Sin After Sin
HIGH It’s an excellent 2D homage to the Souls series.
LOW The many, many platforming sections leading to an ambush.
WTF Wait, why is this boss suddenly here AGAIN?!
Salt and Sacrifice is a 2D Action-RPG inspired by the Souls series, and it’s also a sequel to 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary, a title I ended up skipping but have heard described as a modern 2D gem.
In Salt and Sacrifice, we pick a starting class and after a short intro, arrive at the hub area. Story-wise, we are tasked with hunting down various mages that roam the land due to an event that birthed their evil.
To find them, we use a portal in the center of the hub, which leads to five other worlds we slowly gain access to as we keep downing bosses. Aside from the portal, the hub area is home to all sorts of shady characters often acting as vendors for rare items, as well as a special monument where we can spend our souls (sorry, I mean salt) to level up. Each time we do so, we also gain one point to spend on a skill tree, unlocking new ways to arm ourselves.
Though I found this setting to be pretty straightforward, it was the combat that prompted me to assume a humble viewpoint and get to getting good. Like many Soulslikes before it, Salt and Sacrifice revolves around a stamina bar, dictating how often we can attack, roll or block. There are also dozens of cool edged, blunt and even ranged weapons (with very limited ammunition) that also come with a built-in special skill available after we fill a separate bar by defeating enemies.
This system will be largely familiar to any Souls fan, but of course, being able to dominate this title will require a prolonged training period. Needless to say, there will be a lot of frustration, too.
For example, besides dealing with groups and groups of enemies who often attack in coordination, we’ll also have to do a ton of platforming with a grappling hook. Later on, we’ll uncover several other ways to get around. Each time we extend our means of traversal, the game teases us to revisit prior areas and dig deeper. As a result, Salt and Sacrifice fulfills the fantasy of a 2D Dark Souls and then some.
Unfortunately, it also managed to find many, many ways to rub me the wrong way.
A prime example of this is how we approach the mages, which serve as the game’s main bosses. Most of these encounters start after we interact with a special object and choose to fight the boss connected to it. Once we press ‘yes’, the game spawns that baddie and also respawns every regular enemy we‘ve defeated so far in the run. Then, we’ll notice a colored ‘wind’ pointing to the location of the boss we’ve just unleashed, on top of many new enemies that the mage raises in its wake.
At those points, the stages quickly transform from places where each enemy position is carefully calculated, to a real flustercluck of opposing groups. It’s such a mess that the number of bodies present on-screen often gets so large that my character’s sprite cannot physically reach the other end of the 2D landscape. After witnessing such a development, all notions of Salt and Sacrifice being a well-tailored experience flew out of the window forever.
Furthermore, once the player makes it to a boss — generally the highlights of any Soulslike — most of them must be chased around the level before we can corner them and give them what for. But strangely, killing them is often not a big deal. The reason? Their sizeable loot pools. Salt and Sacrifice breaks the Souls mold by allowing us to re-beat most of its bosses in order to completely extract their list of rewards dropped upon defeat. On top of that, some bosses don’t even give us a choice — they simply re-appear again, inserting themselves into our current hunt, which only increases the on-screen chaos.
It’s also worth noting that a large majority of the bosses were mere variations or re-skins of two or three basic archetypes. The more memorable fights were bosses that make only a single appearance, and they generally required careful study of their habits in order to find openings in their defense.
Sadly, these kinds of encounters were the minority. For every boss with a genuinely interesting deck of combos to slap me down with, the developers served me twenty bullshit scenarios. These frustrating ordeals often assumed the form of timed platforming trials which would suddenly morph into unfair gauntlets as soon as I’d land amidst a crowd of enemies. In some of these situations, it was just blind luck that got me through.
Similarly, although the game’s areas are not overly long, the checkpoint system and lack of a map make conquering them one heck of a hassle. My biggest issue with it was that not only were there not enough checkpoints, but mid-level checkpoints also don’t allow for leveling up. To do that, players must teleport back to the main hub, but when they go back to the level they just left, they have to start at the beginning!
The lack of a map is just as annoying. While I don’t mind uncovering hidden rooms in a Metroidvania-like manner, 2D games can only get so far in making their levels differentiated enough to be easily memorized. But, if that alone wasn’t enough, Salt and Sacrifice very often blocks our progression by placing magical seals on doors leading to secret areas that must be revisited later. Still, since there is no map reminding me of unexplored locales, I felt little incentive to fully engage with it.
While I found Salt and Sacrifice worth breaking at least one controller over, it’s not for every Souls fan as it commits bizarre mistakes in design and comes with a few baffling omissions — in some ways, the experience is the total opposite of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s teachings. I’m glad I finished it, but it’s not an easy one to recommend.
–– Konstantin Koteski
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Ska Studios. It is currently available on PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the game and the game was completed. No amount of time was spent in co-op, and the game allows for PvP also.
Parents: This game has received a “T” rating from the ESRB, and contains Blood, Use of Alcohol, and Violence. Though the action is not hard to stomach, the themes at hand are mature and so are the bleak environments full of horrific creatures. Hence, even if these are all mere 2D sprites, the art direction makes it unsuitable for kids.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Sound is completely unimportant for finishing this game. I’ve played around 30 mins with it turned off, and didn’t notice any relevant audio cues. Text is provided, but is not able to be resized or changed.
Remappable Controls: This game offers a controller diagram, and the control scheme is entirely changeable.