PC, Nintendo Switch
November 2, 2021
Little Rock Games
The wholesome game of the season, To The Rescue! is a dog shelter simulator and tycoon game where you are responsible for cute and cuddly dogs in need of a home. Developers Little Rock Games are a small studio with a mission to raise funds for real-life shelters, donating 20% of their profits to the Petfinder Foundation. While it’s a fantastic effort, the game itself isn’t perfect and has disappointing shortcomings.
A pawsitive cause
To The Rescue!’s story mode opens with your character and personalised pet coming across a lost pup roaming around your new home. Taking them to the nearby dog shelter, it becomes apparent that they need lots of help. Long story short, you open a shelter to support lost dogs and find perfect matches for longing visitors. With the help of the town and the local Mayor, you can find forever homes for many, many doggies.
As you’d expect, the narrative’s purpose is to teach players the tycoon elements of the game. It’s a charming tail (teehee) that walks you through dog care, shelter construction, stock control, adoptions, grants and funding, shelter reputation, events, and even online profile and awareness. Unfortunately, the pacing is very off. You’ll immediately be trusted with an overwhelming mess of a shelter, which admittedly communicates the game’s underlying message, but is a nightmare to play.
Once you begin your own shelter, everything starts from the ground up. Building the shelter and placing kennels orderly is much more to speed. However, the story introduces new features only after reaching specific milestones and it takes a good while to come across them all. Some may prefer the slow burn after the hectic beginning; others will just play Sandbox Mode with everything available from the start.
Pup and running
Dogs need food and water as well as to be clean and happy. As the lead employee of the shelter, it’s up to you to take care of them. It can get frantic, but it’s all worth it to see them find homes. Their traits and preferences, like food, personalities, health quirks, names, and training values make them unique and memorable. With 28 different breed variants, there is a surprisingly broad range of lovable dogs to become overly attached to.
“With 28 different breed variants, there is a surprisingly broad range of lovable dogs to become overly attached to.”
The main goal is to keep the shelter running with donations and adoption money, and there are multiple ways to spend it. Upgrade the shelter to increase capacity, efficiencies, add employees to help, and make the pups as comfortable as can be. Managing the budget can become a strategic challenge when considering expenses for food, vaccines for sudden disease outbreaks, and other unexpected expenses.
For players unsure about the tragic nature of shelters, To The Rescue! offers a friendlier option. When you have no room for a lost dog and need to rehome it, you can opt-in to “send away” pups instead of the more dramatic option. Yet, it’s still sad sending away a friend who you can’t provide for. My partner could not physically watch me play after a while because it made them too upset.
A dog’s breakfast
Where To The Rescue! suffers is in its controls and interface. You’ll be tasked with filling up water bowls, feeding dogs, picking up poop, washing, vaccinating, selecting doggies for adoption and more… all with only two inventory spots. Constantly juggling your tools is frustrating with keyboard controls and dropping/picking up items with a left and right-click. Scrolling on the mouse changes targeted items in the shelter you want to pick up. Yes, scroll. Often tools like the food, bucket, sponge, and scooper are all close together, which means you’ll be fumbling around to pick the one you actually want. It’s incredibly inconvenient and simply not fun.
When cleaning a dog, you’ll need to perform a small mini-game where a bar moves back and forth on a pendulum. Clicking in the green zone makes the action faster until it is complete. Only being able to wash one dog at a time, to begin with, is not a great experience. You can walk away and let the dog essentially clean itself but I found this didn’t work half the time. Other mini-games, like Tug-Of-War and Fetch, are better. They aren’t detrimental to a dog’s overall welfare but aren’t more engaging than a quick distraction.
Dog adoption is a remarkable moment until the management side gets in the way. A visitor comes to your shelter and asks for a specific trait or dog that you’ll need to find for them. By considering your pack and their relevant traits, select five of them with a ribbon to start the adoption. The game then locks into adoption mode at a turtle’s pace as the visitor slowly inspects each dog over a minute, which feels almost like an eternity. Adoption needs to be much faster, especially when the shelter is under strife. There’s poop to pick up before the shelter closes and you really don’t have time for people to gander at dogs.
Puppy dog eyes 😍
What you see is what you get – a cute, bright art style with even cuter animations. The stars of the show come in varying breeds, colours, and sizes. They’ll lay down into a ball when they are tired, look upset if they are hungry or ill, and stick their tongue out and wag their tail when they are happy. Even the neat loading screen animation of a dog walking in circles before it lays down always brings a smile before even starting a game.
“What you see is what you get – a cute, bright art style with even cuter animations.”
It’s all very colourful and soft, with nothing overbearing or harsh to the eyes. Managing the shelter, construction, and the several laptop menus look fantastic, being very clear and easy to read despite the amount of information on the screen. In comparison to the concept gameplay shared in previous demos and the Kickstarter campaign, there’s been a whole lot of improvement in accessibility and readability. Artist and UI Designer Byron Buslig and Animator Kat Higgins have done terrific work on establishing the look and feel of To The Rescue!.
On the other hand, the music is… not as terrific. There are only a handful of tracks and they’re generic at best. While light and bubbly to match the atmosphere, they are short jingles and highly repetitive. Each day will have a different song, but the variety is lacking and you’ll notice them repeating over and over again. Most people will likely turn down the music only a few hours into the game.
I think we have fleas…
Someone needs to buy Advocate Flea, Heartworm and Tick control because there are way too many bugs in To The Rescue!. Playing version 1.0.7 on Windows 11, glitches like dogs phasing out of their kennels, getting stuck on doors, losing items underneath the environment, and tools not being able to be put down were mildly frustrating to deal with.
Regrettably, it doesn’t end there. There were severe game-breaking issues, such as getting stuck in the adoption scene or dialogue boxes and being unable to select dogs. Another included my main story save becoming a stuttering mess after a few hours of play, skipping nearly every five or so seconds. The only fix was to start a new game and I did not figure out the root of the stuttering.
Throughout our pre-release review, there have already been a few patches that fixed issues with audio and resolution. Still, there is oddly enough some issues with changing these options and the window mode. There isn’t even support for QHD monitors. I’m hoping that given the passion and goals Little Rock Games has for To The Rescue!, they’ll do their darndest to amend these concerns as soon as possible.
Update: We’ve been informed that many of the bugs we experienced have been fixed for launch.
- Cute style with lots of dogs to find forever homes for
- Shelter management can be strategic or casual fun
- Tricky controls and interface
- Game-breaking bugs and performance issues
- Music is too repetitive
- Pacing is a little off
To The Rescue! delivers a meaningful message about animal welfare in a family-friendly package. An inoffensive tycoon game full of cute dogs and happy moments makes running a dog shelter a cheerful task. Yet, that task becomes painstakingly frustrating with a poor interface, micromanaging dozens of pups with a limited inventory and clumsy controls. It doesn’t help that there are many, many glitches and game-breaking bugs. Little Rock Games might be biting off more than they can chew with To The Rescue!.