There’s something poignant about being a mother badger. That is the experience given to you by Might and Delight in their new survival adventure game, Shelter. The game, Greenlit and recently released on Steam, puts you in the shoes (paws?) of a mother badger trying to lead her cubs to safety while feeding them and protecting them from the harsh environment. Shelter is a simple, beautiful game. There is no HUD, so the screen looks nice and clean, which enhances the experience of guiding your cubs through nature. There are few commands, as all you need to do is traverse through the wilderness with your cubs in tow, occasionally stopping to pick some fruit or hunt down a frog to feed them. Even in measuring how hungry your cubs are, the game is simple and effective. There is no meter of any kind, but as one of your five cubs grows hungrier, his color fades from a healthy brown to a dull gray.
The graphical style is brilliant and unique. Objects are draped in pictographic textures, giving the environment a strange, abstract feel. It is strange and different, yet effective. The overall subdued color scheme contributes largely to the feel of the game--the you-against-the-world feeling of being an animal trying to survive in the wild.
While the simplicity of the presentation is a strength, the simplicity of the gameplay is its biggest downfall. It’s just...too simple. You walk through the forest as your cubs follow you. You need to keep them fed, but food is pretty abundant. You need to protect them from eagles, but that just comes down to basic timing as you dart to cover. I wanted it to be some sort of open world exploration survival game, but instead it just becomes a game of getting from point A to point B while picking up food along the way.
Where the game does succeed, though, is in emotional impact. It does what it sets out to accomplish; it gets you attached to those cubs, and it rips your heart out if you let one die. After spending so much time collecting food and shepherding the little guys safely through the eagle patrols, I encountered a raging river. After a misstep while fording the river, I noticed that one of my cubs had been taken by the waves. I let out an audible gasp--I was devastated! Yes, it’s pretty easy to restart a level so you can do it without losing anyone, but still, the impact landed.
Shelter is really a beautiful, emotional game. It’s simple. Simple, minimalist graphics; simple, raw emotion; and unfortunately, simple gameplay.