Salt and Sanctuary Switch – Praise the salt

Posted on August 5, 2018

Ska Studio’s challenging 2D Souls-like has finally made it to the Nintendo Switch. The system has been a haven for popular retro-inspired 2D indie games, so how does Salt and Sanctuary fare on the Switch? After several hours of playing, I am able to go over some of the port’s qualities.

The port was handled by Blitworks, a studio that has made many other well-done port jobs in the past, such as Owlboy. In terms of performance, the game is fantastic. In a game as difficult as Salt and Sanctuary, it is important that the controls be as responsive as possible. The game runs at a near-constant 60fps, with occasional drops during hectic moments. Once I had adjusted to some of the game’s odd quirks, like how attacking in the air makes you hover for a bit, or how even small drops can cause fall damage, the game felt very responsive. I always felt like any deaths were due to me not paying attention or reacting fast enough.

In many ways, the game is improved on a portable system. For instance, the game has a deliberately muted colour palette, which works well for Salt and Sanctuary’s gloomy atmosphere. However, this can also make it difficult to tell enemies, traps and background details apart at a distance.  As a result, having the screen much closer makes it easier to distinguish between what is trying to kill you and what isn’t. However, this muted colour scheme also means that it can be hard to see in less-than-ideal lighting.  As a result, that is something to consider when playing it on public transport.

Like the games it is taking inspiration from, Salt and Sanctuary starts you off on an island and tells you to explore and fight bosses. Another aspect that makes it suitable for portable play is frequent checkpoints; players can save and level up at sanctuaries, however the game also puts mini-sanctuaries near boss fights. As a result, it is well-suited to picking up and playing on the go. I still kind of wish that pausing the game actually paused the game, however, and didn’t leave the player character open to attacks whilst sorting through inventory.

Some frustrations from the original versions of the game persist. For instance, the game could really do with a map screen. Dark Souls doesn’t really need one due to the world’s verticality and how most of the map can be seen in the distance. However, on a 2D plane, Salt and Sanctuary is reliant on the player to remember how each section connects to one another. Furthermore, the focus on platforming in some sections, where enemy attacks can send you flying backwards into bottomless pits, stray somewhat from the game’s “tough but fair” design.

However, the game overall is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by re-purposing old ideas in new ways. Sure, the game doesn’t really try and pretend much that it isn’t trying to be a mashup of Dark Souls and Castlevania on a budget. However, the game executes those ideas in interesting and fun ways. Salt and Sanctuary is challenging, atmospheric and well-suited to multiple playthroughs with different player classes. It is a great fit for the Nintendo Switch, and a perfect appetiser for anyone hungry for the ever-delayed Switch port of Dark Souls.