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Salt and Sanctuary review for PS Vita, PS4


Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: Ska Studios
Developer: Ska Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

Since its PC release last year, Salt and Sanctuary has developed a reputation as being kind of like a 2D Dark Souls. And to some extent, this reputation is pretty well-earned. It's a bloody, difficult platformer with plenty of RPG elements. It's got a distinctly Gothic look and feel, and it doesn't lack for blood or violence. You're battling your way through a haunted world, full of ghosts and monsters and all kinds of vicious creatures out to kill you. For all those reasons and more, the comparison is undoubtedly apt.

However, I feel like reducing Salt and Sanctuary to simply “2D Dark Souls” minimizes what the game does in its own right. For starters, there is that aforementioned Gothic look and feel. With all its shadows and hidden monsters lurking around every bend, I feel like the more appropriate description would probably be one that invokes Edward Gorey. It has the same macabre feeling, and the main character here is just as likely to suffer any number of brutal deaths.

On top of that, Salt and Sanctuary's sounds do a tremendous job of adding to the overall sense of unease. And I don't just mean the sparse score, creepy though it may be. This is a game where every little sound, from the way barrels explode when you hit them to the sticky sounds of your sword running through the undead, adds to the ominous feel.

Gameplay-wise, the game owes a clear debt to all sorts of Metroidvanias that have come before it — including, obviously, one half of the genre’s portmanteau, Castlevania. It doesn’t build too much on your typical Metroidvania platformer, but I can say that it still finds a way of making use of the Vita’s unique features, allowing you to use the touchscreen to quickly use items in your inventory. Obviously, that’s far from unique, but it’s still a nice way of adapting to the handheld.

For me, though, the biggest thing separating Salt and Sanctuary from Dark Souls is that it’s not quite as sadistic towards beginners. Whereas the Souls games are notoriously challenging for newcomers (at least in my experience), Salt and Sanctuary does a good of easing players into the difficulty. While early enemies are aggressive, and you need to space your attacks out to preserve energy, it never feels impossible. The game does an outstanding job of giving players an idea of what’s in store, without making it so hard that less talented players are tempted to simply give up.

Now, I should note (if it’s not already blatantly obvious) that I’ve never been able to get into any of the Souls games, so my logic in all of this is a little cyclical, with a healthy dose of appeal to authority thrown in for good measure — I’m basically saying that I like Salt and Sanctuary, but I never liked Dark/Demon Souls, therefore Salt and Sanctuary can’t be a 2D Dark Souls. So you’ll want to take much of what I’ve said so far with a few grains of salt. However, one conclusion that I think everyone can agree on is this: Salt and Sanctuary is one heck of a game.

Grade: B+