Review: To the Rescue! – A Charming-yet-Challenging Dog Shelter Sim

I adore animals. I have rescue cats at home—one who chooses to live inside my house and the other who prefers living under it—and a goofy corgi named Barney. Surprisingly, Barney beat me to becoming a gaming personality by being featured in a video game. He often sits next to me, watching as I play, and I have this habit of pointing out dogs in media to him, especially if it’s a corgi.

So, when I got the chance to work at a dog rescue shelter in To the Rescue! from Little Rock Games on the Nintendo Switch, I couldn’t tell who was more excited between Barney and me. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that Barney would probably excel at working in a dog shelter more than I would. Time management is not my strong suit, which is essential for success in this game. Nevertheless, To the Rescue! is a charming, albeit deceiving, business and dog caring simulation.

Starting Out

The game starts with players selecting an avatar from a limited range of choices and a companion animal. Given the presence of a corgi, I naturally went for it and named it Barney. So far, so good. After a chance encounter with a lost puppy, the player learns the basic controls and mechanics while their friend from a nearby animal shelter offers guidance, despite the shelter being already full. Following a successful foster night and adoption, the player is recruited to work at the dog shelter and shown the ropes.

This is where the game bombarded me with instructions. Perhaps it’s impressively accurate or intentionally misleading, but there was a lot to take in on my first day at the shelter. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’m sure the game will guide me.” I was mistaken. I had been thrown into the deep end, reminiscent of some real-life jobs where more than one person should handle the demands.

On my first day, the shelter was bustling. There were big and small dogs, friendly and independent dogs, dogs that needed constant attention, and those who could manage on their own. My responsibilities included:

  1. Interacting with the dogs: Ensuring they are played with and socialized.
  2. Cleaning up after the dogs: Yep, just what you’d expect. Dogs poop like everyone else, and leaving it unattended makes them dirty.
  3. Keeping the dogs’ food and water topped up: No one likes being hungry or thirsty, and dogs have their preferences. I had to remember which food each dog preferred.
  4. Bathing the dogs: If they go too long without a bath or if they are surrounded by their own poop, they get dirty. Dirty dogs don’t attract potential adopters.

A Chaotic First Day

The dogs had various needs when the day started. Some needed food, some needed water, and some needed a bath, and so on. Occasionally, prospective adopters would enter the shelter, and I had to gather a selection of dogs and place them in display cages. After inspecting multiple dogs, the adopter would make a choice if satisfied. Initially, this seemed easy, like a no-brainer, but soon it became frustrating, as it consumed all my attention, neglecting the other dogs that needed me.

Before long, two dogs were adopted, and I had a depressed dog in desperate need of company. I took them outside, played fetch, and gave them a good scratch. While running along the kennels with a bucket of water, I topped up all the water bowls. I memorized which dogs liked which food and refilled their bowls accordingly. Despite my best efforts and nearly robotic organizational skills, trouble was brewing.

One by one, dogs started pooping. Hygiene levels decreased along with morale, and I found myself working overtime, frantically sprinting from kennel to kennel, hitting buttons to pick up poop instantly. The smelliest dogs received a bath, and poor Barney looked on, bewildered by the chaos I had unleashed upon his fellow canines.

By the end of my first day, I had neglected two dogs severely, and I was losing money due to working overtime. However, two dogs were adopted.

At Odds with Itself

That’s when it hit me: To the Rescue! defaults to a difficulty level that clashes with its visual style. I was drawn in by the cute visuals and naively hoped that my stepdaughter would be able to handle the game upon its release. However, just beneath the adorable surface lies a game where every day is a frantic race against time, leaving little room to enjoy it fully.

Yet, this might be an accurate representation of running a dog shelter, especially if it’s a one-person operation, as the game portrays. It undeniably captures the challenging reality of such a situation.

Despite the initial difficulty, I will continue playing the game, although I might restart and lower the difficulty in multiple areas. I had anticipated that the game would be universally accessible and enjoyable for anyone interested, but I now believe that To the Rescue! has a smaller player base than I initially suspected. If you thrive under pressure and love dogs, you will most likely enjoy your time with this game.

Every Dog Has Fleas

Now, onto the bugs. The Nintendo Switch version had a few present, and after some research, I discovered that the Steam version has its share of issues as well. On a few occasions, I couldn’t return tools to their shelves and ended up running in circles until I managed to drop them on the floor. Sometimes, events wouldn’t trigger, such as character dialogues or the end of work. There were also occasional stutters and jitters, which, although annoying, didn’t break the game.

To the Rescue! has plenty of positive aspects. Firstly, it boasts a delightful art style and animations. It’s simple yet stands out among its contemporaries, especially on the Nintendo Switch.

The soundtrack is decent, although not particularly remarkable. It’s neither disappointing nor exceptional, just right in the middle.

In terms of gameplay, the game mostly functions well, and the controls are surprisingly easy to grasp, despite their differences from similar games. It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of leashing and unleashing dogs, as well as using tools independently from the leash.

My only wish is that the game had a more relaxed beginning or a longer introduction, like a smaller shelter to ease into the real challenges. I could have used more time to warm up and become accustomed to the routines and activities involved.

Final Impressions

Ultimately, I might not excel at being a virtual dog shelter staff member, but that doesn’t prevent me from recognizing that To the Rescue! is a perfectly decent game. With some polishing and updates, it could become a must-play title that everyone should welcome into their gaming collection.”

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