Oh, sweet Jesus fuck, you idiots, trust me, your six-year-old is not that fragile. He's not going to turn into Jack the Ripper because he got to play a hungry-hungry badger going "om-nom-nom" and no, Cookie Monster was not a negative role model either because he was never a role mod.... oooooh-kay, simmarin' down naow.
Shelter. Lovely piece of work. "Indie" games are more often than not either incompetently made and deserving of their anonymity or pretentious attempts to feed on a certain market segment's un-analyzed nostalgia by cranking out some cheap, half-baked Adventure, Rogue-like or Prince of Persia copycat with "retro" graphics and passing it off as artsy. Luckily there are enough true gems floating around like The Cat Lady, Miasmata, Trine or Shelter to show that it is possible to break old molds and create something beautiful (-ly underfunded.)
But yapping's not all you can do, oh no. You can waddle and run and dig up roots and knock down fruit and hide in long grass and pounce on frogs, gophers and the occasional fox. What more could you want? Why, five hungry cubs to serve as your raison d'etre, bouncing with happiness as you decide which one to feed with your latest catch.
Make that four cubs.
Three. I said
Okay, fine, I'm not the motherin' type, but two out of five ain't bad, right? Right?
*Sniff* My poor babies...
Shelter is not drawn up in children's storybook format for nothing. It encompasses captivating old-style children's storytelling: beautiful, filled with wonder at everyday experiences, and yes, often sad. Its fairytale atmosphere dresses up what is essentially a survival-horror game, and perhaps this is merely a reversal of what makes such games so immersive. Maybe what we seek in survival horror is exactly that peaceful autumn meadow filled with both promise and danger, nature red in fruit and claw. Birds and (bears?) water and fire can make short work of your beloved progeny even as you struggle to keep them fed.
Seems a lot of people have nitpicked at Shelter's technical details, and I must admit I have run into a bug or two like being unable to drop a piece of food or getting stuck on terrain and crashed once. Customizable controls might've been nice for those of us who've abandoned the WASD configuration in favor of arrows. Having no save feature is understandable, but being unable to replay individual chapters seems like an oversight. It's true the game feels too short, but extending it by more than a couple of levels with the same mechanics would have made it drag.
As it stands, Shelter runs smoothly enough and is just long enough to showcase its true strong points. Its artists have a wonderful knack for taking what would be cheap emotional cliches and making you feel like a six-year-old seeing them used for the first time. You haven't seen leaves wistfully blowing in the wind until you've seen these. You haven't heard anguish until you hear one of your cubs drown helplessly, and if your heart doesn't pound when that damnable hawk swoops down for a kill, check yourself for a pulse.
To the millisecond, to the pixel, to the hertz, every artistic aspect of Shelter is tuned to near-perfection to draw emotional reactions. From the serene opening to the heartrendingly apt ending, this game's every bit the work of art it advertises itself as.
It's well worth the cash (so long as you're not buying it through Steam - Valve doesn't need your money.) Me, I'm on to Shelter 2. See you in lynx-land.