This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Salt and Sacrifice.
You remember Salt and Sanctuary; it's the top two ways to enhance a bag of chips. It was also the name of a game I played a couple of metric yonks ago, and a 2D Dark Souls clone that was one of the early ones of those, before the middle-aged cruise patron that is indie gaming loaded up its buffet platter with a few too many of those particular chicken wings. Well, for what it's worth, now we can enjoy the sequel, Salt and Sacrifice, and already, we see the franchise evolving, because sacrifice is not one of the things that will improve a bag of chips, unless you're sacrificing a jumbo sausage to the god of deep-fat fryers.
I said of the first game that it didn't seem to have much ambition beyond aping Dark Souls after it's been steamrolled flat and recreated in a sort of "some Psychonauts fan-art fell into the vacuum cleaner bag" artstyle, but a sequel can often be the big chance for a clone franchise to finally spread its wings and find its own identity now it's got an established name, the way Saints Row escaped the GTA clone label to become its own brand of madcap fun, and Outlast 2 escaped the trite survival horror setting to become a huge pile of shit. And I'm pleased to report, Salt and Sacrifice does successfully pull the franchise away from "2D Dark Souls clone"; now it's a 2D Monster Hunter clone, as well. You did it, boys!
The almost-completely-unrelated-to-the-plot-of-the-first-game plot is this: You did a dirty crime, and as punishment, get drafted into the Inquisition to go hunt evil mages in the requisite fallen kingdom. You even get to pick what crime you did, so obviously, I took "Drunkenness" for maximum role-play value. At first, I rolled a knight in heavy armor, 'cos that's usually the beginner's class for babbies, then after approximately three seconds of gameplay, I remembered that the 100% universal strategy for 2D Dark Souls combat is just to dodge-roll through the enemy as they attack and plunge something pointy into the place proctologists professionally prefer to probe. So I ditched that character and rerolled as a light-armored duelist-style fighter, with more dodgy rolls in them than an unsanitary sushi restaurant.
Another thing that's come up a lot in the 2D Dark Souls genre is that there's a limit to what you can do with 2D level design compared to 3D, and it's a lot more confusing to navigate without a map, which the game still stubbornly refuses to have. But Salty Sacrifice shifts from "huge, interconnected overworld" to a more Demon's Souls-y series of smaller hub-based worlds, which alleviates that a bit, if not the sense that every area is just another variety of grimy, desaturated wallpaper slapped over the same platforming arrangements as always.
But about that Monster Hunter influence; as you explore an area, probing its hidden crevices for treasure and progress, you'll find a spot where a hazy stench of body odor and a few discarded Cheetos signals that a mage has been there recently, one of the giant all-powerful nerds that are causing all the trouble 'round here, and from there, we can commence the mage hunt for that area, where we follow the sound of obnoxious snorting laughter and trail of Magic: The Gathering cards, until we find the mage in the middle of a scrap between the local mobs who live here and its summoned monsters, get a few hits in to make it teleport somewhere else, then repeat until we can trap them in the one men's rights activists' subreddit where it intends to make its last stand and duff it up in a more traditionally Dark Souls-y enclosed arena boss fight with big health bar pasted over it like it's trying to censor out the skirting board. So it's basically Monster Hunter if every single monster you hunt is a copy-paste of the same twenty-foot-tall nerd wearing different bathrobes.
After killing them, you harvest the body for their unique anime T-shirts and fanny packs, which you can then craft into unique armor and weapons relating to the specific element of magic that the mage represented. “Crafting, Yahtz?!", I hear you cry, as you reach for your gat. Yes, but practically the same way you make boss weapons in Dark Souls. You probably don't need one to win; it's just there for people who want something to really tie their outfit together at the next Inquisition ball. And when it comes to crafting healing items-- "CRAFTING, YAHTZ?!" Whoa, don't shoot! I say "crafting"; you just pick up herbs absolutely bloody everywhere, and when you stop at a checkpoint, your herbs are automatically converted into healing potions one-to-one. So that's not even crafting; that's just cutting off crafting's face and wearing it like a mask so that crafting's girlfriend will go out with you.
In every practical sense, it's the same healing system as Bloodborne; you remember, the healing system that absolutely fucking sucked. This shit was perfected in Dark Souls 1: free healing potions at every checkpoint, a socialized healthcare system that works. But oh, no; mustn't let anyone think we're not innovating. So Bloodborne basically had the American health insurance system: a potion - that is, healthcare - is a limited consumable, and you just get a lot of them, which is fine until you have a particularly hard boss - that is, prolonged chronic medical complaint - and you run out of healing - that is, medical-grade marijuana - ten attempts in, and have to stop attempting the challenge and piss off to the starting area to grind up healing items again; that is, get a second job. And when you go back to the hard boss fight, you waste a bunch of the healing you grinded for, 'cos you're out of practice now; that is, you're so tired, you can't even bother to get spliffed up anymore.
And that's exactly what happened towards the end of Salt and Sacrifice. There's a rather obnoxious difficulty spike in the last couple of areas; suddenly, even the basic enemies can kill me in two hits, or just teleport me to them wherever I am and fill me full of unavoidable damage, and that's the kind of really fucking annoying behavior that means you magic nerds never get replies on OkCupid, you know? So I ran out of healing on the final boss, and at that point, I so completely couldn't give four-fifths of a flake of dried fuck for grinding up potions again, so I just watched the ending on YouTube; that is, traveled to Switzerland for dignified euthanasia. And I'm glad I didn't waste my energy, 'cos the ending's lame.
So leave now if you're allergic to spoilers, but before you go, final summary: I'd have rated Salt 'N' Sacrifice a lot higher if I'd stopped playing it a couple of hours sooner, before the healing system bit me in the arse, before the mage fights got samey, and before the murky artstyle clashing with the excessive whizz-bang particle effects like someone poured Sprite all over a bowl of porridge started to bother me. So, spoiler time: at the end, you fight a big, exhausted, mostly dead guy who, it turns out, is the only thing keeping the world going, and after you put them out of their misery, you decide whether to take their place or let the world die and build something new on the ashes.
Oh, sorry, did I say the ending's lame? I meant the ending's same; the same. The same ending as every Dark Souls, and 90% of Dark Souls imitators; guess the Monster Hunter dalliance could only last so long. How about some creativity, guys? What if we reach the dude keeping the world alive, and he's actually pretty okay with how things are going, because... he lives in a country where the healthcare doesn't suck?
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