At the beginning of Shelter, a game about being a badger mom caring for her badger babies, one of the badger babies is unmoving and greyed out. The other four badger babies snuffle around and follow you as you try to figure out what you’re supposed to do. You can left click to bark pitiably. You can pick up a turnip. Invisible walls stop you from leaving. Indie games can be brutal! But who knew the Shelter developers — previously known for a ruthlessly puzzly platformer called Pid — were this brutal? What a harsh statement about the life of badger moms. Here you are, trapped by invisible walls to mourn a dead baby for all eternity. Maybe it’s a bug. I emailed the developers with one of those annoying “Hey, there’s a bug in your game” emails that must frustrate developers to no end, because sometimes a bug is just a player too dumb to know the greyed out badger isn’t dead, but just faint from hunger and waiting to be fed the turnip lying conveniently beside him. I appreciated the developer’s patient reply.
From that point, Shelter seems like a laidback exploration game to teach you stuff about nature, like how badgers headbutt apple trees to knock the apples loose. I should watch more nature documentaries. Then comes the badger stealth sequence, where you move from cover to cover to avoid an eagle. At least I think it’s an eagle. Whatever it is, it’s terrifyingly big. But I know stealth. I’ve been playing a lot of Splinter Cell. So I wait for the eagle to pass and then I dash to the next– Oh god, no, the baby badger is being carried away by the eagle, WHERE’S TEH ATTACK BUTTON THIS IS THE WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN IN A VIDYAGAME!
So there are four badgers left. If it’s any consolation — it isn’t — I’m back where I started when I thought one of the baby badgers was dead in the beginning. Now we’re in a dark cave at night and I feel like the surviving badger babies are judging me when they look at me. Dudes, it’s not my fault! I blame The Last Of Us for conditioning me to think stealth rules only apply to the player character.
The artwork is fantastic, stylized and slightly twisted, but washed out for some reason. Is it because badgers live mostly underground and don’t see color well? Or is that moles? I should watch more nature documentaries. But I don’t mind the washed out color because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more lovely videogame interpretation of a night sky. Check it out, little dudes. I’m sorry your brother/sister isn’t here to see it. I blame Ellie.
Shelter: God Hates Badgers is out next week. You can pre-order it on Steam or directly from the developer for $10.