Review – Salt and Sanctuary (Xbox One)
Ever since the release of Dark Souls in 2011, people have been trying to emulate the feel (and success) of FromSoftware’s golden egg goose of a franchise. Some games have managed to succeed in copying the franchise’s gameplay all while adding little twists of their own, like Nioh and The Surge. Others have just failed in garnering enough attention, like Lords of the Fallen.
All of those games have the same perspective as Dark Souls, however. They are all 3D and polygonal. Not a lot of games have tried to implement Dark Souls‘ gameplay and design with a different perspective and graphical style. One of the few exceptions is Salt and Sanctuary, which has finally been released for Xbox One.
The easiest way to summarise what Salt and Sanctuary is all about is by calling it Dark Souls on a 2D sidescrolling plane, but then again, this would be disrespectful to it. It does a lot more than just porting the gameplay from its main source of inspiration to a more Castlevania-ish perspective.
It’s impressive how the limited perspective hasn’t hindered the overall feel, combat system, and level design of the genre in Salt and Sanctuary. The map is masterfully interconnected, encouraging exploration and backtracking. There is a bit of platforming in here, but nothing too complex or detracting, with endless pits showing up very scarcely throughout the game. The enemy placement isn’t unfair and you’re very rarely going to feel overwhelmed with the amount of foes being thrown at you at any given time. I doesn’t mean that this is an easy game, we’re talking about a game inspired by freaking Dark Souls afterall…
It’s equally amazing how the fact you can’t lock on enemies and move around them on a tridimensional perspective hasn’t hindered the scope of Salt and Sanctuary‘s combat. Granted, it is different enough, mostly due to the fact you can freely jump and perform aerial combos with ease, but the rest is still here: blocking, parrying, dodging, wearing a sword with one or two hands, item and stamina management, and so on. Boss battles aren’t easy either, but they’re still fair and you can learn attack patterns if you pay a little bit of attention. Leveling up and dying follows the same principle from Dark Souls, but instead of directly spending your salt (this game’s souls) on which attribute you want to improve, you earn a consumable every time you level up. This consumable can be used to unlock abilities and additional attributes in a vast skill tree and can be also found throughout the levels.
For the most part, Salt and Sanctuary is absolutely fantastic, but I did have a few gripes with it. The first one is related to its art style. Don’t get me wrong, I love the handdrawn backgrounds and somber environments, but I really didn’t dig the frog-like appearance of the main player and the NPCs. It looks way too silly in comparison to the serious tone of the backgrounds. I also didn’t like the fact everyone looks so small onscreen. The other main issue I had with the game was the fact it constantly stuttered throughout my playthrough. I never witnessed major framerate drops, but the game would often freeze for a second or two for no reason whatsoever. I have no idea if this is something that has plagued other versions or only this specific Xbox One port, but it did annoy me a lot. Thankfully, those are all my concerns with the game. For the most part, I had a blast with it.
Salt and Sanctuary isn’t just recommended to fans of Dark Souls. It’s a game that anyone who likes a well-crafted and challenging should experience. The developers have masterfully crafted a title that clearly borrows elements from other games while still managing to retain such a strong personality of its own. I had some issues with its art style and technical performance, but I still fully recommend Salt and Sanctuary. Being salty has never been this fun.
Everything is hand-drawn and looks very unique, but I ended up disliking the frog-like character designs and the fact everyone is so small onscreen.
The mixture between Souls-like combat on a side-scrolling perspective works a lot better than I could have ever imagined, but the game suffers from really bizarre and frequent hiccups.
Unlike Dark Souls, it also features some neat tracks when outside boss battles. The lack of voice acting is noticeable, especially when going through lots of text.
Fun Factor: 9.0
The game features the two most important things in a game trying to emulate Dark Souls: great combat and fantastic level design. It’s challenging, but fair and very engaging (same can’t be said about its story).
Final Verdict: 8.5
Salt and Sanctuary is available now on PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of Salt and Sanctuary was provided by the publisher.