Before I dig into Salt and Sanctuary, it's important for me to stand up in front of the class and admit I've yet to play a Souls game.
It's important because Ska Studios' Salt and Sanctuary has been noted (accused, even) for being derivative of FromSoftware's brutal action RPG series. Heck, even I can see the thematic similarities despite the fact Souls, Bloodborne, and its ilk are all on my "To Do" list.
And while I suppose I can understand why some players might be bothered by the similarities between Salt and Sanctuary and FromSoftware's work, I find myself thinking about Re-Logic's 2D building / exploration game, Terraria, and its similarities to Mojang's Minecraft.
Is the former inspired by the latter? Absolutely. Does that have any impact on the fact Terraria is great, and might even be preferable for people who feel a bit overwhelmed by Minecraft's 3D world? Not at all.
So from my angle as a Souls maiden, Salt and Sanctuary is a tough, expansive platforming game that reminds me of Konami's best Castlevania games on the PlayStation and Nintendo DS. That's pretty high praise.
Salt and Sanctuary is a little more flexible and definitely more challenging than Konami's old works, however. You're not restricted to any one fighting style. In fact, your choices are nearly endless thanks to the game's expansive skill tree, which lets you pick from myriad skills and stat buffs whenever you level up. I started as a whip-wielding Hunter, and even though I've continued to build myself up thusly because someone out there has to scratch my Castlevania itch, I'm not locked into place.
Sure, starting the game as a Hunter means my closest stat boosts favor dexterity, but I can wander where I please -- and I have. I dabbled a little in magic. I built up my strength a bit because some of the whips I wield are bolstered by my strength stat. And I've become quite proficient with shields, because enemies in Salt and Sanctuary hit hard.
Foes are plentiful on the dread island you're tasked with exploring, and many of them are clever. They block, weave, duck, and leap from branch to branch while sniping at you with arrows. They know when to take advantage of other enemies' protections, like the accursed Heartseeker who's capable of shielding its comrades.
And woe be unto thee if you're snagged by a pack of enemies. Melee attacks cause cumulative damage, and a couple of well-placed combos from even low-tier baddies can do you in. Salt and Sanctuary is not a game you can play lackadaisically, especially if you're exploring unfamiliar territory.
But for every trick enemies can pull, and for every attack they can lob at you, you have a way of returning fire. The titular salt and sanctuary are your biggest assets. Salt, which is mainly acquired by slaying enemies, lets you level up. Sanctuaries heal you and refill your supply of health-restoring Blessed Water. Sanctuaries also house merchants, blacksmiths, and other valuable NPCs that you can summon to your aid, and altars devoted to your patron god can offer special bonuses.
Surviving in Salt and Sanctuary isn't just about playing defensively, though. Your melee attacks are every bit as damaging as your foes', plus you can roll past many blows. Of course, your dodging ability depends largely on how you outfit yourself. Lightweight armor doesn't afford you as much protection against physical damage as a good ol' suit of full-plate, but you trade off catlike movement for clunky dodge-rolls that resemble a banana tumbling downhill (unless you build your endurance stat to a ridiculous level).
Salt and Sanctuary is definitely a game that affords you a real sense of progress as you level up, especially when its Metroidvania element kicks in and you open up pathways to new challenges in old areas. It's immensely satisfying to glide past old enemies that terrorized you ten levels ago -- though, as previously mentioned, getting cocky can still land you in a lot of trouble.
It doesn't matter if you're not a platforming expert; Salt and Sanctuary's challenges are surmountable as long as you study enemies' movements and counter with a fighting style you're comfortable with.
If all else fails, you can always grind for salt, which is something I did often. Much as I love platformers, I'm impatient and tend to rush headlong into challenges, which is an excellent way to die in Salt and Sanctuary. I reached level 55 after funneling considerable hours into the game, but didn't complete it. There's a lot to see and do, and you're encouraged to travel off the beaten path and feel around for your next destination. Nobody tells you where you ought to go next. You just wander there, and you enjoy the trip, even if Retchfeeders are gnawing on your ankle the whole way there. That's the mark of a good Metroidvania.
It's fine to point out that Salt and Sanctuary takes some of its ideas from the Souls titles, but it's also fine to point out that the game's 2D action makes it impossible for it to be a mere copycat.
Put bluntly, if you just want a good, highly satisfying platforming game, Salt and Sanctuary will treat you well. Yes, you'll get bitten, burned, stabbed, and sent back to the altar of your patron god again and again, but that's how the game shows its love. It's kind of like being snuggled by a voracious hellhound.
Salt and Sanctuary doesn't do a lot of explaining about its mechanics, but it's not too hard to figure things out with a bit of experimentation. This is definitely a game that will benefit from online communities sharing hunting tips.
There are plenty of secrets stuffed into every nook and cranny. The speed at which you work through the game depends on your skill level. There's also a local multiplayer option if you want to get a friend killed along with you.
Salt and Sanctuary's soundtrack hangs out in the background. It won't disturb you, which is good: Recognizing sound effects and reacting accordingly helps keep you alive.
Some of Salt and Sanctuary's environments are a bit same-y. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of misty greys and browns on display here, though you can count on bright red splashes of blood to break things up a bit.
Salt and Sanctuary is a quality platformer with well-implemented Metroidvania elements. It's brutal at times, but deeply satisfying to play. Is it thematically derivative of the Souls games? Yes, but not disgustingly so. Just get out there and give a few demons what for.