Who Let The Dogs In?

HIGH The education in showing the challenges of running a dog shelter.

LOW The recurring crashes are frustrating.

WTF The euthanasia mode.

Working in a dog shelter isn’t easy. In my experience, most shelters face situations like overcrowding, limited resources, and lack of funding. They often only survive thanks to the passion that the keepers have for the animals.

Being a caregiver in those conditions means dealing with more than just taking care of dogs, as problematic challenges happen all the time, and we’re confronted with this harsh reality right at the beginning of To the Rescue! Dog Shelter Simulator when we must choose its play mode – the “euthanasia” option or the “send away” option.

As one might guess from that choice, To the Rescue! Dog Shelter Simulator is a title that allows players to experience all the challenges of managing a dog shelter. Despite its limitations, there’s good detail in simulating the day-to-day operations of a shelter, and the developers appear to have been trying to cover all the bases.

From a top-down 2D perspective, players must perform basic tasks such as feeding, grooming, cleaning, and providing medical care to the dogs. Alongside these tasks, the player also must face real-world management challenges such as limited funds, space constraints of the kennels, and the need to make tough decisions such as euthanizing dogs or sending them away in an overcrowding situation. This level of realism adds authenticity, making players feel the weight of their responsibilities.

Aside from choosing the euthanasia option or not, To the Rescue! offers two modes — story and quickplay.

In story mode, the game starts with a tutorial and proceeds with several stages where the player must fulfill different goals. The narrative has no depth and only serves to guide the player to expand their shelter. In the quickplay mode we go straight to a free simulator without the restrictions of a plot.

Through the experience of managing the shelter, we meet different types of dogs that require different types of care. Each dog has its own sheet that includes data like the age, the breed, the size, and the health condition. Every dog also has a different personality (some might be quiet or jumpy, others good with kids) and we cannot pair dogs with extremely different personalities in the same kennel. They also require different types of food, and some are more expensive than others.

All this personalized care for the dogs culminates in the main goal of the game – adoption.

Some visitors will be happy taking home any dog, but others are very specific — for example, looking for a dog that is intelligent and has cropped ears. For each adoption the player earns money and reputation. There are other ways to earn money through donations and fundraising, but adoption is the shelter’s true revenue source. This is important because with the money we can improve the shelter by building new kennels, expanding the facilities, purchase new food and medications, or buy objects that may facilitate gameplay like leashes that can hold multiple dogs, or new aprons for the staff.

To the Rescue! starts with a chill pace, which is good because there’s a lot of information to retain at the beginning. The challenge curve is a bit off balance, though, since once I mastered the functions, progression felt slow — there’s a lot of free time, and we just wait for visitors to adopt dogs.

Then, this leisurely pace is abruptly interrupted by a sudden increase in tasks. To the Rescue! is missing a middle ground that ramps the player up slowly before hitting the frenzy of the late stages. If the player doesn’t pay attention, this chill dog shelter sim quickly becomes a chaotic and stressful canine version of Overcooked — there’s too much going on, at too high a pace.

The save system of To the Rescue! is also problematic. There’s no save option in the menu or at a checkpoint — only when completing a workday — so the fact that we can’t leave the game whenever we want without losing our progress is quite inconvenient. A workday generally lasts 10-15 real-time minutes so it’s not a huge amount of time, but still.

Technically, the build I played was buggy. This review was done on the version 1.3.211, and the game simply crashed out of nowhere, as often as three times during a single in-game day. Bearing in mind that the game is only saved when a workday is finished, progress was often lost — a frustrating situation.

In the end, To the Rescue! Dog Shelter Simulator provides an educational experience without losing the laid-back and playful experience that a good simulation can offer. It has a fantastic concept, with interesting ideas and rewarding moments, but the bugs can ruin the gameplay. However, my hope is that the game will be patched soon and in such case, I would gladly recommend it to animal lovers and sim enthusiasts. It’s hard to deny the value in an experience that reminds us of the importance of caring for our friends with four paws.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Little Rock Games and published by Freedom Games. It is currently available on Switch and PC.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. This game is suitable for all ages. However, the mention of euthanasia, abandonment or death of dogs can hurt the sensibilities of the most sensitive people.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

 Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. The game can be played without audio. The only audio this game makes is the interface effects, the soundtrack, and the environment sounds. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game doesn’t have a controller map diagram but offers a display with control icons in the screen for every possible action.

André Pedro
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