There is no denying that visiting an animal shelter is a happy occasion for most people. Nothing compares to walking through rows of dogs and finding the one you know is your best friend. Under the cheerful, bustling exterior of the tail, however, animal shelters require a lot of maintenance and work to thrive. Caring for dozens or hundreds of dogs can be difficult, messy, tiring and frustrating, as I learned when I briefly worked in a kennel earlier this year. Knowing exactly what it takes to keep a large group of dogs (fairly) satisfied, I was curious to see how Little Rock Games would approach maintaining a shelter in To the rescue!
To the rescue! is a business simulation focused on caring for the dogs and business of your rescue organization. It is developed by Little Rock Games and published by Freedom Games, and it will arrive on Nintendo Switch and PC / Mac via Steam this fall. When the game starts you have just moved into a new home in a new town when you find a stray dog ââin your backyard. By learning that the local rescue is too full to support it – and accepting a job with your rescue friend – you are set up with your own shelter by the town’s mayor. After all, the only way to help the influx of stray dogs into the city is to open your own rescue!
I was able to discover the game by talking to Olivia Dunlap, lead co-developer of the project, about her inspiration for To the rescue! and what the team wants players to get out of the experience.
In 2019, To the rescue! was successfully funded on Kickstarter. The idea came from the team’s own dogs, Dunlap told me on Discord. None of the developers have any shelter experience, but they all grew up with dogs that had a big impact on them. When Dunlap was in college, several of his friends raised dogs and cats, which taught him a lot about the process of adopting animals. As well as wanting to create a great game that allowed players to pet all dogs, Dunlap also wanted to convey the more difficult aspects of working in a shelter: caring for dogs in need, managing space, and working with potential clients. adoption. She insisted that the rescue job “isn’t just about petting cute puppies.”
While the game retains some of the features of business sims, the team has tweaked a few aspects to serve its message. One of Dunlap’s least favorite things about business sims is the higher level divine perspective. The team wanted to emphasize the relationship between people and their dogs, so they chose to include a player character rather than using the traditional hand or floating icon. The goal is to allow players to experience one-on-one interactions between themselves and the dogs rather than just treating each dog like a number. It’s great to hear that the team is preserving this positive aspect of the shelters’ work.
In addition to working to help dogs in the game, Little Rock Games donates 20% of all profits to the Petfinder Foundation, an organization that provides grants to shelters and rescue groups across North America. While chatting with Dunlap, I felt that helping real-life animals was just as important as making a good game. To the rescue! is a great example of how developers and publishers can do more good with the games they create.
During my preview, I was able to play for the first half hour of story mode. Dunlap walked me through the intro, which includes choosing between a story mode and a more open sandbox mode. The introduction presents a more important choice: whether or not to include references to euthanasia. There is no gameplay change between the two; if the player chooses to disable euthanasia, the dogs will simply be âlet looseâ instead. As I’m used to working in an animal medicine environment, I chose to include the references, but they didn’t show up in my demo at all.
After choosing the appearance of my character and my friendly dog ââcompanion, I was placed at the very beginning of the story. The game is not story-driven, but the team wanted to include a story mode to provide context for the management aspects and create a sense of a larger community between the player, the dogs, and the adopters who visit the rescue of from time to time. time. Dunlap explained that this stemmed from the team’s discussions with shelters in the Little Rock, Arkansas area. Many said the local community was important to them.
After the first part of the story, I moved on to the actual management part of the game. (Dunlap confirmed that the area that serves as a tutorial will be playable in the final version, but for the sake of brevity it has not was included in the demo.) At the start of the game morning, the dogs arrived in a kennel at my shelter. After spending some of my limited funds to build more permanent kennels for each one, I took the dogs to their new kennels using leash mode, the game’s way of interacting with furry friends. The dogs pull at you while you leave them on a leash, which is adorably realistic.
Each randomly generated dog has a file that shows what makes them unique – with their age, size, breed, food preferences, and personality traits – and part of the puzzle is matching the right dog to the right owner. Dunlap explained that dog breeds are intentionally left vague because the team didn’t want people to think they could go to a shelter and still find a dog of a very specific breed. They also didn’t want to accidentally promote racial stereotypes through randomization.
In the last few minutes of my demo, I attempted to adopt a dog from a new owner. It’s harder than it looks; each person arrives with a preconstructed resistance to adoption. As they see more dogs that meet their specifications, their willingness to adopt increases, as shown by the bar at the top of the screen. If they develop enough willpower, they’ll bring home a new dog – and it’s not always the one that fits their guidelines perfectly. In my demo, I couldn’t adopt a single dog, but it’s like that in real life, so I wasn’t too pissed off.
While I was working with adopters, the dogs still needed me. If a dog is hungry, thirsty, dirty or sick, a notification will appear on the right side of the screen. Keeping a full, healthy, and clean dog increases adoption, so it’s important to make sure they’re all feeling their best. I quickly found myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that needed to be done in order for the shelter to function – which, oddly enough, was exactly how I felt when I first started working in a kennel. The game runs on a day / night cycle, so I only had a few hours in the game to complete my tasks before it was time to point in and bring my own furry mate home.
I left from To the rescue! hungry for more. While Dunlap hasn’t shared a specific release date, the game is slated to arrive this fall, and I know I’ll be playing more when I do. Serious and colorful without being too sweet, stimulating without being unfair, To the rescue! seems to be a lot of fun. Now, if you will excuse me, Zephyr needs to change his food.