It was dark. So dark, that all I had to guide me was the small creek that ran down the incline I had been residing at the peak of. With my cubs at my side, I tactfully began making my way down. Just then, I was startled by a sharp snapping sound. In a panic, I began running as fast as I could down the incline. Once I felt I was out of danger, I stopped and tried to once again gain my bearings. But then, I realized that in the excitement I had lost sight of my cubs. I quickly turned around and watched for them to catch up to me… “There’s one… two, three, four… Four… I had five only seconds ago…” Then I once again heard that sharp snap, only this time it was accompanied by the soft, pained chirp that marked one of my my cubs’ demise. I let out a heavy sigh and trudged forth, knowing that if I ever did reach the end of this journey, it would be a bitter reminder of how my hastiness cost one of my cubs its life.
The latest game by developer “Might and Delight” is Shelter, a game that puts players in the shoes… erm… paws of a mother badger, and tasks them with protecting her cubs on a journey to find a new place to call home. Gameplay definitely isn’t the main focus in Shelter, but is present in the quest to keep your cubs alive during your pilgrimage. Over time, your cubs will grow hungry. Their hunger is marked by the color of their fur. The lighter the hue of their fur, the hungrier they are, and food isn’t exactly plentiful in the world of Shelter. So whether it’s caught prey or an apple batted down from a tree, players will have to hunt for and carefully ration-out food amongst their cubs, or suffer the consequences.
I should also mention that in the scenario I described in the introduction of this preview, losing the cub didn’t actually do anything. I wasn’t slapped on the wrist and told to start over, completing the level didn’t become harder, and as far as I know, no “points”were deducted (I don’t think there are any points in the game, but you get my point). But upon losing that cub, I felt an immense sense of failure, a feeling that blanketed me for quite a while, even after I completed the demo. It’s a strange bond I formed with the cubs. I had absolutely no communication with them, and the only interaction I really had with them was feeding them. But even so, a sort of fatherly bond formed, and I knew I needed to protect these baby badgers.
One of the things I adore most about the game is how it juxtaposes the serenity of nature and its ferocity. Beautiful green forests turn into dark, burning dystopias; and serene walks through the woods turn into desperate hunts for food. If you were to get into a debate discussing video game’s status as art, this would act as a great example of why they are.
I think it’s fair to say that Shelter is a highly experimental game. It’s beautifully minimalist both in gameplay, and art style. It might not be the most involved game in the world, but Shelter is a game I urge people to experience for themselves. This preview showed a lot of promise; we’ll find out if the full game delivers on that promise when it releases sometime next month.