31st Oct2019

‘Sea Salt’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Guest

Review by H.P Lovecraft super-fan Lee Manuel.

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Most games based on H.P Lovecraft concentrate mainly on Cthulhu, casting you, the player, as the plucky hero attempting to save the world from unnameable cosmic horrors and cults, while gamely trying to hold on to your sanity. Sea Salt is a different beast for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s about ancient sea god Dagon, and two, for once you are definitely not the good guy – you play as Dagon himself, happily slaughtering the townsfolk to feed your appetites.

You see, the local archbishop has always been pretty forthcoming with the old human sacrifice to keep you placated, quite coincidentally amassing piles of cash along the way. But when the time comes for him to sacrifice himself, he’s a lot less keen, so you understandably get a little miffed. However, the wrath of Dagon doesn’t manifest as a Pacific Rim-style 200-foot lizard-octopus-fish-man hybrid. Instead, you lead an army of horrible creatures against the population, who are definitely not taking this lying down.

You use an on-screen indicator to tell your flock where you want them to go, with just two commands – gather and attack. Your swarm can be made up of loads of types of minions, from the, er, Swarm, who tend to overwhelm enemies through sheer force of numbers, to ranged attackers like the Cultist, who do a load of damage but are annoyingly squishy.

Every level has an altar where you can summon reinforcements of any type. As you get through the game the make-up of your horde becomes more important. As well as speed, damage and health, some minions are more likely to make the humans run away screaming, relieving the pressure on your disciples. Also, at the start of each chapter you choose an Apostle, meaning you start with different creatures and effects – there’s only one choice to begin with, but you unlock more through collecting money or fulfilling criteria like killing enemies with a certain minion type.

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The enemies get a lot more varied as you progress through Sea Salt. Early on you’ve got your basic cannon fodder, but you soon encounter lumberjacks, with annoying area-of-effect attacks that mean you have to leg it or get shredded, Molotov-wielding villagers who can give your Cultists a really bad day, and that’s not to mention the bosses. Early on you meet Wharfmaster Glenn, who throws an anchor on a chain around like it’s going out of fashion, or the lightning-wielding Lone Wanderer on horseback. They’re tough enough that, when you’ve beaten them and they get torn apart by tentacles in a short cut-scene, you feel like you’ve earned it.

One thing that’s a bit of a bugbear is the AI – on some of the more cramped levels you’ll find some of your horde going the wrong way round a corner, or attacking a wooden barricade rather than the gang of angry villagers giving your horde what for. You can retry the current level (or ‘room’, as the game calls them) unlimited times with the same creatures you started it with, but if you want to rip it all up and start again you can retry the chapter with a different Apostle.

There is some strategy here too – if you’re approaching the end of a chapter with only a few monsters left, you might want to find an altar and spawn a Lich, who raises the ghosts of people he kills to fight with you. And make no mistake, this game is tough later on – the villagers aren’t so scared any more and become gradually more tooled up, meaning multiple attempts with different creatures until you find what works best. Again, beating a really tough level does give you a sense of satisfaction.

I’m really enjoying Sea Salt, not least because I’m a fairly huge Lovecraft nerd. That’s by no means necessary – it’s not a lore-heavy experience, and it’s simple enough to pick up that you’ll be leading a gang of crabs, fishmen and black cats to the archbishop’s door in no time.

Sea Salt is out now on the Nintedo Switch.

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