Now playing: learning tough love in a land of badgers, with Shelter

Philippa Warr

Page 1 of 10

I suppose the signs that I was a terrible badger parent were there from the opening seconds of Shelter.

The game begins with me (the badger mum) and four snuffling, chirruping cubs in a little underground tunnel. A fifth cub lies pale and motionless on the ground in front of me. "Oh dear," I think. "Well, best leave him and move on."

It is only after the game's repeated refusal to let me leave my underground starting area that it occurs to me that the cub is not actually dead and I am expected to nurture it back to health.

"What a waste of resources," is my maternal response. "Why don't I give this radish thing to one of the healthy ones? Or to me?"

Since the game seems to want a level of emotional involvement I name the cubs in an attempt to bond with them - they are Circles, Stripes, Fatty, Skunk and Neptune, God Of The Sea.

We navigate a hillside and I am cross when my children won't help me push an uprooted tree off the side of the walkway and into the valley below. We navigate a field and I am cross that we have to keep avoiding an eagle who wants to eat them. We attempt to navigate a log bridge and I am incredibly cross when it collapses under us. I idly wonder whether the collapse is because too many of my children have survived making our party too heavy. Maybe I should have thrown one of them to the eagle. Fatty seems like a decent candidate.

We are now traversing a nighttime jazzscape under the glare of a spotlight. Every so often a mysterious cracking sound scares the cubs and they scamper into the darkness like skittish opera singers diving for the safety of the stage wings. I gather them up for the umpteenth time. "STOP FAFFING ABOUT YOU JERKS."

Neptune, God Of The Sea is visibly starving by this point, probably because Fatty is eating all the radishes. I decide to make an effort to keep him alive and drop the next radish right in front of his face. He freaks out and runs away. Twice. One of nature's survivors, that one. "Well, you can't be a god of the sea if you won't eat your greens," I think as I spitefully give the radish to Fatty.

Somehow we are all still alive as the nighttime gives way to red raindrops. I wonder whether we have taken a wrong turning and arrived at the forest equivalent of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as fire and brimstone rain down upon us. To test the theory I force my cubs to turn back the way we came. None of them turns to salt so I conclude the red rain is probably just a stylistic choice.

For this level we must negotiate a red river. The biblical references are still not forthcoming and I am unable to part the waves as Badger Moses. Instead I time my runs through the water and watch as my cubs scamper after me. Towards the end of our ascent upriver one of the cubs is swept away. When we have a moment to stop and take a headcount I realise that the idiot offspring killed by water was Neptune, God of the Sea. Why am I not surprised?

THE FOREST IS ON FIRE!

My badger cubs are standing far too near said fire, squeaking at a radish. I decide to let them learn a valuable lesson, but the game doesn't seem to have a concept of heat and so my charges skitter about mere millimetres from fiery death and learn nothing. I lead them onwards and suddenly the fire advances making our path far narrower.

Watching as the four remaining cubs hustle to keep up with me I notice Circles and Skunk are on fire, their patterned hides giving off little puffs of smoke. I roll my eyes and decide to ignore such attention-seeking.

The game then combines eagles with forest fires and I accidentally lead my cubs into a cul-de-sac of death. I'm not entirely sure whether Circles is barbecued or eagle-skewered but either way he is no longer with us. I try to hold a moment of silence for his passing but Fatty is noisily eating a radish.

We now seem to be in a sunkissed meadow haunted by eagles and foxes. I am fed up with my badger cubs and don't feel like giving Fatty yet another radish so I keep one in my mouth, refusing to hand it over as he sticks to me like a mewling shadow. His gluttony saves his life, however, as I am so preoccupied with not nourishing my cubs that I forget the eagles. Fatty and I have run into a hollow log. The others? Not so much.

Stripes is the latest casualty. I haven't even bothered anthropomorphising him, truth be told, so his loss isn't exactly a hardship. It is, however, a little awkward listening to his panicked squawking while I look at Fatty and Skunk, mouth still full of radish.

Looking over at Fatty as I relent and drop the radish, I realise he is almost as big as I am. "Why the hell am I still escorting you pair?" I wonder as we traverse yet another field. "Surely you should be protecting ME from all these eagles, especially since the game won't let me eat anything and I'm probably weak and wasting away."

It is at this precise moment that I am pecked in the face by an eagle. Fatty and Skunk clearly feel no obligation towards me despite my stellar parenting and they scarper, leaving me to die.

"TAKE THEM INSTEAD! Fatty will be delicious and plump!" But alas, the eagle does not listen and I am carried off into the sky in some kind of badger apotheosis.

As the credits roll I comfort myself knowing that my cubs are so entirely stupid they will likely not survive the next government-approved badger cull.

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