SHELTER

It was in the rapids that I lost my first cub.

There was no warning, just the sudden sense of shock as a vast wave swept through our pack, submerging us all in a rolling tide of water. Darting to the shore, I immediately counted my remaining children, silently noting a missing face. Waiting for a few moments, I clung to the hope that it had perhaps gotten itself stuck on some kind of branch or stone and would soon appear, so we could continue on as a family… However, there was no choice but to continue trekking through the wilderness – if not for progression’s sake, but for the hungry four that trailed, squealing at my feet.

Shelter is not in any form a conventional game release. Developed by independent studio, Might and Delight – best known for 2012’s Pid – it is, essentially, a badger life simulator. With no emphasis on controls or direction, the game places you into the role of a mother badger (or, sow), who must care for her five, individually patterned cubs that dance playfully around their earthy sett. Digging roots and catching smaller prey, you must keep your family fed as you travel the land, fending off danger and always keeping a close eye on the safety of your pack.

The true aspect that instantly attracted me to Shelter was its beautifully simple art style. Rendered in a very basic, I-hate-to-say-retro ruggedness, the game relies heavily on its immersive world and bright, organic patterns that certainly draw you into an atmosphere of pure, untouched nature. It becomes very clear how much Might and Delight opted to focus on character and personality throughout this experience, creating a game that feels almost as if you are playing through an intricate landscape painting – whereas, say, a studio that had tried to emulate realism in its graphics would have fallen far short of the mark, leaving us with a cold, artificial copy.

Shelter is a world that drinks deeply from your sense of concern and nurturing, quickly cementing a strong bond to your pack, without the need for introduction or additional information that most modern games rely so heavily upon. An atmospheric, acoustic soundtrack drips and fades along your journey, complimenting each subtle note of season, whilst also inspiring fear and dread with every passing danger. It is these small, immersive details that all combine so perfectly into an experience that can become heavily entwined in emotion throughout play. The huge sigh of relief as you finally manage to pounce on that elusive fox you’d been stalking, giving your cubs that little, extra boost; the careful, measured steps through the undergrowth, terrified of the hawk that circles above – the little moments and spikes of sentimentality that shape every minute along the way.

This is not by any means a long game – I counted roughly four or five stages in total – however, it certainly warrants the time spent exploring and indulging in its rich, lively environments. The gameplay itself could perhaps be compared to one giant escort mission, but it is important to note that the cubs are by no means a burden upon you, rather travelling companions that you honestly feel indebted to protect. In full circle, I began this review detailing the death of one of my own, and it was a hard blow of loss that far surpassed any other title I have played of similar ilk.

Beside being a great new addition and real victory for Steam’s Greenlight, Shelter inspires an appreciation of the hardships within nature and, ultimately, motherhood itself – a must play for any who wish to escape the decaying, urban shadow that haunts so much of our lives, for a small glimpse into the untouched circle of the animal kingdom.

Buy it on steam here or from the website here

Visit Might and Delight’s website here

Advertisements

BOTANICULA

If I could only use one word to describe this game, it would simply be ‘beautiful’. Other terms could also be ‘clever’, ‘challenging’, ‘funny’ and ‘personal’ – but, especially ‘unique’. Botanicula, the newest development from Amanita Design (best known for their award winning Machinarium), is truly one of a kind in both its emotional value and its ingenuity.

A true point and click adventure, you are given control of 5 little bugs on a journey to save their home from an invasion of parasitic spiders which are, very literally, sucking the colour and life out of the world around them. Instantly you are treated to a vibrant range of personalities and worlds to explore, solving various puzzles in order to progress to the next steps of our tiny heroes’ story. Yes, as is with most games in its genre – and most games in general, mind – this is essentially a long series of item quests, leaving you to seek out a multitude of hidden objects and solutions scattered around the environment. However, there is a brilliant sense of depth and personality within this title, and I found myself wandering through each stage with a childlike sense of awe and curiosity, prodding each little detail with my cursor and grinning madly at the effect it would cause. For me, Botanicula brought to life a deep feeling of discovery and innocence; a tiny window into an organic, surreal world, inhabited by an encyclopedia of strange and wonderful beasts that populate each leaf, branch or tunnel along the way.

Although only taking about 3 hours to complete in full, Botanicula does require a serious level of care and observation. With each creature you discover, an animated card is placed within your inventory, not only allowing you to relive your experiences with the more memorable ones, but also in an attempt to actually find them all – a challenge which is not easily completed, especially so in a single playthrough.

What this game really offers is an adventure through the imagination; a brilliant blend of art and logic that does not disappoint at any point during its progression. Whilst the puzzles certainly push you to the limit of lateral thinking, I quickly found myself emotionally attached to my insect friends, guiding them in each step of the way. At one point during play, one of the characters was very suddenly eaten by another creature, leaving me in a complete state of shock and horror! It was  only when he was spat out again a few minutes later did I restore any sense of calm, but I was honestly shaken at the core – just for the sake of these 5 tiny beings.

All in all, I highly recommend Botanicula for the level of escapism it provides, as well as the full extent of which creativity, humour and personality have been invested so entirely. It has certainly been a long time since I have ever been so deeply involved within a game and I absolutely enjoyed every second that I was allowed to experience this intricate universe that Amanita Design have so perfectly created. A genuine 10/10.

Buy it from Steam here

Visit the website here