A Instant PS4 Classic – Salt & Sanctuary Review (PS4/Vita)
Salt & Sanctuary isn’t trying to hide where its inspirations come from. The whole game is moulded around various concepts seen many landmark games. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Ska Studios are fully on the charm offensive.
Playing as a 2D side scroller, Salt & Sanctuary is brutally blunt. You will die, and you’ll learn from each death. In place of the typical combat you’d come to expect from scrollers, Salt & Sanctuary is a much more hefty experience. Each weapon swing lunges the player forward, altering their posture and position. Each attack is just as important as the first and last, misplaced swipes lead to a swift death.
If this combat style sounds familiar, the chances are you’ve played any of From Software’s recent titles. Salt & Sanctuary isn’t trying to add anything new or change the fundamentals, it’s much more simpler than that. Replicating such a refined mechanic takes talent, which is something Ska Studios has abundance of. Their ability to take Dark Souls core combat and neatly knit it into a 2D setting is stunning.
Player’s have the expected options of light and heavy attacks. Channing hits together results in increased damage, as well as some nifty little executions. Weapons and armour play their part in how combat pans out. Each weapon style carries their own strengths and weakness. Long range melee instruments offer a degree of cautious safety but suffer from slow speeds. Faster weapons allow for more aggressive play styles but carry much more risk.
On the surface, combat may look rather shallow, but there’s a subtle depth to be discovered. Parrying weapons creates the opportunity to inflict heavy damage upon enemies, encouraging the use of the mechanic. Back stabs and leap attacks are also present, along with stuns after landing successive unanswered strikes. For a 2D game, Salt & Sanctuary nails visceral combat, sacrificing nothing in the name of fluidity.
Salt & Sanctuary’s combat is perfectly supplemented by the enemies it hosts. It’s impressive that such a wide range of styles appear in a 2D game. Without the luxuries of the 3D realm, combat is often restricted to all or nothing attacks. Salt & Sanctuary provides various styles in a number of enemy types, all of which carry genuine threat.
Basic close range melee enemies occupy the early stages, allowing the player some time to adapt to the combat and controls. As the game progresses more creative and deadly enemies emerge. Ranged foes vary from basic straight forward shots to more deadly curved homing attacks.
Melee forms the general style of enemy, especially the bosses. Leaping attacks, berserker charges and devilish quick jabs mix up each encounter. Learning the traits and pattens of each foe is key, even if that does my falling to their blades…or teeth. Ska Studios have done a fair job of creating interesting creatures, some of which have abilities that force the player to stay on their toes.
Some creatures combine speed and awkward angles to wreak havoc on the player, prompting quick reactions. There’s one creature in particular that inspires fear into the heart. Hidden within the scenery, these creatures look and act like the Xenomorph’s seen in the Alien film franchise. Their ability to sneak up on the player and inflict massive damage provides some truly heart racing panic fuelled moments.
Perhaps the most exhilarating element to Salt & Sanctuary is how thrilling every encounter is. No matter how far into the game the player finds them self, everything foe is still a risk. Death has genuine consequences, much like the games in which Ska Studios took their inspiration from. Upon death players lose the Salt they have on them at the time. This Salt substance is what fuels the player’s progression in terms of levelling.
Player’s have the ability to return to the scene of their death in order to recover their Salt. This mechanic works well, but does have a downside. Falling to a standard enemy means that same enemy will need to be killed in order to regain the lost Salt, if they die beforehand, the Salt will be permanently lost. The concept works the same when killed by a boss, which can provide a few issues. Player’s struggling with a boss will mostly likely die repeatedly.
Losing Salt can render a lengthy play through worthless. Much like From Software’s title, Salt & Sanctuary has a number of areas (known as Sanctuaries) in which players can spend their Salt. These areas allow the player to level up and purchase items. Each time a character increases their level they’ll receive a resource that can spent in the skills tree.
Ska Studios have supplied a hugely open skill tree that accommodates for a high level of customisation. All Though there’s set classes to choose from, there’s not much standing in the way of essentially crafting your own class. The possibility to wield large weapons while casting magic is possible, but only at the expense of optimizing your original class choice.
Sanctuaries aren’t just places to level up. Acting like a hub of sorts, each sanctuary can be occupied by various NPC characters. Scattered across the various areas of the game are statues. These items can be offered at any claimed sanctuary, unlocking the respective NPC the statue represents. Black smiths upgrade player’s gear, vendors sell various utility objects, it’s the expected set up. Salt & Sanctuary throws a few curve balls in the shape of co-op NPC. Upon unlocking said NPC, players will have access to local co-op, which works surprisingly well.
While the world design is brilliant and looks stunning, mostly down to a incredible art style, the 2D style presents some problems. The influence of Dark Souls is still just as prevalent in the world as it is in any other element of Salt & Sanctuary. In the same vein as ‘Metoridvania’ titles, every nook and cranny of the game world is connected. Shorts cuts unlock, new areas of the map are discovered, the sense of discovery is near constant. Some areas of the map can only be accessed after obtaining certain abilities, meaning the player will often back track. This is where the main flaw of Salt & Sanctuary can be found.
The game features no map, there’s no way to tell where you are beyond recognizing land marks. While this trait can be found in Salt & Sanctuaries role model Dark Souls, the difference is that world is 3D. Having the ability to rotate the camera around, looking up and down, gives the player much more scope. Finding your bearings in a 3D world is much more achievable than it is in a 2D game. It’s not rare to revisit the same area over and over in Salt & Sanctuary in the quest to progress, which can be frustrating.
It’s a testament to the quality of the game, and to Ska Studios, that the only real fault with their game feels more like an oversight than anything else. Everything else Salt & Sanctuary tries to replicate it nails. This is one of the best experiences on the PS4, as long as you have the patience and focus for it.
Much like From Software’s game, Salt & Sanctuary gives back as much as the player puts in. Boss battle feel epic, complete with a rather nifty soundtrack. The range of items, armour and weapons provides such a strong backbone, allowing for player’s to play around with various styles.
Salt & Sanctuary is a fantastic piece of work that acts as Ska Studio’s masterpiece. The fact they have managed to perfectly distil elements of Dark Souls and Castlevaina into such a tight package is mind blowing. Simply put, this is not just one of the best PS4 games released this year, it’s one of the best games of 2016 so far. Tight, thrilling, brilliant. Salt & Sanctuary is a must play.