Sea Salt is a Terrifyingly Good Time

Sea Salt is the type of game that causes me a massive problem. Every time I say, “I’m only going to play for five more minutes,” that’s exactly what I do. And then I repeat that 20 or so times until nearly two hours have passed.

Sea Salt ticks all the boxes for being the perfect game that came out of nowhere. It’s easy to pick up and play, and if you have a little willpower, you could easily go through a level or two when you have a few free minutes. At the same time, Sea Salt is a game that you can get lost in before realizing you haven’t moved for several hours.

The game is elegant in its simplicity. You are Dagon, a large sea god with a tentacled face who controls the horrors below the waves. Or put another way, you’re generic Cthulhu, but that part isn’t important. What is important is that the people of the coastal land who worship you haven’t made their requisite sacrifice, and they need to pay for it.

Commanding any army of different creatures, Sea Salt tasks you with destroying villagers and their homes in order to remind them who’s in charge. Along the way, players take command of everything from a swarm of worms to giant swamp monsters, each with their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

You also pick an apostle, which provides an overarching theme and ability set to your army of evil. For instance, your starting apostle begins each area with 25 units called “the swarm,” one of Sea Salt’s most basic units. While using this apostle, every swarm unit is stronger than normal, and it also gives the added bonus that another creature, “the worm,” explodes when killed.

On the flip side of that, one of the unlockable apostles starts off with six cultists. These are the glass cannon units of Sea Salt, with incredible damage but next to no health. Playing with this apostle leads to a totally different strategy than the first, and it opens up new ways to approach each level.

Of course, destroying a village full of helpless peasants wouldn’t be much fun without a little bit of a challenge. Fortunately, these villagers have some rather absurd weaponry for what’s theoretically an 18th or 19th century setting. Townsfolk wielding shotguns, flamethrowers, katanas and disproportionately large ballistae all challenge your army, and figuring out the best combination of units and tactical approaches is a thrill to completing each level.

As part of the tactics, one element players have to consider are the strengths and weaknesses of each unit they have. Every minion is ranked in four categories: health, attack, speed and horror. The first three are self-explanatory, but horror adds a unique bit of strategy.

Certain enemy units can deal massive amounts of damage to your army, even when you’re surrounding them. However, even the most ferocious fighters will flee if there are enough units with high horror stats around. Fleeing enemies can’t attack, and that allows your minions to drive them away from other threats, isolate them and take care of them quickly.

Being a terrifying sea god of destruction doesn’t just come with strategic options – it comes with visual ones too. Sea Salt is a gorgeous game with a near perfect aesthetic. Each unit and apostle appears on a tarot card, with slightly washed-out, matte colors. That design is deliberate, and the dark, gritty color palette extends throughout the game, creating a sense of dread and despair.

The audio does an equally impressive job creating a sense of horror and hopelessness for the townspeople. They’re being hunted, and if they had any hope of surviving your onslaught, the impending doom of Sea Salt’s sound should have told them otherwise.

There’s so much to love about Sea Salt. My only complaint with the game is that there were evenings when I really needed some extra sleep, and I didn’t get it because I couldn’t put the game down. Elegant simplicity with surprising depth make Sea Salt a game you have to try out, Lovecraft fan or not.

Sea Salt earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.

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