Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D side-scroller brawler RPG that throws players into a Souls-like experience filled with all the brutality expected from such a game but done with a cartoonish hand-drawn style with a Metroidvania platformer appeal.
Developed and published by Ska Studios, S&S is an indie studio labor of love; designed, programmed, drawn and composed by James Silva, over two and a half years.
Combat in S&S is slow, plodding, and tactical. With a wide variety of weapons – including maces, swords, shields, heavy hammers, halberds, spears, and others – can change the nature of any fight, but just like any Souls-like game, it’s all about understanding movement and positioning, combined with judging weapon animation speed for proper blocking and counterattack.
In a grim-dark world, a single cartoonish warrior must slaughter everything
The graphics and atmosphere of S&S are filled with oppressive darkness that creeps in from the edges of the screen. The environments themselves represent their own threat, sometimes hiding traps and enemies within the brutalist, hand-drawn 2D visuals.
Underneath the fine mechanics of combat and the foreboding atmospheric play of the game features a deep skill customization tree. It is managed through an interlinked skill graph that allows players to select how they want to play from increased health, speed, access to weapons, types of armor, magic, and consumables.
Also, important, skills are not set in stone. Players can refund them as the campaign progresses, allowing for gameplay to change as needs change. This also means that it’s possible to replay the game and try entirely different approaches to combat.
Progression in S&S operates through the collection of unrefined salt, fitting the name nicely. This substance is used to upgrade skills, but it’s also the currency of mortality and can be lost to death. This creates the Souls-like hardcore aspect of gameplay where failures are punished brutally, but cautious, tactical gameplay leads to victories.
Metroidvania combined with Souls-like combat makes for a brutal, hardcore experience
Although even the basic exploration of the vertical, maze-like caverns of the game filled with dangerous opponents and traps is challenging enough, S&S bosses are massive, pitiless tests of mettle and skill. S&S bosses are huge, screen-spanning threats that require split-second timing and tactical thinking to beat.
As they’re 2D brutes, it’s sometimes possible to get trapped on one side of the screen and beaten into a pulp; but quick thinking and fast reflexes, combined with a deep understanding of attack animations will win the day.
For players interested in and even more brutal experience the game also provides a variety of hardcore modes – including Hardcore – such as Magic Only, Iron Pot Only, Oar Only, Naked, No Blocking, No Healing. All of these deliver an increased challenge in an otherwise already punishing game.
Salt and Sanctuary began its hardcore crusade through darkness and blood on March 15, 2016, and is available across numerous platforms including PlayStation 4, Windows PCs, macOS, Linux, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.