by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
First Time Mum
It may surprise you to learn that, even though I have been playing videogames for a long time, I’ve never played as a badger before. With Shelter, Might and Delight throws you straight in at the deep end as you won’t only be playing as a badger, but as a mother badger, tasked with taking care of five cubs. What follows is a short tale of parenthood, pride, danger, and dealing with loss. For those of you looking for a reference to the song, yes, there are mushrooms in the game. However, I was not aware of any snakes being involved.
Much like with parenthood (I imagine), there is no tutorial. When you begin Shelter, you are in a cave with five cubs. One of them is a bit discoloured and lying off to the side, so you pick up a nearby root vegetable and give it something to eat. Straight away this introduces the main mechanic of the game. You have to keep your cubs fed or they will go from a healthy brown to a sickly grey. They also need to grow stronger for the trials ahead, as nature is a dangerous place indeed.
Eat, Survive, Procreate
Early on, you simply have to focus on finding food. You can pick up vegetables, headbutt trees to get apples, and catch frogs and other small animals. Leaving the food on the floor results in a free for all between your cubs. Alternatively, you can choose which one to give the food to, particularly if one is looking a bit peaky. The food situation should be a lot more of a problem than it is though, as supplies are plentiful and I never had any trouble keeping the cubs happy. When they’re not eating, they follow close behind, albeit at a slightly slower pace if you start to run. This leads to the other main game mechanic - not getting eaten.
You’ll have to scare away foxes by barking at them, or simply hide your cubs away in tall grass or underground. The huge predatory bird that stalks you for much of the game is another beast entirely. Not afraid of your shouts, it circles ahead until it sees a chance to strike. Seeing I was missing one of my cubs after a mad dash to a tunnel across an open plain was a particularly heart wrenching experience. I constantly found myself turning around just to make sure everyone was following me, even when there was no apparent danger. A huge sense of relief washed over me as I froze, realising that one was missing, only for it to come bounding out of the bush after its siblings moments later with no regard for my blood pressure.
Nice but short
Sadly, most of the game revolves around you dashing from cover to cover. At times you are hiding behind rocks as you attempt to cross a rushing river. Other times you are fleeing a forest fire. It’s a shame that such a cute little game doesn’t have just a few more things going on. It looks great too. This papercraft style isn’t done too often, but it is done well here. The sound too, is quite excellent, making for a serene atmosphere when looking for food but building the tension when danger is looming. In fact, I left the game running for a while even though I wasn’t playing, letting the soothing acoustic guitar wash over me. The sound effects and visual cues go a long way to telling you what’s coming, or what needs to be done. A creaking branch, a bird’s squawk, or the rush of rapids all tell of coming danger. When I went back to the game after leaving the music running, the little cubs were performing a few idle animations. A couple were running in circles while another was bouncing up and down. I felt guilty for leaving them there bored.
Shelter certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome, clocking in at just over an hour for an entire playthrough. It’s a short game with just a few levels, but given the lack of variety it is probably a good thing it’s not much longer. Even so, you might not feel you got your money’s worth when the final credits roll. There are a few good moments of tension but for the most part you will just be repeating the same actions while your badger offspring grow. I can’t recommend Shelter as a “good” game, but I can describe it as simply being “nice”. The world is a nice place to explore, in part thanks to the wonderful art style, and I never got bored. If you make it to the end of the game with all of your cubs still living, then you’re a better mother than I am.
Lovely visuals. Some good tense moments.
Very short, with little variety in the game mechanics.