E3 2021 Hands-on: To The Rescue! (PC, Nintendo Switch)

Now, who doesn’t love dogs? This week we not only got to try out a demo for To The Rescue: A Dog Shelter Simulator (as seen on Monday’s E3 Freedom Games presentation) but we also got to sit down for a quick chat with Olivia Dunlap (programming, writing, design) as she took us through the basics of the game and answered some of our questions. You can check out the interview below – but here are some of the highlights.

To The Rescue!

The demo starts off with you choosing a name and a partner canine companion. You then quickly find a stray puppy and while you hope to leave the dog at the local shelter – it is full and you are tasked with caring for the little tyke in your garage and eventually even looking after a big shelter where your policy is to accept all dogs that come in. This introduces you to the basic mechanics of the game – building kennels, caring for the dogs while trying to find them a suitable owner and managing your finances as you go along. The demo we played wasn’t very long but you quickly realise you have quite a lot on your plate.

We asked Dunlap about this and she not only showed off some pro-strats to make things a little easier but also gave us some info about accessibility features they’re hoping to include before launch. On the strategy side of things using some early skill points to upgrade your leash (enabling you to carry more dogs simultaneously) and giving you the ability to offer discounted prices for potential new dog-owners and ensuring that you bathe and play with each dog before presenting them – seems to make them infinitely more adaptable and makes moving them from location to location that much quicker and easier.

In terms of accessibility – Dunlap explained how they keen to implement a system like that of Celeste; with a variety of options enabling a player to toggle various aspects of the game to their personal preference including for example how quickly new dogs arrive at the shelter (something I seemed to struggle with early on). She also explained that as this was still an alpha demo more tweaks would be coming on this front prior to launch. Also, after watching Dunlap play the game it’s clear that as with most management-sims, the first hour and learning all the different mechanics is often the toughest – and once you have got the hang of it (as Dunlap obviously did) everything becomes a little intuitive.

Cute but real

As you can tell from the included screenshots (and if you check out the video below) the dog shelter you look after is in a charming little town and the animation and general look is very bright and friendly. However, don’t let the cutesy aesthetic fool you, while you will enjoy looking at all the sweet pups, as we explained above there’s a pretty intricate management sim tucked behind all the cuddles. From building kennels, managing costs, arranging support events, dealing with customers, to feeding, washing, playing with and handling the dogs who all have their own personalities and therefore interact uniquely not only with potential owners but also each other – you’re going to have a lot on your hands. And dogs get hungry, sick and you’ll even be tasked with making some tough decisions – including possible euthanasia.

We asked Dunlap about this and as she explained, the game actually came about because the team seemed to have lots of “second-hand exposure” with people who ran dog shelters and “were inspired by the work that they were doing” while of course, they want the game to be fun, they also want to raise awareness of some of the harsher realities that come with the job. The development team (Little Rock Games) believes games should foster empathy and be impactful in some way – be it through entertainment or education. Dunlap did explain that the team also realised this specific reality may not be for everyone and Euthanasia can be toggled off in the settings.

It’s clear to me the team wants the players to enjoy the game and be charmed by the sweet aesthetic but they also want to tell a real story – they want the player to get into the ‘headspace’ of what it would be like to run a shelter and face the realities of life for people that care so much about their poochy pals. In fact, the team so strongly believes in this idea of empathy and impact that they’re actually committing 20% of their profits to support a real-world dog shelter – The Petfinder Foundation.

Barking up the right tree

I really respect a team that has such a strong identity for the game they want to make. And even from playing just a little bit and interacting with with one member of the Little Rock Team it’s clear there’s a lot of love and attention behind the game and a lot of game to look forward. This is one I will definitely be keeping an eye on – it’s due to launch later this year (third to fourth quarter) on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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