With Salt and Sanctuary's initial release for Playstation 4 coming last year, when playing through the latest port of the game on Playstation Vita I wanted to skip first impressions and head straight for review. However, I have had to stop playing Salt and Sanctuary for the time being. It has nothing to do with it's impressively hard difficulty.Salt and Sanctuary is as close as you can get to a Dark Souls game without infringing on copyright. It copies everything. The waves of tough enemies, the exploration, the dark creepy atmosphere, the upgrades, the stamina management, and of course the series of tough bosses you have to beat in order to progress. The main difference in gameplay is that when you die you do not return to the place you died to recover salt (i.e souls). Instead, you must slay the enemy that slew you, not unlike Bloodborne.
The place that Salt and Sanctuary mixes things up is that everything is 2D. Enemies can't sneak up behind you, though they can shoot you from off screen and you only have to attack from left or right. Asides from the 2D the biggest difference is in the world building. Salt and Sanctuary includes a series of difficult and tricky platforming sections which you have to traverse. Failing to land on your desired platform often ends in a brutal fall to your death. It's trial and error, but I think it adds enormously another layer to the formula.
The exploration is some of the best I've ever encountered in a game. You play certain areas of the map over and over getting your bearings and fighting tough enemies. The more you fight the further you can go and the more you are rewarded. The map spreads out vertically as well as horizontally, leading to some impressive pitfalls, and also allows areas to come back on themselves. It has no map. It's almost a pen and paper style game where you can note down all the places you encountered useful NPCs.
The other thing that differentiates Salt and Sanctuary from Dark Souls is the brands. As you progress certain NPCs will brand you with new abilities such as wall jumps. These new abilities encourage players to retrace their steps and explore old areas with new possibilities.
The bosses are tough but mostly fair. They all attack in patterns that are for the most part clearly sign posted. The key to defeating each boss is in playing them again and again. Figuring out the patterns and rearranging your weapons and armor to manage is the charm. There are so many tactics in defeating each boss it can be fun trying out all the possibilities. However, deaths don't always feel completely fair, and bosses sometimes seem to chain difficult to dodge attacks that stun locking you.
For instance, when fighting the sixth boss (a dragon called Kraekan Wyrm), it was edging on a little tedious. I had learned her moves, I knew how to dodge each attack. Yet I was fighting her again, just waiting for a decent pattern where I'd have time to heal and recover stamina. Eventually, it happened though and when it did, boy did it feel good.
It succeeds in the same ways that the Souls series does. The relief when finding a sanctuary after a long search, or finally defeating a boss is unparalleled. Bosses are this game's bread and butter after all, so they have to be good. I had to stop at the Disembowelled Husk. It is not because he is one of the hardest difficulty spikes in the game.
Essentially this game is not yet polished on the Vita. I like using the touch screen to use consumables. But I wish the touch screen capabilities extended to the menu and the upgrade system, the tree of skill. The portability is great and I love getting up close and personal with it. On the other hand, the bugs are numerous. In addition, the framerate can drop dramatically and there is significant slowdown. Once I floated off the top of the map and just would not die, so I had to reset. But what stopped me playing was that it crashes.
Ska Studios have noted in their blog the crashes in The Ruined Temple and Hagar's Cavern (where I'm now stuck), but players commenting below have also noted The Salt Alkymancery and The Castle of Storms as hot spots for crashes. I am sure that the devs will fix these with patches soon but until then I would hold off on this version of the game.
Salt and Sanctuary is being reviewed on PlayStation Vita with a code provided by the developer.