Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary
Game Reviewed: Salt and Sanctuary
Publisher: Ska Studios, Leadman Games (Switch version), Limited Run Games (PS Vita & PS4 versions)
Developer: Ska Studios
Reviewer: Naomi Norbez
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, PC (Windows, MacOS, Linux)
Category: Exploration, Action Platformer, Survival
ESRB Rating: M
With Super Smash Bros Ultimate overshadowing all Nintendo Switch releases recently, I decided to review a game that came out around the same time, but hasn’t received as much attention. (For those waiting for the Smash Bros review, fear not—Samuel has that covered). So, I put a few recently-released Switch titles on my rental queue, and waited for one to arrive.
To my surprise, the game that came in first was an M-rated independent title: Salt And Sanctuary by Ska Studios, a “two person, two cat team” consisting of a married couple (and, of course, their cats) who makes very punkish games. Salt And Sanctuary is based on Dark Souls, a blockbuster series of brutally difficult and somber games that has influenced many, manytitles since its first entry in 2011, and spawned the term “soulslike” for games similar to it.
Salt And Sanctuary has been out for two years, but has just been physically ported to the Switch and other platforms this year (which is pretty great timing, considering the release of Dark Souls Remastered earlier in 2018). As someone who loves action-platformers (games where you traverse a 2D space while fighting enemies) and atmospheric games, I’m really curious what this “soulslike” has to offer.
So, let’s wander in this salty sanctuary together, shall we?
(. . . Trust me, that joke was inevitable.)
What Parents Need to Know
Like the Dark Souls games, Salt And Sanctuary’s M-rating comes mainly from its violence. Stranded on a desolate island, you must slay all manner of eldritch enemies in order to receive salt, which you use to level up and upgrade your weapons. Each stab to an enemy is accompanied with a smattering of blood, and the final blow results in a somewhat graphic execution, even with the cartoony art style.
At the start of the game, you pledge your devotion to one of the fictional gods of Salt And Sanctuary’s universe. This determines the appearance of the sanctuaries you enter during the game. Kneeling at the altar will restore all your health and give health potions. You also level up and choose your skills at these altars, and you can give “offerings” of statues.
There are also altars to the other gods of Salt And Sanctuary’s universe. At these altars, you can denounce your god and pledge allegiance to this new one.
The story centers on the gods of this game, and discusses spiritual content throughout.
The lore and dialogue of this game is all presented in text form, and it’s quite fascinating to watch it unfold. But the text side is rather small, and the size cannot be increased. The camera is also zoomed out quite a bit, which made some areas and enemies very hard to make out. Especially since the dark color palette makes the foreground and background blend together. I feel that players with vision problems could have a tough time with this game.
The game also is lacking in accessibility options—individual volume levels can be changed, and the HUD (Heads-Up-Display, which shows health, items, etc. on screen) can be tampered with, but not much else.
The gloomy atmosphere, tactical controls, and interesting lore of Salt And Sanctuary are its starring elements. I love getting lost in this desolate world. Plus, this game includes some interaction with other players online: mimicking Dark Souls, you can read messages that other players have left in various locations (these range from silly notes to hints to traps). And in sanctuaries, you can see other players enter and leave if they’re there the same time as you. It’s pretty rad to catch glimpses of people who are also facing the challenge. Since the game just came out on Switch, there’s only a few player messages so far, but I can’t wait to see more in the future.
A Child’s Perspective:
This is a very slow game, in every regard. Its combat is slow, its reveal of the story and lore is slow, and traversing the island is slow. The challenge is grueling and slow, and its story focuses on mature themes, such as failure and loneliness. I feel that most children won’t enjoy this game because of these things, but I am certain there are some that will.
Obviously, the biggest caveat for Christians playing this game is your character literally “bowing down” to other gods. This will be a huge problem for many. As an M-rated game Salt And Sanctuary expects a certain amount of maturity from its players, But can your kids separate the game’s beliefs from reality? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Either way, it’s a conversation to have.
As for gameplay, this was . . . an interesting experience, to say the least. I’m a huge fan of action platformers, but not of the Dark Souls series. So the slow pace of Salt And Sanctuary took a lot of getting used to, and at first was really frustrating. But once I got the hang of it, I actually enjoyed it.
However, there are quite a lot of things that can be improved. For starters, the game makes it very unclear what the consequences are of choosing your class (Knight, Cleric, Farmer, etc) at the beginning. I made it five hours in the game as a Knight before I realized the Hunter class would suit my playstyle much better. All of this could have been avoided with some kind of written description of each class.
The visuals of Salt And Sanctuary also deserve some criticism. While the art is beautiful and really nails the dark atmosphere of the game, the samey color palette makes some enemies very hard to make out. This resulted in me losing a lot of health—and sometimes dying—to things I couldn’t see because they blended into the background.
Furthermore, some enemies in this game are extremely unfair, and require near perfect timing to hit or dodge. Salt And Sanctuary is pretty good at being fair to the player, but the instances where enemies are extremely overpowered are very noticeable.
Lastly, an in-game map NEEDS to be in Salt And Sanctuary. It’s absolutely baffling that there isn’t one in a game of this size, and makes it easy to get lost.
But even with these caveats, some of you may still give Salt And Sanctuary a shot. It takes some getting used to, but it contains a lot of great elements and was clearly made with great passion by Ska Studios. If you’re alright if your child playing M-rated games, maybe give this a try.
This game’s inclusion of local co-op makes for an atmospheric venture to take with your child, and I’d imagine discussing the lore and how to defeat different enemies would be great together. But please be aware: you must have more than one set of Joycon controllers to play co-op mode, as there aren’t enough buttons on a single Joycon controller for each player to use one. See this page for more information on enjoying Salt And Sanctuary together.
(Oh, and here’s a tip: If you want a challenge, start with the Chef Class, but if you want an easier experience, start with the Hunter class. Also, don’t forget about your torches, or some areas will be too dark to navigate.)
Perhaps I’ll see you in the sanctuary next time I play on Switch. In any case, my next review will be pivoting from this desolate little game, to an uplifting title to bring in the Christmas spirit. See you soon!
Naomi Norbez has been making, playing, and critiquing games since she was a kid. In her free time she makes text adventures, draws comics, and watches birds. She hopes you find her reviews helpful and values any thoughts on them you'd like to share.