If anyone were to ask me “what would you do if you won the lottery?” I wouldn’t even have to think. For about as long as I can remember it’s been my dream to open my own animal sanctuary and with Old Friends Dog Game, I get to live out all the best bits of that fantasy without any of the financial strain.
Old Friends Dog Game isn't complete fiction though. The game was inspired by a real-life dog retirement home called Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, which is based in Tennessee, USA. All of the dogs that appear in the game are also based on actual residents of Old Friends. Not only this but each month that Old Friends Dog Game makes a profit, the game’s developer Runaway Games sponsors one of the residents and fully covers the costs of that dog’s care for an entire year.
The game launched in August 2021 and gets you involved in all the day-to-day tasks of an animal rescue worker. This includes feeding and playing with the dogs, cleaning up after them, taking photos of them, collecting donations, broadcasting live streams to your supporters, and a whole lot more.
In the usual mobile game fashion, Old Friends Dog Game is free-to-play, but there are optional in-game purchases. The difference here is that every month that you can spend your spare cash on your digital dogs, knowing that the money will go towards helping the real-world dog sanctuary.
It all starts with a Cocker Spaniel
Whether you’re apprehensive about taking on an entire dog sanctuary or hoping to become a new dog parent to eight OAP dogs all at once, Old Friends Dog Game eases players in with just one dog to look after in the beginning. Once starting the game and choosing a catchy name and slogan for your sanctuary, players are introduced to Mac, a golden Cocker Spaniel, which - you guessed it - is based on a real-life resident at Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.
After Mac, players will find Bagel the Beagle who was found roaming the streets during a storm a few days after you move into the sanctuary. Bagel is again a real dog from the sanctuary who actually was brought into the sanctuary during a storm. After these two, players can unlock Leo the Husky mix, Babs the Basset Hound mix, Captain Ron the Rottweiler mix, Sharkey the Dachshund, Kirby the Australian Cattle Dog, and finally Chanel the Chow Chow mix.
Each dog also has its own personality, special requirements, and favorite items. They all also need to be monitored to keep their happiness in check by fulfilling their needs for pats, satisfying their hunger, and keeping them entertained. To do this though, players will need to earn enough money through donations to purchase ingredients to make dog treats and buy new toys at the "Barket." Did I also mention that you can give them little accessories to wear too?
The dogs aren’t the only thing that needs upkeep during the game either, as players can also customize the sanctuary with new pieces of furniture and decor - which also need to be unlocked while progressing through the game. As you’d expect though, having eight dogs waddling through the house means that there’s plenty of clean-up to do along with your other daily chores.
More than a management sim
The thing that surprised me about this game is that it’s not just a dog shelter management sim. Throughout Old Friends, players will also get to play through a number of visual novel style story elements which gives more context to the story and introduces you to new characters and dogs along the way.
Each visual novel segment is beautifully illustrated and lets players choose how to respond to people and the dogs. This can be as simple as a dialogue option or letting you decide where your dog should play today. It’s not exactly a Life is Strange or Dark Pictures game where your choices matter in the end but I liked the fact that Old Friends Dog Game gives you a feeling of agency as you run the sanctuary as you see fit.
You can also customize your in-game character to look like yourself - or whoever else you want in the story - which also helps me live out my dog rescue center-owning dreams. As far as I’m aware you never see your character in full on screen but they do pop up on the dog blog menu screen and continue to be customizable throughout your experience.
I think my favorite thing to do in the app though is to host live streams with my rescue dogs. This part of the game works like a mini-game and requires players to perform tasks with the dogs during the stream to earn extra donations. This means that you’ll basically spend a whole minute fussing over the dogs exactly how your viewers want you to as fast as you can and make bank doing so.
Mentally, I’m at Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary
Old Friends Dog Game is the perfect game to use for a little escapism. I found that during small breaks in the day when I’d usually scroll through Twitter or see what’s new on TikTok I was now checking in on my dogs and doing my daily chores in the game. Each story segment usually lasts just a couple of minutes each so it’s easy to progress through the game even if you’re only playing for short periods of time.
There’s also always something to do whether it's cleaning up the garden, tending to your dogs’ needs, or updating your dog blog, meaning it’s very easy to get sucked into it and shut out everything else during those short playthroughs. Which I found very helpful when dealing with daily stresses. Plus you’re potentially helping real-life dogs so you can’t help but feel really smug, in the best possible way.
Old Friends Dog Game is available now on both iOS and Android devices.