Might and Delight’s unique title Shelter, available on Steam, is a game with an interesting concept; players are tasked with the role of a mother badger protecting her young. While this may seem like a simple concept at first, the game quickly reveals that there is more to this challenge than meets the eye.
This game lacks traditional storyline which forced the developers to make the title driven more by concept than story as you traverse the games’ large wooded areas. Instead of a weaving story, the game unfolds its various features and hazards. The role of antagonist is played by the game world the developers have created, filled with challenges that drive you to see whats around the next corner. The lack of a set storyline may put off some gamers, but given the idea behind the game forcing some sort of story would have taken away from the overall experience they were trying to achieve.
The gameplay in Shelter is one of the things that the developers hoped to set their title apart from the rest of the Steam crowd, and for the most part they succeed immensely. You start off with four lively badger cubs in your den, but there is a fifth one that is extremely pale and laying on the ground. This is how the game introduces one of its main play mechanics; the act of gathering food to keep the young ones alive. You pluck a vegetable from the ground of your den and feed it to the sickly cub to get the game started. This is followed by small tutorials as you approach gameplay elements while the game walks you through these initial encounters. After the tutorial, you become quickly aware one one fact; the game lacks a HUD. Instead, the game gives you visual cues as to the hunger levels of the cubs through their fur color, the lighter the coloring the closer to starving the cub is. This seems like an easy task until you realize that there isn’t enough food to forage in order to keep all of them at optimum hunger levels. This is where the game sets up another challenge by adding a sneaking element to the hunting.
There are larger animals in the game, such as foxes, that will feed multiple cubs. This is easier said than done however, as the foxes will not let you catch them and require a stealthy approach as you stalk them through the bushes. There several challenges presented in each level other than the feeding and hunting however, as the environment itself will provide dangers to your cubs.
One of the ever-present enemies in the game comes in the form of a large bird stalking you from the skies which requires you to pull some Solid Snake style moves to keep your brood safe. One level puts you leading the brood through a night in the forest with strange noises permeating from the surroundings. Sudden sounds will cause the cubs to run through the darkness in fear and leaving the surrounding cone of light around the mother signifying the only safe area. If the cubs get too far away then they will be eaten by unseen creatures with no trace left.
As interesting and difficult as these bumps in the road can be, they may also be the game’s saving grace. These distractions are unfortunately too few and far between to keep the game from feeling like a digital walk in the woods. Except for the various challenges featured in each level (forest fire, giant eagle, etc.), there is a lot of repetition involved with playing. Every level is generally the same exercise of find food, dodge various obstacles, then follow the trail to the end of the level and then repeat. The game’s interesting concept, while creative and intriguing, is not enough to keep gamers sucked into the action. While gamers are rewarded for sticking out through the adventure, the initial experience may turn them off before they can get to the juicy bits which is a shame for such an original idea.
One area where the game really shines though is its interesting take on the game’s environments. Shelter’s graphics have an almost cartoon vibe to it, calling back memories of the Katamari Damacy series of games except mixed with an oil painting. The world never seems to lose its charm as just looking around at the forest can become a little distracting compared to the levels’ actual goals. The developers also have done well with the incidental music they have put in it. Present but never overbearing, sparse but not boring the game’s music fits perfectly at just about every turn.
Having a sound reminiscent of modern day jazz, the music is used in lieu of an HUD in some areas such as the strummed chord when the cubs eat to the building swell of intensity as you’re stalked by a giant eagle as you run for your life with sparse drumming builds into a full band as it closes in. The ambient sounds used to bring the woods to life is on par with the music however, as they work as a team.The forest sounds keep the world lively while there is no music playing and vice versa making for an aural delight almost the whole time. Without a doubt the music and sound effects in this title is one of the ways the developers have really stood out.
Shelter is a game marching to the beat of its own drum and it marches confidently. Although it has some shining moments in gameplay, the repetition of the core mechanic may keep some gamers from the treat in the center. This is partly made up for by the great combination of ambient sounds and the perfect use of minimalist incidental music that makes the environment great along with the colorful and vibrant forest to traverse. If only the gameplay kept you hooked long enough to really experience what the developers wanted you to.
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