E3 First Impression: To The Rescue! Dog Shelter Simulator

I recently had the chance to check out a preview/demo of the upcoming Dog Shelter simulator, To the Rescue, and it’s as adorable as you’d hoped.

Freedom Games held their first E3 showcase and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to preview a handful of their titles. One game in particular had me squealing with excitement — To The Rescue! I will be discussing some story aspects of the game so there will be some minor spoilers for the early portion of the game. 

To The Rescue! is a dog shelter management simulator that I have been following since I stumbled upon it when it was on Kickstarter in 2019. The game was originally planned to launch on PC, but developers were excited to announce To The Rescue! is also headed to the Nintendo Switch when it launches at the end of the year.

Developers have pledged that 20% of all sales will be donated to The Petfinder Foundation.

I had the chance to sit with lead developer, Olivia Dunlap, and play through a demo of the game. The game starts with a character and companion selector. There are a variety of human options and players get to select one companion who will live by your side throughout the game. Your companion can be any of the 30 breeds currently available in the game. Companions don’t have a lot of executive function (other than being cute), but they can assist in some things like telling you what certain items are for. 

The story begins with you and your pup moving to a new city when a stray puppy wanders onto your porch late at night. You take him in for the night, but then to the local shelter the next day. The shelter employee tells you that, unfortunately, the facility is full.

On a mission, you decide to take him home and build a kennel in your garage to take care of him. This portion of the game introduces you to how each dog in the game has unique traits, characteristics and physical needs (e.g. a deaf, playful German Shepherd).

After you make sure the puppy’s basic needs are met, it’s time to find their owner by putting up signs around town. Developers said they wanted players to not only manage their shelter and rescues, but to also have players work with the community and manage reputation.

Eventually, you will find the puppy’s owner and, because of your hard work and dedication, the community shelter offers you a job. Here, you will learn most of the core mechanics of the game.

Ultimately, you end up so proficient in your full-time position with the community shelter that you are offered the opportunity to open and manage your own shelter. Your initial building is not very large (like all management sims upgrades/expansions come as you gain more experience, money and reputation), but it’s empty and ready for you to do as you please!

Some tasks like feeding and watering are simple, and there are a variety of higher level management tasks available through your computer. There’s the Dog Log, shopping for items and upgrades, social media to track reputation/plan community events, and construction.

Back to the basics, though. There are four types of dog foods that vary in ingredients and cost. All of the dogs have their own preferences and not choosing the right brand can cause them to have upset stomachs and therefore make messes in their kennels more often. 

Disease treatment and prevention are an aspect of the game that developers said is the least like real life. Vaccines work as treatment and prevention in the game and can be very expensive to preemptively treat dogs for diseases they may never catch.

Overall, the goal in the game is to adopt as many dogs out as possible. The adoption process includes taking care to pay attention to the wants and needs of both the Adopter and the dogs you are trying to adopt out. Adopters will come into the shelter and generally have specific traits they do/don’t like (i.e wanting a playful dog, large dog, or a playful large dog). Some will be incredibly enthused to adopt and be less picky, while others will be a bit persnickety. Adopters will come in to the shelter periodically, but you will be able to influence and increase their chances of visiting by engaging in community events, social media, and generating enough good reputation. 

Most of your shelter’s income is going to be generated through adoption fees and extra money will go towards quality of life upgrades (better kennels, cushions, tvs, etc), building expansions and more. As your shelter grows and you find yourself being stretched too thin, you will be able to hire helpers to assist in making sure all the pups are well taken care of.

If the dog’s needs aren’t being met, they will enter a state of neglect. Dogs who have low welfare are harder to adopt out and when dogs enter a neglected state, the shelter will face fines and fees as well as a hit to reputation. 

A dog’s happiness can be boosted using a Play Area to engage in a couple of minigames like fetch, itchy-scratchy (giving lots of pets), and tug-of-war. The mini-games will not boost a dog that is in a current state of neglect. 

There’s also a skill point system that allows players to unlock upgrades, like the Play Area. These points are earned through performance, so the better you do overall, the better you can make your shelter. You can also spend reputation points to unlock more skill points for when you need a boost.

At the end of each day, players are given a summary of how well you did that day on your computer. The report will include money made, money spent, skill points, and available grants which give you a boost in funds if you complete certain tasks in a certain amount of time. Because you are on your computer, you are also able to shop or access the construction menu.

To The Rescue! has worked to maintain as much realism in the game as possible. So much so, that it even includes the option to euthanize dogs. The developers wanted to show players the full scope of responsibilities when running a dog shelter. She emphasized players are not rewarded for euthanizing dogs, and that doing so is not a viable strategy for successfully running a shelter in-game. Instead it’s absolutely considered a last resort.

Don’t worry though, if that’s not something you want to even consider, there is a game setting that completely removes it from your game:

“We didn’t want to shy away from it,” Olivia said. “But we also understand that not everybody wants that experience in their game. It was really important for us to make the game still accessible for people that were not comfortable with that.”

The “not-as-negative-as-expected” reaction to its inclusion was surprising for the team.

“So many people that work at real shelters were just surprised that we were willing to show it because it’s something that nobody wants to talk about,” Olivia said. “I feel that it’s important for simulator games to do that more often, to think about the real-world implications of what’s in their game and to try and be earnest and honest about things.”

I was excited about this game when I first found (and backed) To The Rescue! on Kickstarter, but after my chat/demo with Olivia my hype is through the roof. As a huge fan of both dogs and management simulation games, I cannot wait for the chance to play the full version of To The Rescue! 

You can follow To The Rescue! on Twitter @ToTheRescueGame as you wait for the game to hit in the fourth quarter of the year!

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Managing editor over video games here at Cinelinx. Let me lose myself in Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley for days, thanks. KakeBytes is my podcast adventure through gaming history.