Shelter is a short and cute game about being a mother badger, taking care of her offspring. It’s a rather simple game but full of charm. And it can be surprisingly distressing at points. I played it with my kids and possibly ended up scarring them a bit (that age limit of 10 is not just for show, though all the violence in the game is nothing more than can be seen in nature documentaries).
The game starts in the den with the mother and five cubs. The cubs will follow the mother outside, where she has to feed them and guide them away from harm. The controls are simple: shift for running and left mouse click for actions. The game is separated into a few different locations with varying dangers. At first the mother just focuses gathering food but towards the end of the first section, a bird of pray starts to circle around the cubs and they need to be quickly herder from a tall grass section to another, so that the bird doesn’t have time to catch them.
In later sections the player encounters for example a wildfire and a stream that needs to be crossed. Throughout the progression the cubs need to be fed so that they don’t pass out. The colour saturation of the fur tells the player how full the cubs are: the gray cubs will collapse sooner. The mother doesn’t need to feed throughout the game, I assume she lives on with sheer will power.
There’s plenty of food around so the risk of starving a cub seems quite low. But the other hazards can turn out be very dangerous. I lost two cubs in the night section. A noise alarmed the cubs making them ran all over place, and then they came back one short. Let me tell you, it is not a nice feeling losing a cub. Shelter can be quite an emotional journey. The ending of the game is also quite touching.
The standard game will be over fast, it took me about an hour or so. In addition there’s a nurture mode that lasts for 30 days (IRL) and consists purely of feeding the cubs. At first they’re just small little furballs inside the burrow, but after a few days they start to grow and follow their mother around. This “safe mode” type of play is very much suitable for kids as well. The mother still catches some critters like frogs, and feeds them to the cubs, but they badger family itself doesn’t encounter danger – other than starvation.
I was on a trip for a week and unsurprisingly my cubs ended up dead. I started another game then, and just finished it. In one three day break I managed to lose a cub, but in the end the four that were left started adventures of their own. Unfortunately there wasn’t any kind of real conclusion in the nurture mode, it’s really just a way to pass some time (or letting your kids play the game without getting hissy fits when the cubs get snapped by predators.)
Like the concept and controls, also the graphics of the game are rather simple. But even with their cubical look they manage to be rather beautiful. The music also creates a nice ambiance. At certain points the cubs got stuck into the corners of rocks or tree trunks etc. but they always managed to unstuck themselves when the mother headed back a bit.
The sequel Shelter 2 is already out, with a pregnant lynx protagonist. It’s definitely something I’ll try. But I’ll wait for a discount as I’m swimming in unplayed games already.