Being a grown up is hard. The truth is that by the time you’ve gotten home from work, played with your 2.4 children and completed all grown up tasks it can leave incredibly limited time for gaming. Plus I don’t know about you but I’m often knackered and sometimes you just need junk food games to wind down. Games that have familiar themes that are nurturing and forgiving such as Stardew Valley, Mario Odyssey or Pokémon. Salt and Sanctuary is not one of these games, it won’t hold your hand, it won’t be gentle, it wants to hurt you.
Salt and Sanctuary is a 2d, hand drawn, metrovoidvania, Souls like game from Ska Studios. Originally released on the PS4 in 2016 its been ported to the Switch seemingly to fill the gap left by the exasperating delay of Dark Souls.
After choosing the name of your character you get to select from an array of fighters from a Paladin to a chef each with their specialist loadout. The character creator is fairly comprehensive and easy to navigate making it easy for me to create an exaggerated avatar of myself. My Paladin looked awesome and armed with a mace and a whole lot of confidence I appear abroad a ship under attack from an unknown foe. Gallantly I fight the invaders to rescue my princess only to be met with failure and shipwreck. This is the start of the punishment that this game takes great pleasure in inflicting.
You see Ska Studios have masterfully created a game that rewards caution and brutally punishes haste. The island that you wash up on consists of a dark, interlinked web of hand drawn environments. Each is well defined and wonderfully macabre with their own specific and horribly imagined enemies and bosses. You will die multiple times learning how to overcome these goliath horrors but once you finally see the ‘Victorious’ sign you are rewarded with large amounts of salt and access to new areas. Salt is used to level up your character and loadout which is done at the Sanctuaries. These are safe areas where you get to rest, quick save and stock up on the free potions before bravely heading back out into the menacing world.
I found that most of my deaths are through getting from Sanctuary to Sanctuary. Through overconfidence or frustration, you may be lured to rush forwards. In doing so you will be met by a new trap, monster or obstacle, which will kill you with glee. The game is artfully designed to build your anxiety and to guide you to your death. For example, you may try and run from an overpowered enemy on your first encounter only to walk into a one hit kill trap. You may feel familiar with the enemies and confidently swagger forward only to be met by a new type, which materialize from thin air to gleefully butcher you.
The trick is to be meticulous, controlled and prepared. If there is a reward sparkling in the distance, there will be something to get you. As you progress the lethal stakes keep rising and you will lose count or the number of times you are unceremoniously murdered. At this point you will return to the last sanctuary you last prayed at minus all the salt you had earned with only yourself to blame.
This port does have some faults and unfortunately, they have a significant effect on the game. Frame rate drops, and input lag seem to occur often during the boss fights. Considering that you are required to meticulously map and take advantage their attack patterns this leads to an unfair and frustrating death. This occurs both in docked and undocked mode. I even tried it with my amazing 8Bitdo Pro SNES controller and the occasional input lag persisted. I have come close to the end of a titanic battle where my Paladin and his nefarious foe are on our last breath of life when the screen slows and instead of dealing the deathblow I’m met with the ‘Exterminated’ screen. That said, for every one of theses instances I have died 10 times due to my own stupidity or lack of skill but you only remember the bad ones.
This is undoubtedly a brutal and unforgiving game and because of this I haven’t rolled credits. I have a love hate relationship with this game and I’ll be honest; I’ve screamed and had to walk away to avoid ramming the switch controller through the TV screen. However, it is also a beautifully crafted and stylized game and if a mild bit of gaming masochism is your thing this could be perfect for you.
Coffee addict received a review copy of this game.