Shelter Generations and I first crossed paths when I took a look at the upcoming releases on the European Nintendo eShop. The concept of being a lynx and taking care of your little cubs is something I cannot remember seeing elsewhere. So naturally, I was extremely thrilled as we got offered this game to review.
I am drawn to games that are unique to make new experiences. Shelter Generations is something like that. I am not a parent and the only thing I have taken care of in my life was myself so this was as close to parenting as I was going to get for now. In Shelters 2, you are on your own. In Paws, the second game in that bundle, you are alone in a different kind of way.
This concept paired up with those beautiful visuals was just very interesting to me. I gladly accepted the offer to become a proud mother of four little lynx cubs. Did I do well and did this game do something for me? Let’s see if my little ones survived in my review for Shelter Generations! Most of all is it worth your hard earned cash! Let’s find out.
Shelter Generations has two games, so I will divide this section into two individual ones. I suggest you try and play Paws before Shelter 2, as it is the mother game, then you can familiarise yourself with controls required for controlling your cub(s)…
In Paws, you start as the cub of four. Your siblings play with you, as the family is exploring the area. You can hunt down some very dangerous butterflies all by yourself with the watching eyes of your mother. Before you start to discover the world with your family, you get to know the simple controls to manoeuvre yourself through your young life.
When exploring the world, you will eventually come to a point where your mother will carry you around holding the cub by the scruff of its neck. You cannot do anything while she does that, leaving you defenceless. But this is the crucial point in Paws. You are pretty much defenceless and if your mother cannot take care of you, it can easily lead to something terrible… For example, getting separated from your family.
After enjoying your time with your family, you are on your own due to some circumstances no one could have predicted. For spoiler reasons, I will not tell how it leads to this unfortunate turn of events. It is for the player to discover. After going through this experience, the journey of the young lynx begins and leads to an unexpected friendship along the search for its lost family.
The story of Shelter 2 is very simple as well. You are a lynx, searching for a safe place to give birth. You get a slow tutorial for running and jumping through a forest at night. You slowly approach your way through this poetic scenery, as things get busy. Chased down by a pack of wolves, mother lynx has to find her way to be secure and giving you the first impression how vulnerable you are in this beautiful, peaceful looking world of Shelter 2.
After getting to a location perfect to have your offspring, you can decide if you want to name your cubs. You get provided with four pre-picked names, if you do not want to come up with your own. After that, you are put into the position of providing food and also being a guardian over the four fur balls until they are all grown up.
There is hardly any story to speak of so music is a key factor to transfer a good atmosphere to the player. Both games in Shelter Generations do a brilliant job here. From smooth and soothing guitar music that makes you feel safe, secure and equally relaxed, you also are provided with an uneasy feeling when a heavy tune plays along.
You will immediately feel the approaching danger, as well as some situations, leave you more puzzled thanks to a perfect fused combination of events and music. When familiar with my preferences, you will know how important music is for me. I can certainly and proudly say, I enjoyed the soundtrack of Shelter very, very much. It reminded me of the OST of Abzû or Journey while playing. It gets to you while you are playing, waking emotions inside of you. Pleasant ones and the ones that make you feel oppressive. If you want that… or not.
You can get too busy listening to the music and enjoying it in Paws and Shelter 2, but if you just want to lay back and enjoy the splendid soundtrack of both titles, you will happily use the option to listen to the included acoustic pieces.
Visuals and Performance
Since both games share the same concept and style I will cover both in this section.
You are told to not judge a book by its cover. It might be true, but… we all secretly do in some form and then we can be surprised which is always a joy. To be honest, the visuals made the biggest impact on me here. Shelter Generation stands out of the crowd with its artistic environment. It spoke to me with the abstract methods of adding texture to the open fields of land and the paper cutout style. It can be difficult to make a huge patch of grass look interesting, but Shelter 2 makes it happen by adding splashes of colour in various forms. No wonder that file size is over 4,000 MB when you take a first look at the stunning graphics it provides.
Plain snowfields in the mountain area are kissed alive by adding blue to the white, to not make you feel tired by looking at it for too long during prowling through nature. Paths of green lined across a flowing river of blue, grey and occasionally bits of white or other kinds of colours flowers can deliver… And a wonderful forest with all kinds of green, a mix of reddish brown and bluish grey.
Shelter 2 and Paws both feel like a living painting the lynx are wandering through. Every brush stroke is carefully placed and the artist really knows his profession there. Everything seems in place and considered before all colours become a beautiful whole.
Stunning beauty does not mean a good performance. Sadly, I had a few issues with Shelter Generations. One time, the game crashed. The mother and cub disappear into the grass like a brush stroke was placed sloppily over their body in a rush and destroyed the gorgeous aesthetic for me.
The other thing I had was when I took a jump with mother lynx once. The jump seemed unnatural and somehow a little bit flimsy. But it might only be my lack of adaption to the controls since I experienced that in the early game and the cat of prey was not glitching out on me later on. Going through bushes leaving it with no reaction of touching it or walking directly through the body of your mother (or cubs) without making the slightest impression left me a bit disappointed, too.
In Paws, I had one flaw I am not sure if it is my own fault or a bug, so be kindly warned at this point. I searched online if someone had the same issue, but I was unlucky to find an answer to this. The game did not crash on me, but I got stuck on a point in the latter half.
At one part of the game, you are teamed up with a bear cub, making your way to solve puzzles and get to an obstacle where you have to climb on the bear’s back. But my buddy decided to sit down in the middle of a clearing, wanting to have its dinner. I hunted down butterflies for my friend and put it in front of him… Little bear did not want to take a bite. Once all butterflies were caught and carefully stocked up with nothing happening I had to resign to the fact the game bugged out.
Since I did it at least five times, it might be either the game… or my inability. Lack of attempts and ambition sure was not the problem here.
Both titles from developers Might and Delight have similar and simple mechanics. Of course, it makes a difference if you control a fully grown lynx or a smaller one. You can jump, run and crawl using the same buttons. It is nice that the controls of one game are adapted to the other one. Press ZL to run, A to jump and X you drink water or pick up your cubs. Or cry out for your mother/children. With L you open a map and R shows you all collectables in the game. + opens a pause menu.
One of the important features you can actually do is activated by you pressing the B button. The screen will turn dark and you are able to spot possible prey and your family/friend. The only other thing you can spot is a landmark you can enter a new area into.
From now on, I am going to speak for each game individually again.
As far as I was able to play this title, one thing I really found annoying was the camera. Sometimes I just had to turn it around in a panic because a darn swan was at my back. Doing so, I often felt I had lost my orientation and was left looking around aimlessly.
Taking a long run
In Paws, after being separated from your mother and siblings, you are on your own. Wandering through the woods and climbing a mountain, always holding up your little nose to not lose track of your relatives. At some points, they pass your way in a ghostly appearance. The first time they did, I actually started to run towards them, meowing continuously to grab their attention. All four of them looked so real. But as I caught up with their images, I realised they are just my cubs’ hearts desire and in my imagination.
Paws did a splendid job in fooling me there, and even though many people might think the path is very long, repetitive and tedious, I think that it is the point of it. Your search for your mother and siblings and the way to reach them seems so long and full of obstacles. Although, in the end, it was a journey worth taking.
Starting with this game it is adorably illustrated from the menu as the bigger lynx, while Paws is the cub, you are thrown into motherhood very early in the game. And with that, the struggles start… Or do they?
Shelter 2 starts with you having your four cubs as previously stated. You are able to come up with names for all of them – or just use the given ones. By having that option and taking the advantage of actually using names you thought of, you immediately start to care more for the little lynx. The game is full of such actions that might seem small… But become a huge thing when combined and stacked with each other. (By the way, the names of my cubs are ‘June’, ‘Apolo’, ‘Dante’ and ‘Amber’. Sadly, you are only limited to five character ones, therefore ‘Apollo’ turned out weird.)
The environment of Shelters 2 has a lot to offer. You have various animals below your own place in the food chain, but some of them are above you or your cubs. Some of them also try to put their foot upon you, for example, a bird. When the music starts to get ominous, you know in your guts that something is about to go wrong. The first time I encountered that experience, it made me tense and my heart screamed as loud as my little cub did as a hawk tried to test the water. As my lynx sprung onto that bird and took him down, I was glad of having the option to pause the game. It felt good to save my little ‘Amber’, but I also felt drenched and stressed out.
And that is actually good.
Playing it safe
If Shelter would only provide happy situations and no danger at all, it would have been highly implausible. For a person like I am, rescuing every gone astray spider and crying heavily when an animal dies, this fact causes pure tension to fire up a deep conflict within me. But somehow, trying to provide the survival of my cubs, I twisted around at an instant.
Sure, it is just a game, but it would not be a good one if it could not transfer a feeling of care onto the player. And actually trying to see what happens if a cub actually gets killed for the sake of this review still lingers with me. On your family tree, the cub that got killed is displayed in black instead of white. Just seeing this change of colour laid heavy on my heart.
A cub could be easily killed, but I tried to kill mother lynx (or myself) off to see what happens. But death does not lead to a sad end. Mother lynx comes back when falling into the river, shaking its wet fur dry. No chance of getting washed away or drowning. I have to admit that I played it safe most of the time, not taking risks to lead all of my cubs into adulthood. When all of them actually grow up into adults, you can pick up one of your children and follow their journey of being a parent.
With my second run, I tried to be more daring and felt more confident. Unfortunately, I have to say that it is really hard to get your little ones killed. Not that I wanted to, but for providing a good review I had to. With a lot to hunt down around, food is not something you can run short of. I actually did not drink from a river by accident in my first run and nothing happened. Cats can survive long times with no access to food and water, so their older wilder brothers and sisters can as well.
But is that really surviving? Actually, no. I never ran out of prey to hunt. With controlling a lynx, an animal that has a higher place in the food chain, things are easier as well. You can sneak your way around many possible risks in the further playthrough (for example knowing where birds hunt for food or where you can step into a swamp) and I actually would have preferred more potential trouble to face. Even the changing seasons did not add anything significant to it like nature normally would.
Cub A, A, A and… A?
Though I feel very connected to my little meowing furballs, I wished they would have had more character and I can understand that some people might not get a deep bond with the four offsprings. Honestly, they were all the perfect children… Which is very unlikely. One got a little bit astray, but never too far away to get into a panic to search for it. Say ‘meow?’ and there it is, running to you in an exemplary way! They all followed me like little soldiers. This sure made things easier and even more when they are older.
Raising them can be a challenge and I can understand that this game did not want to overwhelm the player as interest may fade. Adding character and little structure to all cubs they would have been more believable and even more likeable. A tough challenge would have been if all the cubs would flee after encountering an attack of a hawk… but instead, they just stood there, unimpressed by the cry of their sibling. Also, if mom rushed off, they could always keep up with only a slight delay. Never get lost or distracted… I love them either way, but I might be biased due to my undying love for cats and other animals.
Shelter Generations does offer you a little more than “just” those two games and the Mountains DLC for Shelter 2. You actually can read some short stories that are illustrated in a very lively and overly adorable way in the same paper cutout art style I grew so fond of. “The Lonesome Fog” is a little story about a cub facing its fear of life and touched me very deeply, while Fabled from the Den are small life lessons taught by different animals.
Shelter Generations is an enhanced port for the Nintendo Switch, including the two games Paws and Shelters 2, as well as the soundtracks and those virtual stories I really enjoyed having.
Hey, you made it until here! Or did you skip my long review for this game? Either way, you really want to know if this game is worth your money. It might be a little bit pricey, but I can recommend this game to you if you are up for this kind of game (and better at feeding a bear cub than I am).
Having an uneasy feeling, not being able to do something, but also feeling safe because of the loving care of your mother is a unique experience as well as secure survival for you and the kids. Speaking of which, Shelter Generations is, due to its cute artsy style, not really suitable for children.
Shelter 2 and Paws provide several hours of fun if you are into that type of game. Replay value is high if you want to start a new family with one of your cubs and you still have two games for $19.99 USD or £18.09 GBP. But, like the gentlemen on SwitchWatch told you as much as I did before if this is not your cup of tea, the game could cost barely nothing and it would be a waste of money. For my taste and the people loving a survival or a unique game experience, I would tell them to go for it. It is not perfect, but I had a bath of emotions with it I do not want to miss anymore.
* A review copy of this game was kindly provided by CIRCLE Ent..
Unique, gorgeous visuals
The included level editor, complete with online sharing, opens the game up for much more content
Strong game without many words
Nice value, stunning soundtracks
Lack of life in some locations
Higher difficulty would have been nice
"Edgy cubs" would have been more believable