Charm goes an awful long way in gaming, partly because it's often in such short supply. Many a mechanically sound shooter or platformer has fallen at the final hurdle by being hard to warm to. Shelter Generations doesn't suffer from such a problem. It's absolutely lovely to behold, with charm practically oozing out of every pore (or should that be paw?).
Unfortunately, the two games that make up the Shelter Generations package suffer from completely the opposite problem. Neither game's mechanics live up to their appealing worlds. Shelter 2 is the headliner here, offering a distinctive open-world survival sim-lite experience. You take the role of a lynx mother, who gives birth to a litter of four mewling cubs right at the outset. It's up to you to head out into the wild and hunt for food for your offspring. After a brief period of to-ing and fro-ing from your den, your brood will join you on your travels, forcing you to turn protector as well as provider.
Navigating the open grassland, mossy woods and ice cold tundras of this world is a surprisingly straightforward affair. You can capture smaller prey by tracking them with 'B' and then running into them. Our agile lynx will automatically enter a slinky stalking posture when she nears potential prey - most of the time, at least. It's a bit finicky. 'ZL' will set you off into a gallop, though this depletes your slow-to-regenerate stamina bar. If you hit 'A' mid-run, you'll pounce forward, which is an essential move for taking down nimble deer.
Your cubs aren't nearly as capable as you are, of course, so you'll need to keep an eye out for hungry foxes and opportunistic eagles. When the music turns ominous and a cub cries out, it's imperative that you chase these animals away or hunt them down before they can make off with your little 'un. The first lesson you'll learn in the game remains true throughout, however. If you encounter a pack of wolves, run and look for higher ground.
It's all reasonably diverting, largely thanks to the game's lovely (if basic) impressionistic paper-craft art style and gentle soundtrack. The way the world changes with the seasons is particularly affecting, and helps sell the idea of a protracted journey. From a narrative perspective, the emerging relationship between the lynx and her cubs is a tale that's told with considerable warmth and subtlety. Other than a list of collectibles to keep an eye out for in each separate area, however, that's pretty much that. Mechanically, Shelter 2 all just a little too basic. Your lynx doesn't quite have the tactile fluidity or range of moves, and the hunting isn't involved or nuanced enough to make Shelter 2's survival gameplay worthwhile in and of itself. To use an appropriate expression, it needs more meat on its bones.
The second game in the package, Paws, is a compact spin-off that neatly flips the perspective to that of a cub. After a short introduction in which you trot along behind your mother, gambolling with your siblings and catching butterflies, you become separated from your family. This is the cue for a simple platformer-adventure of sorts. It's a far more linear affair than Shelter 2, as you follow the trail of your family through narrow ravines and over rocky hills. You're not roaming a wild landscape so much as following a breadcrumb trail, with the odd tasty frog or nest full of eggs offering a reminder of the powerful hunter our cub will one day become.
Suitably enough, it's far cuter than its mother game, especially when an ursine companion joins the fray. If anything, though, it's even more basic from a mechanical perspective. You're simply travelling from A to B, solving simple spatial puzzles. Whereas Shelter 2's engine worked well for an open-world adventure, you can pick out the flaws more easily in this more focused, zoomed-in experience. Muddy textures, indistinct level elements, and various snags and glitches all pull you out of the experience - even though that aforementioned charm is still here in spades.
The camera is a bit of a nightmare too, constantly seeking to drag your view down to the ground when you need a little height to judge distances and see your surroundings. All in all, Shelter Generations is a sweet-natured package with a distinctive take on the survival and platform-adventure genres. It's just a shame that its rudimentary underpinnings can't seal the deal.
Shelter Generations is a thoroughly charming combination of open-world survival and platform-adventure that provides a fresh slant on both. Beneath its adorable skin, however, there simply isn't enough satisfying meat to sustain the experience.