‘To The Rescue’ review: a big idea in need of a little rescue

Although the idea shines through, there are too many issues to bring this dog home

T
o The Rescue
is a game I’m surprised I’ve never seen before. The core concept – you as the player run a dog shelter where you have to look after man’s best friend until they find a new home – just feels like the perfect fit for a video game. It’s cosy, quaint and incredibly charming.

It also takes story cues from other games in the genre. Moving to a new town with your trusty canine companion, you come across a stray puppy and offer to bring it to the local shelter. Finding them overrun and underfunded, you are soon asked to take it over and your new life starts.

The story doesn’t take itself very seriously and it benefits from this. It just lets you get on with the game. The shelter is filled with dogs and gets hectic very quickly, with plates spinning in every direction. To feed the dogs, they all require certain types of food and you can only carry a handful of things at a time.

Filling up the water and food for a whole shelter could take a bunch of trips and you have to keep them clean and make sure to keep their kennel in a respectable state. After all of this, you have to greet visitors and bring out the right dog for them. To The Rescue drops you in the deep end and forces you to swim.

To The Rescue
To The Rescue. Credit: Little Rock Games.

Beat this introduction sequence and the game unfolds before you as you leave this shelter to start your own, with funding and support from the local council. The intro is a great way of showing you how easy it is to get lost in all those tasks.

The second major shelter you run gives you a real sense of freedom over the operation. You can place kennels, expand your land and replace all the rooms. This is where the game started to click into place for me. Making accommodations to suit all those little dogs that came in the door fostered this real connection with the game itself.

This is helped greatly by the visuals and soundtrack. Dogs just have a certain goofiness to them that embodies their real world counterparts. They are all named; and each has their own traits, conditions and attitudes. The type of food they like, how they get on with other animals, how well mannered they are – these are all tiny details that made me care.

Getting animals into the right hands is the end goal but the way you do that is rather interesting. Visitors come in with certain expectations or demands and you have to win them over by warming them up to the animals. You can show every visitor up to five animals and their “adoptability” rating will move the visitor’s willingness to adopt. If you reach the top of their bar, they will take one of the dogs you have shown them at random. This means you can often load up the pedestals with highly adoptable dogs and throw in less well liked ones – true underdogs – hoping they get picked.

To The Rescue
To The Rescue. Credit: Little Rock Games.

Early on, I found an elderly Shiba Inu with cancer. With an adoptability rating of 1 star, it seemed unlikely that he would ever make it out of here. Even though it didn’t quite make sense, I put him in every showing. Eventually, an older lady came by and connected – giving him a home for the rest of their years.

Unfortunately, my first couple of hours with the game were much more positive than my last. The start is well balanced: you’ll quickly unlock skill trees, new workers and more mechanics as you go along but these upgrades soon feel tedious.

The latter half of the game has very little new ideas to keep you going and the goals you work towards feel futile. Expanding the nearby area isn’t that satisfying when there’s not much to put there. Getting extra funding means little when you no longer have a goal. Increasing your shelter’s reputation gets you nowhere when you’ve already got everything you need.

The gameplay loop of To the Rescue is a facade. At the front, it’s charming and fleshed out. Sadly, it’s shallow and there’s not much else on offer. This isn’t helped by all the bugs. Dogs disappear and reappear outside, while hired workers get snagged inside the walls or trapped at the entrance.

These bugs would mean less if this wasn’t a management game. The genre is all about efficiency and maximising your actions. It’s about looking at what you’ve done and thinking “how can I do this better?” Unfortunately, getting better means nothing when you can’t rely on the building blocks of the game itself. On many occasions, I’ve handled visitors and looked into changing around the shelter only to find six dogs in neglect because my hired helper got stuck in a door.

To the Rescue is like that worker stuck in the door. It’s diligent and well meaning, with lots of things to love. It is also a buggy mess that becomes more apparent the longer they’re around. It lulls you into a sense of security only to let you down near the end.

To The Rescue launches on November 2 for PC, with a Nintendo Switch release planned for 2022. We reviewed it on PC. 

The Verdict

To the Rescue is a lovely idea with plenty of charm. Unfortunately, a litany of bugs and weak progression leaves the whole thing a little worse for wear. Although that adorable smile and gorgeous coat may draw you in, this old dog could have done with learning a few new tricks.

Pros

  • Great ideas
  • Dogs are fleshed out and endearing

Cons

  • Significant bugs and glitches
  • Gameplay loop grows stale
  • Not enough story to justify mediocre latter halves
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