It's no secret that this latest Metroidvania title borrows heavily from the Souls series of action RPGs. However, Salt and Sanctuary translates the established formula into two dimensions which makes it quite the intriguing experiment.
Before I begin, let me take a second to brag and say that I earned Salt and Sanctuary's platinum trophy. As someone who doesn't give a hoot about trophies, you know that a game has to be something special for me to even care about unlocking all of them. So, what makes Salt and Sanctuary this good? To put it simply, it takes the existing Souls formula and adapts it to a 2D Metroidvania format. This mixture of gameplay works wonderfully and will have any fan of either of the two genres hooked until they complete it, then they'll probably play it some more. I don't want to talk about the gameplay in-depth because there are so many factors that this review will end up sounding more like an instruction manual. Basically, whatever you imagine a 2D Dark Souls being is what this game is. Salt acts as souls, sanctuaries act as bonfires, and your fully customizable character is whoever you want them to be.
As with the Souls series, Salt and Sanctuary maintains a pitch-perfect mysterious and eerie vibe throughout complete with minimalist story and bits and pieces of lore. What sets Salt and Sanctuary apart is its gorgeous artwork. Everything from the characters to enemies to environments is rendered beautifully. The animation is stunning as you observe every friend and foe move with pure fluidity. When it comes to audio, the effects sound like they're lifted straight from a Souls game while the music is much grittier. You'll hear electric guitars building on top of the atmospheric ambience which creates a more visceral soundscape. The only thing that's missing is a full voice cast, but the brilliance displayed here more than makes up for any absent elements.
For some perspective, it took me a few hours shy of twenty to complete the whole adventure and obtain the platinum trophy. Of course, different players will take longer or shorter but considering every Souls game I own has at least one hundred hours on the clock, it's safe to say that this is one fifth of the length. That being said, there are so many rewarding secrets hidden in every nook and cranny that I'm sure I haven't actually found everything. You'll come across entirely optional areas, loads of shortcuts, more weapons and armour than you can count, and the occasional helpful NPC. Exploring the world is simply phenomenal. Anyway, it should be noted that unlike Souls, Salt and Sanctuary can't be played online, but you can have a local chum join you if you want.
Although Salt and Sanctuary is a must-buy game for any Souls or Metroidvania fan, it does have a few downsides. The first of which is that all of the familiar gameplay elements actually end up making it come across as unoriginal at times. Even when I was fully immersed in the gameplay, I found myself battling an enemy or hearing a sound that was unmistakably lifted straight from a Souls or Castlevania title. For reference, I thought a game that combined elements from these two series very well while remaining to feel completely original was Apotheon. Moving on, the challenges within Salt and Sanctuary can almost always be overcome by spending a few minutes levelling up and upgrading your equipment. Because of this, I never felt like I had to strategize which made progress much less satisfying than in similar titles. Finally, most of the world looks very similar. Whereas other Metroidvanias strive to craft unique areas, Salt and Sanctuary's environments mostly vary in colours and brightness. No single area stood out to me as unique and the same could be said about the bosses. With a few exceptions, the majority of them are uninspired and easily defeated with little to no strategy. In the end, these complaints don't add up to much because the overall game is so immersive that you'll easily forgive any of its shortcomings.
Salt and Sanctuary is a fantastic Souls / Metroidvania hybrid that'll keep you hooked for hours at a time. With gorgeous style and a ton of hidden treasures waiting to be found, this is one world that any gamer worth their salt would love to get lost in.
- + Addictive Souls-inspired gameplay works perfectly in two dimensions
- + Incredible art style and spot-on audio
- + Loads of secrets to uncover
- - Many familiar elements add up to make the experience come across as unoriginal
- - Far too easy with little strategy required
- - Most areas and bosses are unmemorable