My mate Greg is one of those people who’s phenomenally gentle and kind-hearted, but has a surprisingly brutal taste in media. He introduced me to a big chunk of the metal bands I listen to, and loves films with plenty of fights. I remember as teenagers, we spent an impossibly hot summer’s day watching Gangs Of New York, then roaring Daniel Day Lewis quotes at each other through mouthfuls of doner kebab afterwards. Absolutely cracking bloke.
Anyway, he’s been prodding me for ages to play a game called Sea Salt, and his patience has paid off at last, because I had a go at the weekend. So, Greg, this is for you: Sea Salt is really fun.
It’s a bit like a really dark Pikmin, I suppose? You’re Dagon, the Big Man himself off of HP Lovecraft – I’ll just pause there to clarify that 1) I’m not a Lovecraft fan, so that’s not the appeal of the game, and 2) Sea Salt is blessedly free of convoluted lore and racism and the like. What it is not free of, is really unpleasant sea creatures. Dagon, you see, commands all the nasties of the deep, and in this game, you’re scourging an unnamed fantasy country with them, because its high priest/bishop geezer has spurned you.
It looks very 16-bit era (and I know the mileage can vary with these sorts of retro visuals, but the use of colour is masterful), and it’s got a definite arcade feel to it. Each level comprises multiple screens which you view top-down, and must depopulate with your mass of gribblies before you can proceed. It’s mega simple in terms of features: you just WASD a cursor around to show your brute squad where to go, and press space when you want them to beast everything around them. There are shrines where you can summon new horrors to make up for losses by attrition, and gold you can collect from deadoes to swap for further reinforcements. Sometimes there’s a boss.
But where it really shines is in the range of units on offer, and the constant, fluid decision-making it requires around force composition. Crabs, for example, are durable but rubbish for DPS. Worms are corrosive, and deal with barricades well, but burst easily. Toads just… burst. Fishmen are good all-rounders, like goth battletoads, cultists are fragile but can attack at range, and so on and so on. In every pause for breath between fights, you end up looking at what’s left in your ever-changing menagerie of murder, what enemies they’re likely to come up against next, and what you should top up on next time you get the chance.
It’s really, really solid. And while I do think it could use some DLC or more unlocks to make it a bit more compellingly replayable, it’s certainly not miserly on that front – it’s just good enough that I’d welcome more. Go crab a bishop to death.