This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Salt and Sanctuary.
Remember a while back I said we should stop using the phrase "Dark Souls clone" just like I once said we should stop saying "Grand Theft Auto clone" and then Sleeping Dogs came out and I had to say "Spoke too fucking soon!"? I got nothing left and I can't call Salt and Sanctuary a Dark Souls clone. If you put a banana on its head, I could call it "that game that has a banana on its head", but until that day, let's stick with "Dark Souls clone". Games like Bloodborne and Lords of the Fallen are certainly Dark Souls-esque, but nothing less than "clone" feels adequate for Salt and Sanctuary. The only main difference being the paltry fact that it's a 2D platformer. "That sounds like a pretty fucking significant difference to me, Yahtzee!" Well, of course you'd think that, voice in my head. You're obviously a technically-minded sort or you wouldn't keep trying to get me to buy knives.
A third dimension does not a Dark Souls make. Dark Souls is in the tone, the muddy visuals, the grim futile atmosphere of an anxiety dream of a medieval knight with galloping syphilis. There are plenty of gameplay differences and there's the fact that Dark Souls never had a superdeformed character art style reminiscent of an edgy webcomic from the early 2000's drawn by someone who wasn't very good at anatomy, but considered it very important that there exist a portrait of a Furry Jesus Christ trying to remove his knob from a stillborn fetus.
But despite all that, there are moments when Salt and Sanctuary could almost be a direct 2D adaptation of Dark Souls with the names changed into slightly shittier ones. Quick example: "Blighttown" was a good name for a ramshackle colony on a poisonous bog, "Mire of Stench", not so much, 'cos it's kind of redundant and immediately reminds me of that David Bowie film.
Anyway, in Salt and Sanctuary, you are drowning in semen. Oop, my mistake. In Salt and Sanctuary, you are a drowning seaman, who wakes up after the traditional impossible opening boss fight to find themselves on the shores of a mysterious haunted land consisting of fragments of dead civilizations crammed together like six piglets in a duffle bag, populated by the undead and the occasional top half of a person grafted onto something that isn't one of the very small number of things that is very appropriate for the top half of a person to be grafted onto.
You set off to find the princess you were supposed to be escorting, but the game puts in very little effort into pretending that that is the actual plot, so we set off to explore the open-ended landscape and gather salt from our enemies, which is different to souls 'cause you can't put souls on your chips. But otherwise it's just as useful to upgrading your character at bonfires- whoops, I mean sanctuaries. When you die, you lose all your salt (which is a bit counter-intuitive because getting killed makes me pretty fucking salty) and also a percentage of your money. Ah, that's something different. In Dark Souls, you charge everything to your souls account whereas in Salt and Sanctuary, money and salt are separate things. I'm not sure why though, 'cos the only things money can buy are low level items that stop being useful about 30 seconds into the game, and you do all your weapon upgrading with salt and with specific items of vendor trash that dying enemies puke out like reverse vacuum cleaners. So every time I died and the game waggled its finger informing me that it was taking a percentage of my cash, I'd be all like, "Oh no, please don't. I hate having to manually pull my trousers down."
Another difference is that you can populate sanctuaries with NPC vendors and must decide if it's worth giving up a precious blacksmith token to be able to get your sword upgraded at the summit of Mt. Bumfuck. Except there's also a vendor that lets you teleport between sanctuaries, so just put one of those in as many places as you can and stick all the other vendors in one or two of the nice sanctuaries with the affordable beachfront real estate.
Now, you understand I'm not complaining that a game is reminiscent of Dark Souls, 'cos me and Dark Souls is like your mum and pies. But certain important things are lost in the shift to 2D. For example, Salt and Sanctuary could really do with a fucking map. Dark Souls can't have one 'cos there's too much verticality, but it also doesn't really need one 'cos it's got the scenery porn thing. "Better look around and figure out where I am. Oh, I remember now! I'm in a fantasy nightmare world, and I'm making my way towards that vast brick phallus in the distance. Gosh, can't wait to find out how many things want to murder me there!" You don't have that in 2D. In 2D, what you've got is, "Gosh, I can't wait to see what's past this 20 feet of stairway I'm currently looking at." In Dark Souls, whenever I warped to an old bonfire, I never had to wander about a few minutes trying to work out where the fuck I was in relation to everywhere else. So, map please. You don't have to be a pushover about it, make it kind of abstract or fire scorpions at my mouth every time I look at it.
Combat obviously loses some complexity in 2D, but Salty Sancho admirably recreates the most important characteristics of Souls combat, by which I mean dodge-rolling behind people as they attack always works and the hit boxes are absolutely fucked. Where the combat rubs up against the border between Dark Souls Town and Symphony of the Night-ville is when you get hit by a heavy attack and your character goes flying gaily across the screen like a happy little tear-gas canister at a protest against police brutality. Which wasn't that annoying in Symphony of the Night 'cos there was no fall damage, but guess what there's gobs of in Salty Sancho, along with the platforming emphasis which means you're never more than ten steps from a death drop, again kind of like your mum and pies.
Of all the many times that I died in this game, about 60% of them was from being knocked off a ledge and 30% were from failing to grab a ledge 'cos the PS4 analog sticks misbehaved. But Salty Sancho's flinging fuckery was also its downfall, 'cos the final boss somehow managed to clip me into a wall in such a way that it couldn't hit me but I could hit him, 'cos I was using a greatsword about half the length of my dick. I then beat him with ease, thinking to myself, "Well, I was probably just about to win anyway". And that, people, is how easy it is to fall to the Dark Side! Mind you, some of the flying bosses fucked me up by initiating their attacks from off-screen, so I guess we can call it even on the naughty cheating front, Salty Sancho.
On the whole, I seem to remember enjoying my time with Saltine Crackers, but then, I've never been the same since the stroke. As you may have noticed, I have trouble moving past the Dark Souls comparison, so it's possibly struggling to find an identity. The cartoony art style is pretty appropriate, since the game as a whole feels like a big-headed chibi version of Dark Souls, Marlon Brando midget-style, with its smaller, kind of samey environments and more frequent boss fights that make it feel thinly-spread. I don't know how much of my absorption came from the game itself and how much came from it reminding me of my happy place, but who gives a shit? It's Dark Souls with Symphony of the Night plugged into the gaps and I like both games, so I'm having a blowjob while snacking on fun-sized Mars Bars!
- Full of piss and vinegar: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I can't wait for the sequel where you have to upgrade yourself with garlic pepper and MSG
- Try to resist the urge to lick yourself