appears to be a hybrid unicorn-mosquito. It looks like it should prove simple to eliminate, until it charges full bore, impales you on its proboscis and devours ninety percent of your hit points. As you pull yourself back to your feet, the creature doesn't relent. It speeds towards you once more and slurps the remaining pints of blood from your body. You die, you respawn and you try again.

You stand on a ledge and notice an item just below, so you decide to drop down and nab it. That's fine, except that you miscalculated the height of the required fall. Instead of landing comfortably, you splatter. You die, you respawn and you try again.

Salt and Sanctuary (PC) image

You negotiate a series of rickety platforms positioned in the branches of towering trees, and one of them crumbles before you can leap to the next. You hit the ground with a sickening thud. You die, you respawn and you try again.

You're locked in combat with an ogre-like abomination and the game's "minimize to desktop" glitch strikes, or you open a treasure chest that's actually a mimic, or you fail to notice the approach of an invisible witch, who showers you in electric magic. You die, you respawn and you try again.

More often than not, these mishaps are a result of your inability to react or press buttons in a timely manner. Unfortunately, sometimes Salt and Sanctuary's occasional unresponsiveness is the culprit. You might, say, dash through the air in the hopes of grasping a platform. Though your sprite presses firmly against the edge, the protagonist fails to cling and thus nose dives into a pit. Such flaws don't plague the game, per se, but they do crop up often enough to hamper the adventure a tad.

Salt and Sanctuary (PC) image

But although you might fail a thousand times, you never truly perish. A cleric revives you when your expire and swipes a wad of your cash for his troubles. He drags you to the nearest religious temple and leaves you there to fight another day. If you're lucky, you may even reach one of these monuments without dying first. With a decent enough grip of salt, you can level up and secure yourself another skill point to reinforce your character's build. Surprisingly, this is where Salt and Sanctuary's heart briefly grows a smidgen and the game cuts you some slack. The available skill tree is a grand Final Fantasy X-ish sphere grid, with character types laid out in an organized, albeit slightly messy manner.

Solely beefing up your avatar via salt farming isn't wise, though. Thankfully, most of the sanctuaries you stumble upon are unclaimed. By placing your faith's symbol upon a pedestal, you transform the shadowy chamber into a church that is freshly devoted to your creed. Additional followers crowd these shrines any time you make an offering, providing both services and passive bonuses within the sanctum's region. Blacksmiths arrive to bolster your equipment, and an alchemist transforms your measly blade into a greatsword that doubles as a huge (and devastating) pair of scissors. You can even hire a guide to assist you in fast traveling from one church to another.

In time, you may well develop into the scar-covered barbarian, ninja-like rogue or elite sorcerer you always imagined yourself to be. You might even spend enough time with the campaign to forget that Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D Dark Souls clone mixed with Metroid elements. Sure, those sources of inspiration are obvious, but the way that all comes together with the gorgeously hand drawn environments serves to set the game apart from its influences. Ska Studios' attempt to imitate both games beat by beat is effective enough that Salt and Sanctuary feels like a love letter, rather than a cash-in or a lazy product. It also exudes enough of its own personality to distinguish itself within the growing genre as more than merely another clone.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (June 03, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted June 08, 2016:

So. Let’s address this.

….demolishes the watercraft

Watercraft. Really? Awful. There’s no shortage of better words you could have used rather than this. Boat, ship, craft, vessel, ferry. In the opening paragraphs, there’s some very wooden phrased rolled out. “The prelude described above makes one thing clear:”, “handling the game's combat system should prove a snap” (a snap! No one’s said that since the war!) It’s kind of a shame, because there’s some good imagery going on there in that intro. I get the feeling that maybe you’re trying a little too hard, and it all comes off as forced. For example, I have no idea what a proboscis is. And I never admit to not knowing something? I don’t want to know, either. I’m having a pretty good time making up my own definitions.

But I get it; I really do. Sometimes you find a game that impresses you so much you want to do it justice so you try to drop epic description bombs all over the review. I think things start working much better in the second half of the review. Like the quick bullet-point descriptions. It’s in a much less stiff, more casual tone, which makes it more accessible. There are positives throughout, but I am also going to play the dick card and note this wicked oxymoron: “laid out in an organized, albeit slightly messy manner”
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 08, 2016:

I tried to step out of my comfort zone and obviously dodn't work. Oh well.

And a proboscis is the part of a blood-sucking critter (usually an arthropod) that sucks blood. Think mosquito.
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EmP posted June 08, 2016:

I said don't tell me!

Everything's ruined.

Anyway, we've all overwritten reviews. Hell, I probably have more overwritten reviews in my backlog than anything else. Breaking your comfort zone is commendable; you can't expect to hit a home run at your first shot at something new.

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