Review: Shelter

Shelter

Every now and then a game comes along that offers a glimpse into a world that isn’t rife with exaggerated boobs, blood, or bullets. A rare game that doesn’t cause frustration due to overly complex puzzle mechanics or Mensa-like brain challenges. A game that simply offers a moment of time, telling a story from a unique perspective. 

Enter Shelter, an emotional and artistic experience that isn’t necessarily a game in the traditional sense, but offers gamers a chance to reflect and observe in a manner which they are likely most comfortable, from in front of a glowing monitor.

Shelter puts gamers in control of a mother badger who is in charge of five cubs. Each cub has a distinct marking along their back and follows their mother in a playful meandering way that toddlers tend to do without fear of their surroundings and oblivious to any potential dangers. Each cub needs to be fed or else color begins to fade from their fur and eventually they fall hunger-stricken to the ground. Various natural food sources can be found throughout the world to help feed the cubs. Turnips, carrots, frogs or gophers can be dug up or pounced upon to provide a meal for the insatiable cubs.

Shelter progresses through five areas and times of the day, offering the badgers a scenic journey while also providing a palpable level of tension. By this, of course, I mean the circle of life doesn’t just stop with mamma badger and her babies. While mamma badger may be a force to be reckoned with, her cubs are nothing more than small, helpless snacks for hawks or other unseen night predators. By the end of the first area, my parental instincts had kicked in full force as I tried to scurry mamma badger from one growth of grass to the next, hoping my cubs would escape the sharp talons of the hawk hunting from the clouds above. Sadly, I can attest that there is nothing more horrifying than hearing the screech of a hawk and then the painful squeal of a cub being whisked away, never to be seen again.

In dismay, I forlornly guided the remaining cubs to the end of the level and into the calm night time forest. Might and Delight knows how to use sound to its full effect, a skill once again demonstrated in this game. Shelter offers an improvised nature-like jazz rift that interjects wild calls of music in time with unseen bushes rattling or branches breaking as an unknown terror stalks the badgers while they forage for food to keep their strength and push forward into the dark and winding forest. A large snap and shriek sends the cubs away from mamma. Quickly, I learned that if the cubs ventured too far from mamma’s ring of illumination, they too would soon whimper in pain and vanish in an instant.

Dread filled the rest of my time spent playing Shelter as I guided my remaining cubs through a forest fire as well as a raging, winding river only to come to a wide open pasture with a clear end in sight — but another batch of hawks flying keenly overhead.

While Shelter does provide a fresh take on what video games can offer, there are a few things I can’t help but point out as items that might have enhanced the experience even more. I enjoyed the improvisational music that flits and starts throughout the game, but after hearing how magical the music was in Pid, I would’ve hoped for a bit more fleshed out use of music in each level. The power of the subtle build would only teasingly increase and then fall mute instead of engaging the player fully throughout the game. My other minor quibble is the fact that the game has an almost translucent fog layered intentionally over its visuals. While this softens the tones of the colors, I can’t help but feel that the world sort of blandly blends together because of the dulling filter. If there is a way to soften the impact of that visual effect, I was unable to find it in the settings.

Who says games without dialog, violence, gore and boobs can’t provide a rich and emotionally evocative experience? With Shelter, Might and Delight has crafted a tight, tension filled world that offers a nice break from the typical humdrum gaming session of destruction and bombast. It may be brief, but Shelter is a unique video game nature walk worth taking.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Unique perspective of nature
+ Builds tension through sound and intentional lack of light

Cons:
– Some sections don’t offer clear indications of where to go
– Short, with limited replay value

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Might and Delight
Developer: Might and Delight
Release Date: 8/28/2013
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.