If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be a malevolent sea god who could smite the unworthy, then roll right up because Sea Salt is the Pikminesque action-RTS that you've been waiting for all these years. In this quirky pixel-art strategy game, not only are you a malevolent old god called Dagon on a mission to destroy a slimy archbishop, but the minions that you're able to summon are inspired by the twisted writings of Lovecraft.
For the uninitiated (all seven of you), this classic source material has inspired an atypical strategy game whereby you summon hideous creatures from the depths and beyond, and send them out into a series of Victorian-era towns and villages in order to attack the pour souls you encounter and rip them limb from limb in a relentless rampage of disgusting proportions.
Sea Salt is an unusual game in many ways, not least because of its macabre theme. YCJY Games has put an interesting spin on the well-worn RTS formula where instead of micromanaging your units you direct their collective movement by dragging a solitary cursor around the map that your minions then follow. Then it's a case of positioning them in relation to your victims and instructing them when to attack with the push of a button. The complexity comes from using the right units at the right time and keeping track of what your pixelated beasties are up to, something that can get tricky as their number grows.
Instead of moving whole armies into battle, you instead drag a small gang of mutants and monsters around each area, enveloping your victims and attacking en masse in order to mulch them into a puddle of blood and guts. It's a simple setup that gets more complex as you unlock new units, each one with different stats that define their function on the battlefield. Some, like the spindly-legged crabs, are sturdy but not particularly dangerous, while more deadly ranged attackers, like the white-robed cultists, are extremely vulnerable to attack and must be guarded as carefully as one can when you don't have direct control over each individual unit.
As you move through the missions (each one broken up into smaller stages) the enemies you encounter get more dangerous, with powerful melee soldiers and shotgun-wielding heavies that we found particularly taxing, even frustrating. This intensifying threat is countered by your own expanding range of tactical options, and your play-style can be further guided by unlocking characters that change your selection of starting units, thus encouraging a certain way of playing.
Your initial troop of terrors is supported over the course of each stage in a couple of ways. There are altars that you can use to summon reinforcements, or you can call in a new unit once your gold meter has filled up. Using both of these methods you can build up a sizeable force at times, but the game is balanced in such a way that a large party can quickly become a cumbersome mess of different unit-types that will get whittled away without too much trouble. In fact, it gets increasingly difficult to keep everyone out of harm's way while also remaining effective. It really doesn't help that the pathfinding can be a little inconsistent at times.
There's a fair amount of replayability built-in, with multiple generals to unlock, each with its own collection of units to experiment with. Some of these units are really twisted, although the limited pixel-count stops things from getting too disgusting and despite the blood and guts, we didn't think it was too gross. That said, Sea Salt is an unmistakably moody affair with its gloomy colour palette and sinister soundtrack, although it's also fair to say that the developer doesn't take things too seriously either and the tone is pitched just right.
All in all, Sea Salt is an enjoyable but limited RTS that offers genre fans a nice change of pace. It was strangely fun to control a gang of bloodthirsty monsters and use them to rip apart everyone from unarmed civilians to challenging bosses with chunky health bars. It's a gruesome little game, with some frustrating enemies and occasionally unreliable pathfinding, but it's certainly worth summoning, especially if you make a monthly offering to the gods of Xbox Game Pass.
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