Let's not mince words here. Salt and Sanctuary is 2D Dark Souls. Your enjoyment of this title will almost entirely be predicated on whether or not you liked that series of games. It's hard. It's unforgivingly hard. But if you're the kind of person who likes these challenges, that thrives on coming back time and time again until you finally vanquish the foe that has humiliated you so many times before, this game will definitely be up your alley.
The game lets you choose from different classes, including obvious choices like warrior and thief and wizard, but also beggar and blacksmith. You're then thrown into a Lovecraftian world in a bid to escort a princess to safety when, of course, you're attacked by Cthulu. Not literally Cthulu, but... sea monster... huge... tentacle face... It's Cthulu. If you're incredibly skilled you might survive the encounter but the game isn't relying on this. You (most likely) lose and end up on the shores of a strange land where you declare your fealty to one of three gods and then, well... you kill stuff.
The titular Salt and Sanctuary come in the form of the game's main mechanics. You can claim Sanctuaries in the name of your god, which lets you respawn there (for a price) as well as level up and do shopping if you've made the appropriate offerings. By defeating creatures in the world you earn salt which can be spent back at a sanctuary to level up your character. Pretty simple. Of course if you die your salt is left wherever you fell, forcing you to return and destroy either the monster that bested you or a manifestation of your failure if you just fell off a cliff or sprung a trap.
Your class dictates how you start the game, but where you go from there is completely up to you. With the right leveling, your berserker swordsman can learn to chuck spells or shoot bows. But be prepared to learn through trial an error. The game, beyond a few control mechanics, isn't keen on showing you what any particular thing means or does. Beyond that it ups the ante by only autosaving, having no difficulty settings, and not pausing the game when you go into your inventory. This game is hardcore. And, just to make sure you understand exactly how the game feels about you, don't be surprised if you return to an area and find your own corpse hanging from the gallows as a constant reminder of your failures.
The game is hard, I think I've made that much clear. But is it fun? I suppose that depends on what you gain enjoyment from. If you're the kind of person that loves a challenge and doesn't mind grinding to get better and constantly running past piles of your own corpse, then yes! Even I have to admit there's a guttural pleasure to finally besting a creature that has introduced your face to the business end of their sword fifteen times. There's a drive to get back, to not let the game beat you. But at the same time, the frustration level can sometimes be higher than I'm up for.
It's definitely not a game for “casuals.” If you start down this path, you're in for a long, painful ride. The general mobs are easy enough and there's enough of them to farm salt, but the bosses... oh! The bosses! Obviously they're much harder than the general schmucks that patrol their keeps, but the path to them is always designed to whittle down your character just enough. No matter how many sanctuaries you get, you'll never arrive at a boss fight with full health or stamina. It's clever. Sadistic, but clever. On top of that, the world, as previously mentioned, is a Lovecraftian nightmare. Despite the 2D cartoon look, things are drab. The sun is never out, the grass is never green, and you will always be walking among fields of death. But, if that's your cup of tea, you might just be in for a heck a of a ride.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.