Made by Little Rock Games – Olivia Dunlap and Tanner Marshall – To The Rescue! is, quite simply, a dog shelter simulation. Theme Park with less salt. Jurassic World Evolution without as many civilian casualties. SimCopter without any ‘copters. You get the idea.
It has an adorable look to it and is full of all the ‘snoot boops’, as I’m forced to write, you would expect of anything dog-related in the contemporary gaming world. You run the shelter, look after the dogs and their welfare, and aim for all the rescued pooches to be adopted into suitable homes. But it goes beyond that, into areas you might not expect of something so bright and airy-looking.
“We really want to represent the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of running a shelter,” Little Rock tell us. “Which means that even though you get to interact with and get to know all kinds of dogs, some of them are more adoptable than others.
“Just like in real life, some kinds of dogs are more appealing to adopters for a variety of reasons like their age, breed, and personality traits. But you also have to deal with the threat of illness and disease, running out of funds, and other adverse situations.”
And that’s where the unique aspect of a dog shelter sim comes into play – your goal might be to get these pooches into their forever homes, but the simple fact is you will face many roadblocks along the way, seemingly conspiring to work against your efforts to keep the shelter running.
“Sometimes, when dogs are sick, or old, or aggressive, and no one wants to adopt them, you won’t be able to afford to keep taking care of them and might have to make a tough decision,” Little Rock explains. “But if everything works out and the shelter gets plenty of donations, you’ll be able to take care of them for as long as you like.”
Those tough decisions mentioned incorporate euthanasia, a hot topic for any animal lover, and a constant source of controversy surrounding shelters (and even activist groups like PETA) around the world. But it’s a part of the dog shelter experience, and it’s something Little Rock felt strongly had to make up a part of the game. “From the very beginning of the project, we wanted to include euthanasia in the game.
“We know that the idea of it being an option may be shocking to some people, but the truth of the matter is that there are way more dogs and cats in need than shelters can handle. It can be hard for ‘no-kill’ shelters to take in every animal that might need help.
“Those that may be hard to adopt, rehabilitate, or find room for may eventually end up at other shelters that have no choice. A tragic side effect of this is that shelters that need help the most may end up with a bad reputation.
“No one ever wants to have to euthanise. But since we want to raise awareness, we don’t want to pretend that it’s not potentially part of the job. It’s not glorified or presented as an easy way out, but it’s an important part of the experience.”
But this is a game, and there’s the option to turn off the euthanasia mechanic for those who feel strongly about it for whatever reason. It’s not an aspect to dwell on – this isn’t a dog murdering simulation – but it’s still quite jarring to hear something so fantastically twee does cover such a tough, real-world element.
“The game has a pretty cute art style that might suggest it’s more light-hearted than it is, and one of the reasons for that was to make it a little bit less realistic,” the team explains.
“In some ways, we want to subvert people’s expectations about the type of experience that they might have with that kind of game. We don’t want to shock people, but we really want to make games that are meaningful and that make a difference.”
Even when opting out of its harder aspects, To The Rescue! is sure to point out to the user exactly what it is they’re opting out of, as well as that “in reality, not every shelter has that option.”
But it’s not browbeating or forcing you to feel bad – there’s the chance to engage with and succeed in a niche management sim, growing and succeeding in your dog-rehoming business just as you would in any other managerial title.
Unlike the others, though, To The Rescue! offers one extra nugget to tempt in dog-lovers of the world: you’ll be helping out real-world shelters.
“One really important thing for us is to try and be honest,” Little Rock says. “Not only to generate awareness but also to raise money for real-world shelters. To that end, we are donating 20% of the profits to charities that support shelters across the United States.”
Genre: Management sim
Developer: Little Rock Games
Publisher: Little Rock Games
Check out To The Rescue! on Steam.