Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D souls-like platformer that was developed by Ska Studios and released in 2016. The game was favorably received by both critics and fans alike, praising the translation of the souls genre to a 2D platformer.
The game is heavily inspired by dark souls, no doubt, with mechanics like resting on bonfires to replenish your resources, upgrading the playable character’s stats, and of course facing gigantic bosses who have a health pool ten times that of the player.
Salt and Sanctuary also applies Metroidvania like routes to its world, meaning all places are interconnected, and the player must venture to unlock shortcuts and find hidden secrets. Unlocking shortcuts allows players to cut down on travelling time and avoid needlessly fighting enemies when they fail and respawn at a bonfire.
There are over 600 items to discover and an extensive skill tree to invest in. Luckily the points can be refunded to restructure the skill tree; this allows players to develop their combination of skills, making playstyles unique.
For example, players can choose to play a tanky build with heavy armor and a massive weapon, dishing out and absorbing enormous damage. On the other hand, they might go for something more dexterity-based, with little armor and a less capable weapon taking advantage of their movement to avoid getting hit and get out of sticky situations.
I always look forward to souls-like games. They don’t hold your hand and appear very difficult at first, but practice and patience are rewarded because those who stick around long enough can learn precisely how to beat a boss that is troubling them by analyzing their move set etc.
Compare this with something like Skyrim. Skyrim is an excellent ARPG, don’t get me wrong, but it never lets players wander or wonder; there’s always a compass on the top that players can follow, making exploration redundant and getting lost an impossibility.
Some of my best moments in Dark Souls were finding the ash lake, another world inside a tree seemingly hidden away, and the game doesn’t even indicate it. It’s up to the player to discover it.
Without further delay, here are seven games like Salt and Sanctuary.
1. Vigil: The Longest Night
Souls-like fans wouldn’t be surprised by seeing this gem on the top of the list.
Vigil: The Longest Night is a 2D ARPG developed by Glass Heart Games and released in 2020; the game takes heavy inspiration from Castlevania and Salt & Sanctuary and brings a vibrant world to life.
While the game does play like a souls game, it’s not nearly as unforgiving or punishing; however, that’s not to say it’s easy. No, sir, Vigil is still a challenging experience with tons of unique bosses and hidden loot that players will need to find if they wish any respite.
There are four types of weapons with enough variety to keep the kleptomaniacs engaged, and each weapon has its skill tree that players need to progress. Additionally, players also have a skill tree for the playable character to improve various traits, for example, stamina regeneration.
Vigil also features a compelling tale of two sisters and a town ravaged by monsters, and it is up to the protagonist to find her lost sister and rid the land of the evil that’s consuming it. The game features multiple endings making it a very replayable title, but honestly, most souls-likes are generally replayable.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is like Fight Club, in the sense that it was a product that was ahead of its time, and while initially, nobody paid any attention to them, they later gained a reputation of being great artforms in their respective media and hold a revered position in the hearts of fans today.
Symphony of the Night had a lasting impact on the franchise and gaming as a whole, and some even credit it with pioneering the Metroidvania genre.
Symphony of the Night features a 2D world that plays like a side-scrolling platformer. Players have access to various weapons and magic spells that players can use to overcome obstacles and defeat monsters.
Like many modern RPGs, defeating enemies gives experience points that can be invested to make the player character stronger or increase their luck. The RPG mechanics might seem bare-bones today but let’s not forget this game came out in 1997.
The game also features Metroidvania-esque levels. Certain areas may be off-limits to the players until they gain certain items or level up enough; for example, certain areas might require the protagonist to shapeshift into a bat to enter. And while Symphony of the Night features a map (something of a rarity when it comes to souls-like), it doesn’t hold your hand as much as it helps you not get lost.
The game has been re-released for many platforms over the years, including PS4 and smartphones. PC players might have to look into emulating if they wish to experience this gem.
3. Dead Cells
Dead Cells is a rogue-lite 2D sidescroller developed by Motion Twin and Evil Empire, released in 2018. Dead Cells plays like a souls-like game but has more in common with Hades than a Souls game.
Nevertheless, Dead Cells is an ingenious masterstroke of game design; the game begins with players taking control of a jelly-like creature that can reanimate dead bodies taking control of them.
Players must then venture into the dilapidated remains of a procedurally generated dungeon. As they fight various undead monsters, players gain “cells”, which is this game’s equivalent of souls. These cells must then be invested to purchase permanent upgrades or unlock items.
The catch is if the player dies before spending the cells, they will lose all of them, so each run forces players to consider whether they should use all the cells or save up for a more expensive item, resulting in a risk vs reward decision.
Dead Cells offers exciting gameplay with tons of replayability. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan of Salt and Sanctuary who’re looking for fast gameplay but just as rewarding to beat.
4. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a 2D action-adventure platformer developed by Team Cherry and released in 2017. This title (like many on the list) takes the Metroidvania gameplay with souls-like mechanics and combines them to make a beautiful but unforgiving world.
Hollow Knight plays very much like a souls game in a 2D world, with players venturing into the unknown and have to find their way to the exit. Unfortunately for the nameless knight, it is a long and arduous journey. Players must maintain two different currencies – Geo and Souls. While Geo is used to buying various items and weaponry, Souls is used to healing the player initially but has more uses later in the game.
Upon death, players respawn on the bench they last sat on (Benches are the bonfires of this game). So if they wish to recover their lost Geo and Souls, players must make their way to where they died and battle with a shade instead of just reaching the grave alive like most souls games.
There are tons of platforming techniques that have to be mastered, and the difficulty of this game is on par with what players expect from souls-like games. Nevertheless, this one will not disappoint fans of the genre.
5. Death’s Gambit
Death’s Gambit is another souls-like 2D platformer developed by White Rabbit and released in 2018.
The game plays like most games on the list combining elements of souls-like games and Metroidvania with a dash of Shadow of Colossus. In addition, the game features a pixel art style and an impressive soundtrack that draws you into the world and its characters.
Death’s Gambit features various weapon types and skills players must master to beat the game. In addition, it features RPG mechanics and character customization that allows players to make their builds; this is one of the core gameplay mechanics of Souls-borne games but unfortunately missing from many of their 2D contemporaries.
With over seven different character classes and over 30 different weapon abilities and spells, the game enables players to discover a playstyle they’re comfortable with and allows them to experiment with various combinations.
Sundered is another Metroidvania title that takes inspiration from souls-game; it was released originally in 2017, but a new Eldritch Edition was released in 2020.
The gameplay loop is similar to other games on the list, with a tiny difference that makes the gameplay unique. After each death, all connecting passages of the world rearrange themselves.
The game also allows random spawn of enemies, making each run slightly different, and players have to be cautious at all times. Dying not only results in lost progress but will also change the world’s paths, making exploration key yet fruitless for future runs.
Sundered also features Shards which are the equivalent of souls in the game. Players may use them to upgrade the player character; Elder Shards are more potent forms of shards gained from bosses, and the protagonist may use them to gain even more powerful abilities at the cost of her humanity.
I’d recommend Sundered to anyone who likes Salt and Sanctuary but is looking for a more fast-paced yet punishing experience.
Chasm is another platformer that takes heavy inspiration from Symphony of the Night with a procedurally generated world that plays very much like Castlevania, at least as far as combat is concerned.
The game features an arsenal of weapons for players to discover and get good at, along with various artefacts that make previously inaccessible areas of the map explorable. Players must venture through hazardous places and rescue townspeople trapped in cages—these NPCs fill up the hub world, allowing players to access various shops and side quests.
Chasm requires players to master their weaponry as well as movement to avoid traps and fight bosses. If you enjoy hardcore platformers with a mix of souls-like mechanics, this one is for you.
Souls-like is my favorite genre of ARPG. They offer no hand-holding but allow players to overcome obstacles using incredible world design and combat mechanics.
While I generally steer clear of platformers, the games on the list are the ones that can get me excited. Furthermore, a sequel for Salt and Sanctuary in the works might be worth looking into.