Salt And Sanctuary Is An Excellent 2D Dark Souls

Salt And Sanctuary Is An Excellent 2D Dark Souls

Lots of games have pitched themselves as Dark Souls in 2D, but Salt and Sanctuary is the first game to make a legitimate claim. It’s also excellent.

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Dishwasher creator Ska Studios, the tiny development studio primarily made up of designer James Silva and art lead Michelle Silva. (Yes, they’re married.) They have been quietly working on Salt and Sanctuary for the last few years, and while it’s been billed as “2D Dark Souls,” I wasn’t sure what that meant until now.

As it turns out, it means what you think it means. Salt and Sanctuary is a demanding action game that pits players against seemingly impossible odds. Just like Dark Souls, you’ll die a lot in Salt and Sanctuary before it clicks. Even when it does, something unexpected happens and you’ll die anyway.

The premise is simple enough: the land has been engulfed in war, but a royal marriage may finally bring peace. The player is part of the princess’ royal guard, but you screw up and she gets kidnapped. Waking up on a mysterious island full of monsters, it’s your job to somehow get her back.

What exactly does Dark Souls in 2D mean, though? For series veterans, it’s an adjustment. Losing the ability to circle around an enemy, a hallmark of Dark Souls combat, takes some getting used to. It feels restricting, at first. Though you can’t move in 3D, the game gives players some new options.

One, it’s possible to hop all over the place; you have a proper jump button. This enables you to move around enemies and avoid their attacks, a compliment to the roll that allows you to shift forward and back. (The roll is a little frustrating in 2D, though, as it’s really difficult to judge if a roll lets me move past an enemy. Too often, I’ll run into them like a brick wall.)

Two, there’s a legitimate combo system, a carryover from Ska Studios’ previous games. This means you can do some gnarly things to enemies, like send them flying into the air and attack while they’re unable to respond.

Even though your moves are animation-locked in the same way as Dark Souls or Monster Hunter — once you swing, you can’t interrupt — there’s a fluidity to Salt and Sanctuary that makes it feels faster and more dynamic. (More Bloodborne than Dark Souls, if we’re keeping the comparisons up.)

Some games would probably bristle at being so closely compared to another, but Salt and Sanctuary doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. I mean, the comparisons are really hard to ignore after a while!

  • You level up and respawn at bonfires shrines in the world.
  • When you die, you lose your souls salt.
  • Players replenish their health out of an estus red flask.
  • After defeating a boss, the game declares them defeated vanquished.

  • You’re stuck with a stamina meter that limits attacks and moves.
  • The world is a large maze that gets smaller as you find shortcuts.
  • Around every corner might be a treasure chest…or a boss battle.
  • Players can leave bottles around the world with cryptic messages.

None of this is meant to denigrate the game, of course. I love how much this game unabashedly embraces what From Software’s been doing in 3D, and plants a fresh twist on the idea. It’s both Dark Souls and its own thing.

I’m only a few hours into Salt and Sanctuary, but the hooks are digging in. Right now, I’m bumbling around as a spear-wielding soldier, the kind of bulky build I usually gravitate towards in Dark Souls. But as with that game, players aren’t locked into a particular build; if you want to become a magic user or start wielding arrows, there’s nothing stopping you. (I’m starting to shed heavy armour, for example, and embracing an assassin-like approach.

Salt and Sanctuary is only out on PS4 and Vita right now, but it’s also coming to PC and might hit other platforms down the line.

Praise the salt?


  • Really enjoying the game and yes I believe it has a little of the metroidvania to it. The map though is probably the most disappointing. Nothing really wrong with it but it doesn’t have the splendor and awe of a 3D souls world. Combat is awesome and the sound design accompanying it is fantastic.

    • I dunno… they kinda nail the foggy obfuscation of the castle/village, before moving to the fire-and-iron of the Red Hall of Cages, to the suspiciously clean and ornate Dome of the Forgotten, and the appealingly rainy (appropriately-named) Castle of Storms… the variety’s been pretty effective to my mind. 🙂

    • It’s consistent with Ska-Studios’ other games though. They always go for the grungy, dim, macabre aesthetic with that hand drawn, straight from a (misanthropic?) teen’s doodles visual style.

  • Salt and Sanctuary is only out on PS4 and Vita right now

    I just checkd the PS Store and there doesn’t seem to be a Vita version?

    • according to the games wikipedia page it looks like the vita release is currently in the works but no ETA at the moment

    • As I was mistakenly expecting Dark Souls 3 this week maybe this will fill the void.
      If I can tear myself away from Endless legend :p

      • I think the article understates how much like Souls it is. Right down to basically choosing covenants and such. Many of the menus are identical.

        Although there are several nice individual touches. One example is where you ‘create’ your own sanctuaries (bonfires) by claiming them in the name of your faction (‘creed’), and you can convert other factions’ sanctuaries to yours, to allow you to set up traders and blacksmiths and other utility NPCs. The type of estus you get at each sanctuary is enhanced by whether that sanctuary is the same as your faction, and other neat stuff like that.

        But the general feeling of discovery, mastery, exploration, and familiarity/power? It’s all there.

  • I finished my first playthrough on the weekend and it’s a strong contender for my game of the year. This is the Souls game I’ve been waiting for and was hoping Bloodborne would be. The marriage of Souls like difficulty and Castlevania’s movement and progression really makes it an enjoyable experience. I’m surprised at how many times I’d unlock a shortcut and go “Wow. This is where it connects to!?”, even towards the end of the game. Definitely a must play for Souls and Castlevania: SOTN fans.

    • How many hours was that playthrough? if it’s a fair bit shorter than an actual Souls game, I’d be pretty keen.

      • The save said around 35 or so hours but I’m not sure that’s accurate as I’m pretty sure it was less. Depending on your skill it should probably be a 20 – 30 hour game.

  • For those looking for another Dark Souls 2D experience, try DarkMaus. It’s top and an only about 6-7 hours long but it’s pretty neat.

    • There was some weird situation about the PS4 supporting .NET while the XBone doesn’t (or didn’t at the time anyway, I don’t know if that situation has changed). Seems a bit counter intuitive – you’d think it would be the other way around.

      But yeah, it would seem that an XBone version would depend on that situation getting resolved, if it hasn’t been already?

      I think Sony’s Pub Fund arrangement requires some period of exclusivity on PlayStation as well. I’m not sure how long, though.

  • every time im ready to declare my vita dead and buried some nugget of goodness seems to drop through, it’s like someone just wont turn of the life support for this thing

    • sadly the vita version isn’t out either, nice one sony, could of chipped in enough cash to get simultaneous release

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