Salt and Sanctuary is the meeting point between a particular look and a particular style. It was developed by Ska Studios, of Dishwasher Vampire Smile fame. They’ve taken their signature look and used it to create a 2D action platformer, Dark Souls style. The game came out in March of 2016 but I neither reviewed it nor played it then. Just recently, the game came to the Switch so let’s take a look!
If you’re at all a Dark Souls fan, you’ll likely have heard about Salt and Sanctuary. Like all good things, Dark Souls is often imitated. There have been many Souls-likes and Souls-clones, but few have the same reputation for quality as Salt and Sanctuary. S&S goes to some lengths to capture the feeling of Dark Souls and does it well.
While the game is fundamentally different in that it is a 2D action platformer, it captures the ethos of Dark Souls. The game is dark and brooding, the basic enemies are husks of long fallen soldiers. The world you explore feels old and lost, the people you encounter are wistful and aloof. It all feels very familiar, but fresh in its own right. Where Dark Souls sets you off with a fairly vague goal, Salt and Sanctuary starts you off with a clear mission. Your ship was attacked and you washed up on this mysterious shore. You must find the princess you were transporting and get her to safety. There’s a clear line of divergence from Dark Souls there that serves this game well. That’s true of most of this game; it knows when to stick to the formula and when to deviate.
We’ve seen many 2D retro games over the last number of years, each with their own interpretation of how combat should be done in the 2D space. Salt and Sanctuary takes elements of games like Castlevania and Shovel Knight and blends them with some of the core tenets of Dark Souls. You have a lot of jumping and movement based attacks, alongside the stamina management and dodge rolling of Dark Souls. They blend well and give a fresh but familiar feel to combat. If you’re aware of Ska Studios and their games, you know they have a distinctive look. While Salt and Sanctuary takes after Dark Souls for its styling right down to the font, the look of the game is true to Ska Studios style. The hand-drawn look of the characters still evokes the heyday of flash games, just like The Dishwasher and Charlie Murder did on the Xbox live arcade. Taking these elements, Salt and Sanctuary stands on its own.
To get back to the reason I’m reviewing this game two years after launch, it’s made the jump to the Switch. I’ve played a bunch of similar games that have done the same, generally, there hasn’t been much to comment on. Shovel Knight was still Shovel Knight, Hollow Knight was still awesome and also about a knight. Salt and Sanctuary has no technical faults on the Switch as far as I can tell, it’s a perfectly fine way to play the game. However, the hazy, dreamlike look of the game doesn’t translate the best to the small screen. Personally, I had some issues making out exactly what I was looking at when I played on the tablet screen. This feels pretty unavoidable, the game is dark and murky. I’d recommend playing mostly/entirely on the big screen.
All in all, I heartily recommend Salt and Sanctuary. It worked it’s way into the Souls community but I think it has something to offer the broader spectrum of gamers. If you have a Switch that’s a great way to play it, so long as you don’t mind a little eye strain when you go portable.