Health low and potion count even lower, you anxiously climb down a chain ladder — anticipating a skeleton and sword-wielding executioner to charge out of the corner once you’re on your feet again. It’s not the vile creatures or haunting atmosphere of the Red Hall of Cages that spooks you, it’s that you’ve gone 20 minutes since stumbling across a save station. Even though you may feel like you’re on a roll — slicing up skeletons and bats left and right — you know deep down that one slash when you should have dodged will send you, and all the salt you’ve accumulated, to an untimely end.
Believe me, it’ll happen. And it’ll happen again. And again. Yet, because of this grueling difficulty — not in spite of it — Salt and Sanctuary is one of the most rewarding and addicting action-RPGs available on Nintendo Switch.
Patience is a Virtue
Salt and Sanctuary doesn’t waste its time on lengthy tutorials or cutscenes. Players are thrown right into the game’s world, with its backstory and lore ever-present in the background. Salt and Sanctuary is essentially a 2D Dark Souls clone, and just like Dark Souls, much of the world’s lore is contained in item and weapon descriptions; however, while the locales have a lot of variety in Salt and Sanctuary, they aren’t able to tell a story quite like Dark Souls does. It’s also far more blunt than the often-obtuse masterpiece it takes inspiration from. Thankfully, the story and lore isn’t required to enjoy the game. Salt and Sanctuary is all about the action and adventure.
One of the best parts of Salt and Sanctuary is how it teaches players mechanics and how to adventure through its world by having players actually, you know, play, instead of bogging them down with walls of text. I hate to throw around the term since it gets overused, but Salt and Sanctuary is a true “Metroidvania” — meaning that players explore the map in a 2D platforming fashion, and must backtrack or divert their course to another area once they come up on a progress-hindering obstacle. In Salt and Sanctuary, those obstacles are usually locked doors that have keys hidden in other areas, or obstacles that can only be crossed after players have obtained a specific ability.
This is all taught to players in the game’s first area, where players have to platform up, down, left, and right before they finally reach a boss and get a key — then they have to backtrack near the start of the area to use the key and continue on. There are plenty of shortcuts that players can unlock as well, like kicking down ladders to save backtracking time. A save station, called a Sanctuary, is conveniently located just outside. This first area is just a shrunken-down preview of what to expect with Salt and Sanctuary; the rest of the game takes this basic premise and expands it to the entire world map.
This is all done without access to an in-game map, by the way. Salt and Sanctuary really requires players to maintain spacial awareness and log a map in their mind’s eye. There aren’t any Metroid Fusion-esque waypoints telling players where to go next at all times. There isn’t even fast travel between Sanctuaries by default; players have to offer up a Stone Guide at a Sanctuary to enable fast travel from that Sanctuary to others. These guides are found around the game’s world, along with other Stones that summon blacksmiths for equipment upgrades, alchemists for weapon transmutation (you can make all sorts of cool-looking stuff!), and more.
The lack of a map might be a dealbreaker for some people, though. A friend of mine that’s all about “Metroidvania” style games said that the lack of a map would drive him insane. For me, though, it actually enhances the sense of exploration in Salt and Sanctuary. Instead of constantly checking the map to figure out where to go next, you have to backtrack and go through every fork in the road that you shunned earlier. This is made even more intense by the number of combat encounters there are, and the fact that death sends you back to the last Sanctuary you found.
Enemies are abundant in Salt and Sanctuary. There are skeletons, bats, blobs, undead knights, and all sorts of creepy creatures. There’s rarely a 1v1 encounter, too. A strong enemy might be accompanied by a handful of weaker ones, or there just might be a single enemy that’s as tall as the TV. Since it’s 2D, the combat isn’t as unforgiving as Dark Souls is, although one wrong move can spell disaster. There are all sorts of playstyles in Salt and Sanctuary, all of which can be enhanced through a deep skill tree system that awards players one skill point at each level up (leveling up requires salt nabbed from dead enemies and praying at a Santuary; enemies will steal your salt if they slay you). I started using a sword and shield, but then switched to a two-handed greatsword that absolutely demolished enemies. I wouldn’t dare use a greatsword in Dark Souls, though. Some of the weapons I didn’t bother trying out were magical and prayer-based attacks, bows, and whips. There are even whip-swords, which sound cool as hell — I never ended up using one, though, because I spent hours upon hours grinding to level up my greatsword. It got to the point where my greatsword and character were over-leveled in each area I came across about halfway through the game. Salt and Sanctuary is an excellent game to play while binging some podcasts and grinding out levels.
Just like Dark Souls, the bosses in Salt and Sanctuary are gigantic and come with little to no warning (apparently there’s a candelabra that denotes a boss battle ahead, but I didn’t notice that until the very end). Bosses have fairly simple attack patterns to pick up on; the challenge in these fights comes from the sheer amount of space they consume on-screen and how much damage they inflict.
Interestingly enough, I found that the best strategy for boss battles is to eschew everything about combat that Salt and Sanctuary has taught you. Don’t be patient and careful, always weary of making one wrong move. Just apply some holy magic onto your most powerful weapon and wail on the boss until it dies. There’s usually a mini save station just outside the boss’s lair, so dying doesn’t have as much of an impact as it does during the rest of the game. There were only two bosses in the entire game where my swing-happy strategy didn’t really work. One of them fires a musket that almost one-hit killed me each time, which was a little cheap. The boss battles are the most glaring blemish on an otherwise fantastic game.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review copy for Salt and Sanctuary was provided by