The breakout success of Dark Souls has undeniably created it’s very own genre. Some have taken inspiration sparingly from this pool of ideas and others have taken more. Salt and Sanctuary has no trouble blatantly admitting just how much inspiration they have taken. From the design of the user interface, and even the strikingly similar sound effects used while navigating these menus to the bleak aesthetics and the cryptic dialogue.
The premise is simple, you are tasked with the mission of safely escorting the princess. This soon goes horribly wrong, after being killed by an impossibly difficult boss you are left shipwrecked in a desolate land. This shows just how many cues they are taking from Dark Souls, many will appreciate the numerous nods to the franchise, but sometimes it feels a bit frivolous.
The first boss in Demon’s Souls was impossibly difficult for a reason, you were meant to die, showing the player that embracing death was the only way to truly progress and learn. You could argue the same thing here in Salt and Sanctuary, but it feels unnecessary. Now this may seem like a very minor point of contention, but similar instances of mindless mimicry are littered throughout the game.
Likewise, in replacement of souls; enemies drop salt, which yes, you guessed it, are lost upon death. Unless you go back to the place you died, of course. This evokes a similar gameplay loop of repeating the same area, regaining your salt and getting better until perfection is achieved.
The gameplay still remains fraught with danger, often encouraging players to be slow and deliberate in their actions, the only major difference being the side-scrolling elements. I have no problems with games directly sourcing their inspirations, even if it might seem like copying at times, this is how genres evolve. However doing this always runs the risk of losing any form of identity.
My first few hours of Salt and Sanctuary were rather pleasant. A wide variety of classes with different weapons and fighting styles are presented on character creation. However if you find any of these classes lacking in your play-style, you are soon provided with a number of weapons and armour combinations to experiment with. Each weapon has vastly different light and heavy attacks, with a number of combos to discover. With the correct combo execution enemies can be flung into the air and juggled, in a somewhat similar fashion to Devil May Cry.
You can also block and dodge attacks with a roll, all of which use up your stamina bar. It’s satisfying and snappy at first, however certain enemies have a tendency to get you in a stun-lock, which is frustrating and awkward to escape. While enemies have sufficient wind up in their attacks, allowing you to dodge, they do not give any tells when they turn around. This often results in a situation whereby you run out of stamina, only to be pummeled to death.
Whilst unforgiving and frustrating, these situations aren’t too common. However they are greatly aggravated by the change that have been made porting the game to Vita. Considering the Vita has a much smaller screen the camera has been altered, ensuring the player character takes up more of the screen. Later areas of the game make it blindingly clear it was not balanced for this view port. One part has you platforming over treetops, you can use the right analogue stick to look around, but this isn’t practical when bowmen are simultaneously shooting at you from off screen. This also resulted in many situations of falling to my death. One could argue this is part of the Souls ethos, and through practice you will get better. But most of these situations feel like the fault of the game, and not your own.
The problems with the camera make for a very inconsistent experience. When you don’t need to be so aware of your surroundings, the game plays rather nicely. But I find it very hard to recommend on the Playstation Vita. Many of the bosses and enemy designs are mirrored in Dark Souls so I was rarely surprised, making it hard to overcome the camera issues. When the gameplay breaks down, you are truly exposed to the disadvantages of being so directly influenced by a single game. Why should I play this when I could play it on a better platform, or just go back to playing Dark Souls? It’s a big shame, I’m sure many people would greatly enjoy a portable Dark Souls.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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