The first thing To The Rescue! tells you is that it’s a game about a dog shelter and also that it includes the concept of euthanasia. It’s good that we get a warning like this, and it also is telling about the game’s intentions. You see, this is a time/resource management title, in the vein of many casual games that have you building stuff, mining, gathering and delegating chores. Also, it’s a game that tries to raise awareness about the life of abandoned dogs and the hardships faced by the people trying to help them.
To do this, To The Rescue! tries to shy away from sugarcoating the difficult parts of the process. Sure, you can substitute euthanasia with just-sent-away, but there are other, smaller parts that show how hard dogs have it. It is a noble cause, brought to life through an approach that has its mind on the right place, but there’s a lot left to be desired in the gameplay department.
The presentation is simple, clean, cartoonish and mostly works, but the music tends to get annoying after a while, because it is just too intense for a soundtrack to this type of game. You’re expecting laid back melodies, and you get frantic piano pieces that make you want to run around in the kennels.
The second thing you’re going to notice is the lacking tutorial, that does a common mistake: it takes away the control from the player. You character is named by you, you choose one of the 5-or-something models, and then you start playing. The game wants to teach you everything regarding its systems, but to do so it just tells you about them while you are not even controlling your character. Someone says “follow me”, and your avatar does it, while you’re just looking.
There’s a reason -many reasons, to be honest- that games are using player controlled tutorials and not screens full of text or automated actions made by the AI. In To The Rescue! immersion takes a hit, character agency is brought to the background, and you’re constantly reminded that this is a game, and that it should not be taken seriously.
Then, the dialogue that tries to set up the story is generic and a bit boring, but also comes off as lecturing. Well, I’ve got no problem with a lecture about a good cause, but when it’s entirely obvious that we’re not meeting fleshed out characters and they’re there just to talk about an issue, it get too gamey, and it feels like an educational video. I don’t have issues with the approach, but it could be done in a better way, to be integrated in the gameplay and plot (mind you, don’t expect a complex story, it’s mostly there to drive the gameplay forward with new mechanics).
The core gameplay loop is familiar to any person who plays such games, and it’s more or less fun. You have many things to worry about, like dogs’ hunger, thirst, their health, you have to bathe them and in general you must do all things that keep them in good spirits. Also, you can build new rooms, and there’s even a skill tree to upgrade everything from the money you get by donations to the amount of water you can carry.
It mostly works, but nothing works absolutely as it should. The worst offender: the controls that try but don’t manage to fit every possible move you can do in the WASD-mouse scheme. So, you have to use the mouse wheel to change targets (when you are feeding the dogs, for example) and this is frustrating more often than not, because it’s not obviously mapped and it is clunky. Also, the pacing regarding new skills, tools and mechanics is a bit slow, and there are intervals between aqcuiring something new that lead in you just waiting and doing the same things for a time.
After caring for the dogs, you’ll have the opportunity to find people to adopt them. This is frustrating too, because the way it works makes you wait a lot. A person will come in your shelter and tell you that they’re interested in adopting a little furry pal. Some people will have preferences: they’ll want puppies, or low-energy dogs, or a terrier that is good with kids. If you pay attention to these traits, it will be easier to find homes for the dogs. You also earn money and can expand your business, you hire helpers and you get to thrive, to do your work with less annoyances and make the dogs happier too. The quality of the mechanics and their depth are enough to keep things interesting, but getting the dogs adopted is just painfully slow. Every person that comes to look at the dogs in your shelter, takes a lot of time doing so, every time, with no skip button or even a fast forward. If the developers add anything in a future patch, the ability to fast forward should be on the top of their list.
Then, there are some annoying bugs and glitches. Dogs change forms, your tools disappear, and sometimes the shop stops working and you cannot buy food for the dogs… But, if this type of game is your thing, and if you like the idea of running your own dog shelter, you will have fun with To The Rescue! -at least for some 10 hours or so, when things start becoming a bit stale.