Indie games are a dime a dozen in this day and age, so it can be tricky discerning what you should and shouldn’t care about. Showcases like the Wholesome Direct offer up an array of indie games with a lot of charm. Of course, this is fantastic for indie game exposure, which honestly it could do with. But there were over 75 games announced during its hour-long run time, so for players seeking something actually worth paying for it can be a bit of a discombobulating nightmare. In part, that’s why games journalists exist, or at least that’s the way I see it. Showing off or recommending interesting, meaningful or game-changing titles to the masses is a truly fulfilling use of our platform. So, with that in mind, let’s talk aboutTo The Rescue!.
The Petfinder Foundation Partnership
For those not in the know, To The Rescue! is a dog shelter simulation game in the same vein as Prison Architect. It deals with the difficulties faced by real dog rescue shelters every day, from disease and injuries suffered by the dogs to the struggle of keeping the shelter afloat. What was immediately striking about To The Rescue! was its dedication to the cause it is so inspired by. The developers behind To The Rescue!, Little Rock Games, are donating 20% of the profit from all sales to the charity Petfinder Foundation.
While that on its own is certainly admirable, and supporting a good cause is always encouraged, the game itself is something deserving of your hype. As part of E3, we recently had the opportunity to sit down with a delightful and chipper, Olivia Dunlap, who is one of the game developers on To The Rescue!. Of course, due to the current pandemic, we conducted the interview over Discord. So, once the nervous preamble was out of the way, Olivia showcased some colourful gameplay from To The Rescue! and we got talking.
A Passion Project
One of the first things we spoke about was where the idea for To The Rescue! originated, and how important it was to the team at Little Rock Games. It was evident almost immediately that this was a project born out of passion for the team. Olivia’s dog seemed to agree when they began barking in the background. “We wanted to really make a real difference with this game in addition to raising some awareness”, Olivia stated as she discussed the partnership with the Petfinder Foundation.
Olivia mentioned how the team had gone on field trips to dog shelters to have a more intimate and personal understanding of them. She even said that they’d wanted to volunteer, but that they couldn’t due to life getting in the way. The team made sure to converse with shelter workers about their feelings on the game, and took their feedback in to help make a more realistic experience. “I mentioned talking to shelter workers,” she said as I asked about the feedback the game had gotten thus far. “What they think is most important because we’re representing what they do. We’ve really had a lot of positive responses so far.”
But what do you do in To The Rescue!? “[To The Rescue!] is first and foremost about the warm fuzzies, about finding the adoption, about making those things work out” Olivia explained to us. You must manage a shelter full of dogs and ensure that they’re cared for until they’re adopted. According to Olivia, there are also over 30 different types of dogs. All of the dogs are hand-animated, which Olivia explained is because “a lot of care [has] gone into trying to capture their personalities as best we can”.
The Harsh Realities of Dog Shelters
Unfortunately, running a shelter is not all “warm fuzzies”. “One thing we don’t want to do is, even though the game is cute and fun, [is] not to soften certain things.” Euthanasia is an option in the game, as the team at Little Rock Games believed it was important to “show what harsh realities could lead a real shelter to not having a choice” and also “because it’s something that real people have to do.” While it is optional, and can be switched off with no penalty, Olivia assured us that they tried to “present it as delicately as [they] can.”
“We think we’ve found a decent middle ground of the way the things are presented in the game,” Olivia told us when we asked about the juxtaposition between the game’s colourful art style and the bleak reality faced by some dog shelters. The team tried to “soften [some things] in some ways to make them a little bit easier to engage with, but also not in other ways that ignore how realistic it is.” Essentially, this is a faithful simulation game that not only focuses on the issues and tries to simulate the experience for the player, but also ensures that you’re still going to have fun. After all, the core idea for the game is to get these dogs adopted and to experience the warm fuzziness of it all.
To The Rescue! is Coming to Nintendo Switch
To The Rescue! is coming to the Nintendo Switch simultaneously with the PC version. It was really important to Little Rock Games to have the game on the Nintendo Switch. “We really wanted to put it on Switch bad. We’re excited to be able to do that simultaneously,” Olivia said gleefully. But while being on the Switch was always the ideal, it wasn’t necessarily always on the cards. When the team launched their Kickstarter, a Switch version was a stretch goal that was never met. Fortunately, thanks to the game’s publisher Freedom Games, it became a reality.
“[Having a publisher] has really made it possible for us to make the game with the vision that we have for it,” Olivia explained when I asked about the pros and cons of having a publisher. “I really have nothing bad to say about them!” she said with a smile. “Since we’re a small team, things like marketing have been really difficult for us to handle. With Freedom, things have been totally great!”
To The Rescue!’s Longevity
One of the biggest issues I’ve personally had with simulation games is that after a while, especially when you become more and more successful, there’s very little variation in what you can do. Fortunately, Olivia was adamant this was not the case in To The Rescue!. “The gameplay does have a lot of stuff that shakes it up over time as you get to that point” Olivia reassured me. “Different kinds of visitors other than adopters will show up and make things complicated and there can be all kinds of events to deal with.”
When you’re not busy managing the finances of your shelter or tending to your dogs, you can engage with some fun mini-games. They’re a fun way to spend your downtime, especially as one of them allows you to pet the dogs! When I asked whether any additional content would be added post-launch, Olivia said that while there was nothing they were ready to officially announce, she said that, personally, she felt “there is a lot of room for that sort of stuff [mini-games] in this game that we would love to add.” She also assured us that they are planning on continuing to support To The Rescue! post-launch.
To The Rescue! Arrives in Q3 2021
To The Rescue! sounds like it’s shaping up to be an amazing simulation game. It is a title that clearly has a lot of heart and passion behind it. A lot of thought and effort has gone into representing the subject matter as faithfully and respectfully as possible, but that doesn’t mean that To The Rescue! will be a sombre title.
From the gameplay Olivia showed us, To The Rescue! looks extremely cute and wholesome, with phenomenal visuals and intuitive and fun gameplay. There are plenty of reasons to be hyped for To The Rescue!, but if I could only pick one, it’d be petting the dogs. I just love petting dogs!
To The Rescue! is launching for the Nintendo Switch and PC in Q3 2021. Head on over to its Steam store page to wishlist it and be notified of any future updates.