The giant sea that is the Indie-Segment of gaming is home to a lot of unique, little games that the huge publisher would never pick up, however thanks to Digital Distribution these games don´t need a big publisher, or any publisher for that matter, anyway. And even though Steam features a whole bunch of great Indie games I still think that Itch.io is the much better Plattform when it comes to the really good stuff. Just go to the Itch.io site right now and play Right Click to Necromance, play some Powerwolf Songs in the Background and then come back and tell me how great that experience was and how much you got your ass kicked. Today´s game also falls in this "unique and great idea"-category and even though I really wanted to like Shelter it didn´t appeal to me. You play as a Badger-Mother that has to protect and feed her 5 cubs while they move through the wilds, avoiding Birds and various natural dangers like a Forest Fire and Wild Waters. And I really like the sound of that idea, but sadly it is executed in a way that it left me with a mere `meh´ at the end. The main reason for this is that the game failed to make me care enough if all cubs would make it. Sure, your mileage might vary here a lot, but for a game about a Mother and her Children it is a bit wierd that you don´t get any reaction from the Mother when one of the Kids dies, heck, I only know for sure where and when I lost one of them, and from the other two that died on my run I have a slight idea for one of them, but the third one just vanished into thin air for all that I know. In Addition the game fails to give you a reason why the Badgers even left their nice, little dirthole at the beginning of the game in the first place.
Gameplay itself is very simple, and for this game that´s absolutely OK in my book, your main focus is to gather food for the kids, for this you have to run against trees for apples, pull some carrots and other stuff out of the earth and catch a few smaller animals like frogs every now and then. However you have to make sure that each of the 5 cubs get´s enough or they starve (wich might have happened to the one that just disappeared suddenly now that I think about it) or they could end too weak to deal with hazzards if they didn´t get enough food to grow. With the Birds you can usualy take your time since they can´t find you when you are hidden in high grass, and because the game is nice enough to show you the shadow of the birds you can easily plan your movements. The other hazzards like the rushing water and the Forest Fire have either a very easy to understand patterns and / or are easy to avoid anyway. Only the section where you have to avoid the Fire and a Bird at the same time could end up a bit dangerous for your family. And that´s really it for the main game mode, and the optional "Nurture" Mode doesn´t add that much. In this Mode you once again play as a Badger Mother and like in the main mode you have to feed and raise your 5 cubs. However this mode takes place entirely in the first area of the main game and you have to come back to this mode each day to gather more food. When the cubs get big enough over time they will leave you to start live on their own, in the end, it´s only you that is left. And yes: This mode requires you play it for a few minutes every 24-ish hours or so.
From a artistic point of view this game is beautiful. The low-poly models and environments combined with the fairly low-res textures with only little details and the pale color palette end up looking really great, in fact it looks much better than it probably should. Add great nature sounds and an beautiful Soundtrack and you have something that really stands out between all the Pixel Art Retro-Inspired games that the Indies love to do. It´s a real shame that I don´t like the game itself enough to play it again just because of it´s visuals and atmosphere. Maybe Shelter 2 or the Spin-Off Paws are more my cup of tea, but I won´t touch those anytime soon after this disappointment. It´s a nice game to distract animal loving children for an hour or two, it´s violence free (at least on a graphical level, there are still animals dying here) for the most part it very calming, however it fails to deliver any emotional impact that the loss of a child should have, and in this case this one reason is enough for me to not recommend this game, especially not for the full asking price.