Animal Friendship and Survival in a Thoughtful Narrative Nugget
Might and Delight’s Shelter games are known for being beautiful, spiritual and deeply moving. In Shelter, you play the role of a mother badger protecting her five cubs from the dangers of nature. In Shelter 2, you are a powerful lynx, having to hunt to feed your babies. And now, Might and Delight have released Paws, a stand-alone game that takes place in the Shelter 2 universe. In Paws, instead of playing the parental role, you play as a lost, vulnerable lynx cub looking for its family.
After a gushing river sweeps you away from your lynx family, you wash up on a riverbank, cold and alone in the wilderness. Players familiar with the first two games understand how unforgiving the woodland is. The goal is to defy all odds and traverse the beautiful but dangerous forests and planes. At first it seems hopeless, but after befriending a bear cub, the two of you decide to travel together and hope to be reunited with your family. With a running time of 90 minutes, it’s a short and sweet experience with surprising emotional depth, although some of the game’s core gameplay gets side lined for its story.
Those familiar with the world of Shelter know it’s a game that perfectly captures the sublime beauty but also the harsh realities of nature. Being a small defenseless cub leaves you vulnerable to wild animals and harsh terrains. Hiding and sneaking past wild animals is the only way since fighting is not an option. The woodlands are easy to navigate due to your ability to smell your mother’s tracks but most of the areas are pretty linear anyway so you can’t really get lost. These encounters and terrains are divided into sections, which makes them feel self-contained unlike the freedom of space you experience in Shelter 2.
The obstacle puzzles happen when you are traveling with your bear friend and also are pretty straightforward. When facing a tall platform, you squeeze through a hole that the bear can’t fit through and push down a tree to act as a ramp, so you can both walk up it and onto the next level. In some cases, you have to balance on the bear cub’s back and jump onto the next level, which is definitely the cutest form of teamwork in video gaming history. Although cute, some of these challenges and ideas could have been explored in greater depth, really pushing the teamwork aspect of the two cubs.
With the enemies, landscape and obstacles being easy to overcome and coupled with the fact that the lynx cub doesn’t get hungry or tired, there really is no challenge in Paws. If you die, the game sends you back to the last save point without any punishment. Where death and loss were massive emotional strains in the last two games, Paws doesn’t really explore that idea. The lack of challenge takes the risk out of the game; it doesn’t feel like you are surviving. However, this aspect of the game is explored through its emotional and touching story telling.
What makes Paws (and the other Shelter games) unique to other wilderness survival games, is that it acknowledges the spiritual side of nature and includes it in the narrative. Near the beginning, your mother takes you to a cliff to look up into the stars; it looks like she is passing down some eternal wisdom. When using your smell sense, your families’ paw prints appear for you to follow, and on some occasions also outlines of their bodies appear, like spirits, walking through the forest. Paws also has intercepts of poems in-between each section, simultaneously whimsical and ominous. It’s a game filled with magical and poetic moments.
The visuals in the Shelter games are always stunning; the picture-book perfect landscape is unique and inspiring. These visuals return in Paws with both familiar and new landscapes. New landscapes include the foggy swamps and marshlands that hide predators. The beautiful and colorful patchwork fields and forests have returned but with more detail and secrets to find. Retro Family also returns with music that keeps laying the thick atmosphere and a guitar that won’t stop pulling heartstrings. Traveling through the landscape with amazing music is magical in itself.
Overall, Paws is a great expansion upon the Shelter series. It’s a touching story with some emotional moments accompanied with stunning visuals and music. Although it’s not challenging, Might and Delight have chosen rightly to focus on the story rather than game mechanics – it makes Paws stand out from the other games. However, the biggest problem is the game’s price tag: £10.99 / $15.99. With the run time around 90 minutes to 2 hours long, is it worth the price?
It is a short game. No sooner have you met your bear companion than you have to depart due to the game’s length, and many of the Paws’ ideas and game mechanics could have been explored with more time. If you haven’t played the previous games, then definitely play the first two games for value for money. They really are unforgettable. But if you are a fan of the Shelter series, then go for it. Having a cute bear friend to travel with makes the threatening wilderness more fun and is a refreshing take on the Shelter series. It’s nice to feel that you are not on your own and that you can journey with a friend.