There are a lot of games with strange premises. Whether it is playing as a hunk of meet trying to rescue your mummified girlfriend or as a little girl in a top hat time traveling to escape the Mafia, oddity can often be a selling point for a game. In that regard then, a game that has you play as a mother badger protecting her cubs seems rather tame. Yet, the team at might and delight bring an artistic and gripping work to us in the form of Shelter.
Shelter is a third-person survival title where you play as a mother badger taking care of your five cubs. You journey through five levels with varying threats to you and your cubs. While traveling, you need to find various food sources, whether that is turnips, apples, or small furry creatures. Your goal is to make it to the end, having done your best to protect your cubs from owls, nameless faceless growling creatures in the dark, forest fire, and rushing rivers. Your badger is pretty much indestructible with the main challenge coming from protecting and maneuvering your merry band of toddling children.
The mechanics are fairly simple. Your cubs follow you pretty consistently and you are given a bark command that will call any stragglers back to you. You can dash to chase down smaller creatures and knock down fruit as well as use your teeth to catch frogs and uproot turnips. The cubs eat when you put something in front of them, but only one at a time. It is easy enough to keep them separate and rotate feedings as the cubs both have distinct markings and stay in the same formation when following. My main complaint with them is that there is little to teach you what to do. When I first started the game, I didn’t realize what I had to do and thought that the game had crashed. It wasn’t until I restarted and spent about five minutes looking that I figured it out. The game forces you to learn the mechanics on your own, which only becomes a problem when the level design doesn’t really allow you to figure it out.
Probably the most interesting aspect is the art design. The animals and the setting, along with the effects, look like a kind of paper craft. Everything has sharp edges and defined corners, like paper folds. The textures are vivid and varied. The geometric shapes are unique and each individual object type looks markedly different than any other. The whole visual style is charming. Along with the art, the sound is well done. The music sets the mood very well. When things are calm, the music is subtle and relaxed, when there is danger, it is tense and loud. No matter the circumstance, the music is always well done and enjoyable to listen to.
Shelter is a short game. How long it takes is more dependent on how careful you are in any given area. You can always replay the full game to see if you can keep more of your cubs alive through the journey. As a whole, Shelter is a fun game with a brilliant art direction. It challenges the player to be maternal and protective. The simple premise allows for the player to fill in a lot of the details themselves, and I believe that plays to the games favor, making any connection with the cubs you have more personal.
Summary: Quality art and simple mechanics leave an open ended story that lets the player’s mind shape the events of the game.
Verdict: 8 out of 10