Easy breezy sanctuary.
SKA Studio’s previous efforts on Xbox Live Arcade garnered my attention with their distinct art style and fanatic hack & slash gameplay.
When I heard that they were making a new game, I was expecting a spiritual successor to the Dishwasher series or perhaps another multiplayer brawler.
However, when I learned that it would be something more akin to a 2D Souls game, I was concerned that it might be a difficult venture for such a small developer.
Despite my concerns, SKA Studio comes through with flying colors, and if it were not for some issues with bugs and difficulty balancing, it could have stood toe to toe with the very games they’re inspired by.
Platforms: PS4, PSV (TBD)
Multiplayer: Local co-op only
Length: 20-25 hours
The story in S&S is mostly throwaway set dressing, its existence serving the purpose of delivery rather than drive, as the reason to continue to explore and delve deeper into this world has very little to do with wanting to find out what happens next.
Instead, it’s all about seeing the next boss and the new areas with more variety of enemies.
Sure, there are NPC quests to progress and a lot of lore about the mysterious island, but none of it seemed all that compelling to me, and I never felt the desire to try and piece together all the cryptic hints into one single cohesive picture.
However, this is not a mark against the game, as the true meat of the experience lies in the exploration and combat.
The move to 2D means there’s no sidestepping, or circling the enemy using a lock-on.
In order to compensate, there’s a dedicated jump button which comes in handy for both combat and exploration.
The player can block or dodge attacks but must always be mindful of the stamina meter, which drains with every action.
There’s good variety of weapon types, from the standard sword to hammers to something more exotic like a whip. The weapons can also be transmuted using items from enemies to forge unique death dealers such as a favorite of mine, “The Jaws of Death”.
It’s a 2-handed greatsword that doubles as a pair of oversized scissors that can deal out massive damage in short order.
There’s also a nice selection of armor types to deck your character out in, but I settled on a nice heavy set and stuck with it, upgrading it as I progressed the game.
While it’s immediately apparent that S&S wears its Souls inspirations on its sleeves, it also harkens back to metroidvania elements, as the player gains access to new abilities/moves that open up previously unexplored areas they could not reach.
The combat felt quick and satisfying, as I constantly found myself dodging, parrying and maximizing the use of my stamina, all the while being on the lookout for paths to new areas and hidden secrets.
Unfortunately, during the course of my adventure, I encountered many different bugs and glitches.
Once, the game hard locked for no apparent reason, throwing out an error message, and when I loaded the game back up, I had lost 15-20 minutes of progress.
I found myself trapped on the ground, unable to move along with other instances where I was falling upwards in a never ending spiral which required me to close the application as well, losing progress once more.
It’s not as though I was actively looking for glitches, and to have run into more than a handful during my playthrough tells me that S&S was not extensively tested before launch.
Lastly, I would say that my biggest complaint about S&S is that it’s actually a bit too easy.
In the first few hours of the game, it felt challenging enough, but after I figured out the various mechanics and got a decent weapon, I was basically killing every boss all the way to the end with a single attempt.
A good weapon with a decent set of upgraded armor just allowed me to slash away at the boss with complete abandon in a DPS race to see who can kill who first and I came out on top, every time.
It’s a shame because many of the bosses looked the part of a menacing foe, but when I started hacking away, they crumbled all too fast.
Salt and Sanctuary is a great game- built on a solid combat engine and a world that begs to be explored. If it weren’t for the numerous bugs and the pedestrian difficulty, it could have been something truly exceptional.
Fun Tidbit – I am considering another playthrough using something other than the 2H greatsword as it is possible that I just happened to pick the most overpowered thing in the game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.