Indie games have put their players in some interesting situations over the past few years. We’ve stepped into the shoes of a pixelated character who sports a fez upon his head, we’ve played as a boy made entirely out of meat who is on a quest to save his girlfriend who is a bandage. Heck, we’ve even played an alien whose sole purpose in life is to run along a track and jump along to chip-tunes. Even then, if you’d told me I’d be playing the part of a mother badger this year, I’d have a bit of trouble believing you. But that’s exactly what I did while playing Might & Delight’s latest game, “Shelter“.
The set-up is simple, you’re a badger who’s decided it’s time to find a new home for herself and her newly-born baby badger cubs. That’s about is. Although it’s hard to blame the game for its story’s minimalism, because really, how interesting is the life of a badger in reality? Probably not much more than as its shown in the game. Although, that’s not to say that interesting things don’t happen over the course of the game. At any point on your journey, you can lose one of your cubs. Be it by predator, fire, or water. I’m having trouble putting into words why, but seeing one of your cubs being washed away in a fast-running stream, or carried off by a bird of prey is a devastating experience. I never had a meaningful conversation with that cub. I never even talked to it.
I suppose that weighty feeling of loss comes from the way the game asks you to take care of the cubs, minimalist as it may be. Over the course of the game, your cub’s fur coat will grow faint, indicating that he/she is hungry. You then have to find a piece of food, and feed it to the hungriest cub. While this may seem like a very simple gesture to preform for the small digital cubs, their dependence on you quickly becomes apparent as a result of it. They follow you, and depend on you for all of their needs, which as a result makes you feel awful for losing one.
But more than anything, it’s key in causing a genuine feeling of loss within the player because the game doesn’t react to you losing a cub at all. You see it be carried off by a predator, hear it’s final shout of pain, and then it’s gone. There’s no penalty, it’s just nature. And what’s shown so prominently, and effectively in Shelter is just that. Nature.
While the game is somewhat pricey considering its runtime lands just slightly over two hours, it’s marvelously unique. If you’re even slightly interested in what living the life of a badger is like, give it a shot. Its mechanics do grow tired towards the end, but the overall experience is so fascinating I can’t help but recommend it.