Developed by the two person team over at YJCJ Games, Sea Salt wants you to give in to your inner demons. It’s a game that could be classified under a number of different genres, but manages to subvert them in some incredibly clever ways. Even though it’s dark as all hell and holds no bars showing off just how gory it can be, it’s just all in silly pixely fun.
As a servant of the sea demon god Dagon, you’re tasked at taking revenge on an Archbishop that refused the ultimate sacrifice who holed himself up in his sanctum behind rows and rows of his followers, who are totally unaware of his actions. You control an on-screen cursor that guides units around the map. Sort of like an on the move RTS, you can buy new minions along the way as you accrue more gold by killing enemies, summoning them via portals strewn along the levels, or without them in case you max out your reserves.
Attacking is pretty straightforward. You just point your cursor at an enemy and press a button to sic in your creatures at them. There’s a certain layer of strategy that you should apply to that, though by allowing your victims to be surrounded first, and then attacking, in order to maximize the burst damage so you can do away with them faster. Enemies at first are common village folk that don’t have a lot of guts facing off against you, so they’ll tend to run away at the first sight, but eventually the opposition grows a little more of a backbone, countering your advance and picking off your forces if you’re not careful.
That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your trigger finger in check in order to keep your little friends alive. Since they naturally avoid hazards as they follow your cursor, but will bee-line into enemies once you order them to attack. Once they all die, you’re forced to restart the level you’re currently playing, and even though building forces back up is quick and relatively easy, I found it that the best course of action is to playing Sea Salt in thorough and steady fashion.
By doing away with bosses, you eventually unlock new cards that are added to your deck, allowing you to call down different monsters to do your bidding. The unit variety is really good, since all of them have unique skills and abilities, along with a diverse range of stats that offer strengths and weaknesses, like the base minions you start with, who are kind of like StarCraft’s zerglings, that is, fast, numerous, but ultimately easy to kill, or crabs armed with bone mallets, who are hardier, but don’t pack much of a punch, for instance.
Building your forces is one of the best parts of Sea Salt, since having the right units to do the job you are currently facing at any time is key to conquering the game without losing a whole bunch of them in the process. Thanks to its smart encounter design, there are more than one way to handle any situation that is thrown your way. You can even double down on a specific creature type, say a classic “zerg rush” by pure attrition if you think that’ll satisfy Dagon’s wishes.
At the start of every game, you can choose from a handful of the dark lord’s apostles, each offering a unique set of benefits and starting forces, but you have to unlock them first by completing their objectives, like collecting a whole lot of gold or finishing an X number of arena stages. Arena stages are unlocked as you progress through the, locking off levels so you can test out your skills against the forces of the Archbishop as many times as you want. It’s a cool way to put in some practice, and since it eventually pays off due to how it unlocks a new character to play with, it’s worth to dive in from time to time.
Sea Salt follows what some would consider the trite indie trend of having heavily pixelated graphics, but the duo over at YJCJ Games have managed to make it stand out from the lot with a heavy dose of Victorian art and typography, which marries quite well with the very bloody and grotesque Eldritch horror theme of the game. There are also some neat visual effects as well, like a fog that permeates the environments you tear through and the one that helps you keep track of how you’re playing, blurring and trembling the image with red flashing on your screen as your units take direct or indirect damage. They work well to convey the overall dread that permeates throughout the game, a sort of nightmarish tone that mirrors the hopelessness behind the archbishop and his followers’ plot against Dagon’s advance.
I admit that I didn’t think much of Sea Salt when I initially got wind of it. The idea of playing an RTS on the Switch didn’t appeal to me at all, and honestly I was getting pretty tired of the overall aesthetic it seemed to be going for at first glance. But thanks to how easy it is to manage controlling the old god’s forces and the brisk pacing of the game, which make it extremely fun to pop in and out, I came out more than impressed by how well it turned out. Even more so taking into account that it was programmed by only two people, showing off the absurd amount of restraint and intelligent design that has gone into putting this game together. Call it what you want, an RTS, reverse tower defense, bloody Pikmin, or evil deity simulator, but do yourself a favor and give in to Sea Salt’s call.