Happy Tails Combines Style And Substance
The folks at Viva Media have practically cornered the market on family titles involving the care and feeding of animals. Over the past couple years I have reviewed all types of games from them built around this theme from running wild animal preserves to saving Australian outback creatures to running your own animal hospital from the ground up.
All of the games in the series have been great Family titles that parents and kids could play together. And they have all been sold at extremely reasonable prices, with most of them under $20. I don’t think any have ever gotten anything other than a perfect 5 GiN Gems for their Value score, because even with the reasonable price, they were games that offered a perfect way for parents and kids to play together and didn’t skimp on any of the details. Several have been nominated by GiN’s readers for Family title Game Of the Year, and a few have even won. So this is a fine family series.
But I did worry that perhaps we have done everything we possibly could with this genre. I mean short of visiting yet another continent like Animal Shelter Asia or something, what could be new? Thankfully Happy Tails Animal Shelter shows the way with a unique take where you not only heal animals, but find them good homes too. And each animal has a rich backstory now, so there is even an RPG element in the mix.
Previous games in the series had you managing a hospital or critical care facility. Owners would bring their animals into your hospital and ask for help. This brought up a process of deductive logic where you would use both general and specific methods to diagnose and treat problems. This process was not completely easy sometimes, but was just challenging enough so that parents could play with their kids to help out, yet not so frustrating that neither could figure things out. This was one of the biggest gems for the games, since there are not too many titles suitable for parents and kids to enjoy together.
But in the end, all of the animals had homes. Whether they were going back to the farm or house where they lived or whether they were wild and being made strong enough to return to the woods or ocean, everyone had somewhere to go. With Happy Trails Animal Shelter, you need to find the animals a home, which can be just as challenging as nursing them back to health.
Each animal has a story, and many of them are quite touching. You might have a stray cat who followed their owner home and was made part of the family, only to find out that their owner was allergic to them. [Note that I live with a cat that I’m allergic to currently, so it can be done.] You job is to feed and care for the animal, and nurse them back to health if needed, and then try to find them a good home. Whoever wrote the back stories for the animals (I have seen about 30 stories so far, though there are 99 of them in the game) did a great job.
You need to play and care for the animals until they are ready to be adopted. During their time with you, it becomes apparent what type of owner would be best for them. Then when you have people come in and look for pets, you can direct them to the proper animal based on what you know about both the visitor and the animal. If you have chosen wisely, a love connection between the two develops and it becomes obvious that they will be happy together.
This added step teaches a valuable lesson in responsibility and reality. The child player can’t hold onto 100+ animals at the shelter because you still have to make the place run smoothly. Feeding too many animals will not only drain your budget but also means there won’t be space for new animals in need.
There is a large mix of animals that come into the shelter like cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses and even wild fawns. Obviously the needs of a horse are going to be different from a guinea pig, and both will require different owners or caretakers. But all of the animals have great backstories, and all are extremely cute and cuddly.
Like the other games in the series, Animal Shelter is not just a pretty face. Sure you get to play with the animals, but you also have a job to do. Some will arrive sick and need care. Others will be shy around people and need to be socialized. Thankfully you have access to a complete library of facts about each animal, so you can lookup to see if rabbits really do enjoy carrots, or how horses like to sleep. This not only teaches about individual animals, but also about basic research skills as well as responsibility for the care of pets. It’s perfect if your child wants a pet, but does not fully understand what that means, and the consequences of not being a good pet parent. Let them play Animal Shelter for a while and then get a real pet for them once they understand that owning a pet is wonderful, but also carries great responsibility.
In a world where educational games are dull and regular titles are too violent or simply complex for kids, the animal games from Viva are truly a horse of a different color. They are fun to play and the addition of backstories for the pets will keep your kids stuck playing like magnets. And the good thing is that they will learn valuable lessons while there. Plus, it’s perfect for parents and kids to play together.
Looks like we have another winner on our hands with Happy Tails Animal Shelter, where all creatures eventually find good homes. Hopefully this game will find its way home to your family.
Developers: Viva Media
Platforms: Mac, PC