There are all sorts of pet simulations out there. However, most of them start after acquiring a new animal. To the Rescue, a game developed by Little Rock Games for the Switch and PC, takes place before that happens. In it, players first work in, then run, an animal shelter and attempt to find dogs homes. I was able to go hands-on and spend “a week” running a shelter. It was quite a demanding experience in the build.
To start, things kicked off with a brief introduction. The shelter experience begins when the player, who newly moved to a town, discovers a lost dog. Someone they knew at a shelter helps them set up a kennel in their garage temporarily. Little Rock Games’ Olivia Dunlap noted that this introduction was rooted in real life. As a real dog had been found (and adopted) by the developers. For the sake of the build, To the Rescue skipped ahead to managing an actual shelter.
As you might expect from this sort of game, there are a lot of details involved in the day-to-day in To the Rescue. For example, after walking into my shelter, I saw I had a number of dogs in the holding pen. However, I had no kennels. So, first on the to-do list was creating spaces for them to “live.” I then had to provide food and water for each one. Four food varieties appeared when I played. While each dog has a preference, I learned all were willing to eat anything. However, food they dislike makes them get dirty faster, which means spending more time that could be used getting animals adopted playing a scrubbing minigame to clean them off.
Each dog’s profile does more than explain what food they like and show if they’re clean, hungry, or thirsty. It also shows their breed and traits. Traits can be positive or negative. For example, one could be food aggressive or get along with cats. Checking in is valuable, as dogs whose statuses slip won’t be as adoptable or could result in fines for the player for not running a good and clean shelter.
Those traits and breeds are critical to adoptability. In fact, as I played, they were often more crucial than an animal being well taken care of. As visitors come in, they’ll tell you what they want. For example, one woman wanted a medium-sized dog that would be good with cats. After you get their criteria, you check your selection to see if anyone might match. You can then use numbered ribbons to quickly teleport the possible dogs to the five kennels in the adoption showcase.
When you check with a potential owner again, they’ll look at the dogs. A gauge at the top shows how much “interest” must be acquired to trigger an adoption. (Which you need to make money and space for more dogs.) If one of the requests is met, you’ll see it highlighted in green and the dog will be awarded extra stars. Stars then fill the gauge. If it turns green, the person will pick a dog. (And it won’t always be the one you expect.) In the preview build, I often found myself falling short of adoptions by perhaps one to three stars. However, the full game will include incentives like a “discount” feature that could potentially convince a future pet parent.
What I did notice in this build of To the Rescue is that the balance seemed a bit off. Time passed extremely quickly. Dogs kept appearing in the holding area, even if all my kennels were full. Since some dogs seemed to need feeding or watering multiple times a day, I was constantly running to care for them. Not to mention the actual adoption process can take a bit as the visitor looks over each animal one-by-one. Granted, this did come without any of the tutorial segment, where you first work in an established shelter before you get your own. It also didn’t involve the employee hiring element, as the full game will let people recruit NPCs to help with animal care.
To the Rescue seems like a game that, once released, could make someone think. You’ll have to consider what both the dogs and people want. Budgets will have to be balanced. And you’ll also have to consider that there will always be more dogs out there and you probably won’t have room for them. From what I’ve seen, it seems like a full-time job that requires multiple (virtual) assistants.
To the Rescue will come to the Nintendo Switch and PC in Fall 2021.