4 out of 5. Local Co-op. Souls-Like Metroidvania Hybrid. Methodical and rewarding combat sweetened by its punishing nature. Potentially thousands of ways to customize your character.

How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Souls-Like/Metroidvania Hybrid that borrows a little more from the former than the latter, adding mechanics like damage from falling while still maintaining the exploration-focused upgrades of the Metroidvania genre.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~18 hours
Review Info: This game was played on Steam

More Info

Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Ska Studios
Sub-genre: Souls-Like
Features: Skill Trees, Equipment System, Random Loot, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat, Environmental Storytelling, Sequence Breaking, Character/Class Options, Crafting System, Blood and Gore
Difficulty: High, Brutal
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Linux, MacOS, Steam, Switch, PS4, PSVita, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016/03/15
Available Languages: English, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese

Store Links

    Amazon    Steam    Humble Bundle    Playstation    Xbox Store    Nintendo eShop    

Buy Salt and Sanctuary if you like…

  • Souls-Like games (And Souls-Like challenge)
  • Local Co-op
  • Dark, Gothic atmosphere
  • High levels of meaningful character customization
  • Pumpkins

▼ Review continues below ▼

Salt and Sanctuary is a hybrid Souls-Like and Metroidvania, and while I don’t think it excels at either of those aspects compared to its more specialized competitors, it does deliver a fun and engaging challenge.

It does after all, get a lot of things right. It takes the stamina system, slower combat, and high stakes damage from the Souls games and does a great job implementing well-telegraphed bosses and enemies to compliment those mechanics. The leveling system is also borrowed from Souls, and it rewards smart play with an abundance of progression options, supporting several playstyles with potentially thousands of minor variations. With the addition of jumping within the 2D space, S&S adds fun aerial attacks to add another layer of combo potential to the game’s combat. And borrowing from Metroidvania, that jumping is coupled with some good mobility upgrades to mix up both the platforming challenges as well as ways you can approach – and escape – battle situations.

The game’s leveling system has a few balance issues, however. A one-trick pony build I tried had me defeating every boss with little effort. Another more challenging build, while fun, had some severe versatility issues in the early game which was only mitigated by equipment that would likely not be obtained until the middle portions of the game without grinding. The Tree of Skill is interesting, but having to path through stat bonuses to get to desired nodes favors more specialized builds, giving hybrids a harder time.

The equipment system plays a role in these issues. A lot of the weapons are locked behind a transmutation system which requires you to collect monster parts to change your weapon into a potentially superior version of the same type. This means that obtaining a lot of the higher tiered stuff boils down to luck or a lot of grinding – unless your desired weapon is tied to a guaranteed boss drop. Using different weapon and armor types also requires a proficiency skill obtained from the skill tree, which had potential to be an interesting twist compared to just having stat requirements. However, the design basically necessitates differences in scale rather than differences in kind with the weapon options – though there are exceptions to this. This adds a further weight to attempting hybrid builds.

The level design too has some balance issues. There are brilliant areas that achieve the sense of place that every good Metroidvania should strive for. But some areas, especially later in the game, feel like quantity took priority over quality. The brilliance shone through from time to time in the late game, but the samey “background with platforms” areas are still stuck in my memory. Without a consistently high quality visual design, the decision to not include the otherwise genre-pervasive Metroidvania map system served as an unnecessary frustration as I spent a lot of time wondering where the heck I was supposed to go (Or even where I COULD go.)

And the game’s plot felt the same way. While the Soulsborne games aren’t well known for straight-up telling you WHY you were doing things, they were usually pretty clear on WHAT you were supposed to be doing. The game starts with something about saving a princess, but loses track of that goal pretty quickly into the game while remaining pretty vague on what you were striving to do instead (besides kill more bosses of course.) While any kind of narrative force wasn’t necessary in enjoying the game’s dungeons and bosses, it does contribute to this feeling that Salt and Sanctuary lacks identity and personality. Part of the problem could be production values, but in my opinion there aren’t a ton of really memorable characters or even events in the game.

A lot of these things are admittedly nitpicks; I think Salt and Sanctuary is a very good game. It’s just the conglomeration of these critiques that make me hesitate to say it belongs with the best category. I think Ska Studio’s effort was excellent, and I look forward to what they develop next.

Salt and Sanctuary might not be perfect, but it’s still unique, which makes it totally worth playing. Plus, it’s currently the only way you can get a Souls-like experience with local co-op. So if you’re one of those rare people who lives next to someone else who enjoys that punishing design, don’t even hesitate to give this a go.

Final Score


Scoring system overview

Metroidvania Breakdown

– 5

Great Souls-Like combat, even if some of the build options are less balanced than others

– 2.5

Souls-like focus makes platforming slightly clunky, which is extremely punishing when you die from falling. But good challenges to be had

– 3

True to its inspirations, there are plenty of secrets to find, though the lack of a map and some of the sameyness of later areas sometimes makes this difficult in the wrong way

– 2

The primary ''puzzle'' is ''Where do I go next with my new powers?'' but its a fun puzzle to solve

– 2.5

I feel like there is more to it than I got out of it, but the narrative is more obtuse than its Souls inspirations

– 3

The graphics are adequate. Monsters look good, but human characters are very samey and unmemorable as a result

– 2.5

There isn't a lot of music to speak of (Again true to the Souls inspiration), but I can't honestly remember even any boss theme as a standout

– 5

It could take hundreds of hours to try out every build possible with the options available, and once you're done with that, you could do it with a friend

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