Real-time strategy is a genre that immediately recalls mechanics and certain design choices that aim to instil a sense of being in control of a large army, or groups of differing types of fighters. Tooth and Tail from Pocketwatch Games simplifies things to the point where you only get direct control over a single unit, the commander. Where you can then move around and build structures or simply rally the troops and set forth into battle. At a glance, or even after a few minutes, you get the feeling that this simplicity might kind of be bad thing. Or akin to a mobile release.
But, before long Tooth and Tail reveals its intricacies and cements itself as both a fun and inventive strategy game.
And before you even get to that point, there’s the premise. Revolutionary animals fighting for freedom and meat. Think Animal Farm by the way of the Russian Revolution. With a dash of Advance Wars. Although cute, and let’s face it animals playing dress-up will always err on the side of adorable, there’s a richness to the art direction, sound design, and music that adds considerable weight to the entire experience.
Interacting with different rodents and pigs and snakes and exploring underground resistance bases before jumping into battle, showcases the level of detail put into this Orwellian world where animals represent both the best and worst of humanity.
The art, which includes both traditional hand drawn recreations of specific characters and units in additional to the isometric pixel presentation, is very well-done indeed. It may not be the most visually impressive display of strategy you’re likely to see this year, nor does it attempt or claim to be, but there’s something from how subtle Tooth and Tail’s overall presentation is. And just how pleasing it is to look at as is it to play. There aren’t any visual elements that you can point to as shortcuts or stand-ins, the animation is both delightful and down-right intense when the moment calls for it.
Hunger plays a major role in the story and how battles play-out, so when your farms run out of food there’s a seamless transition to a more sombre and desperate tone that can be felt in both the narrative and animation.
Okay, so as mentioned earlier in Tooth and Tail you’re only really in control of a single unit - the commander. Production is tied directly to farms, as is your base of operation. From there you can build little Warrens that periodically spawn squirrels (aka The Distillery Brothers) or ferrets strapped with mortar cannons (aka The 3-2-1 Brigade) or even construct defensive structures. Unit caps are determined by the number of Warrens you’ve built and will keep spawning new troops as long as you’ve got the food to back it up. The farmers, by the way, are all pigs.
Control is kept simple, one mouse-click or controller button press to rally the troops and another to get them to hold position. Maps are kept small, with Tooth and Tail missions designed specifically for about 10 minutes or so of action. This quickfire approach plays into both how fast you can build up a small force and explore your surroundings. It’s the sort of setup that suits both the setting and the co-operative and local competitive play, whilst also offering a lot of choice in both deployment and defensive strategies.
In terms of the campaign the quick mission structure also allows for more character development and world building than you might find in a game with fewer but longer missions. Also, maps are randomly generated meaning that if you fail a mission the next time you choose to tackle it things will be different. It’s a nice touch that makes replaying missions less of a chore, especially when trying to meet all the bonus objectives. Even if sometimes the new layouts seem to offer more of a challenge.
In the end Tooth and Tail is a must for anyone that has enjoyed playing through any of Nintendo’s Advance Wars titles. Even though it doesn’t feature turn-based combat and instead opts for quick and simple build and attack mechanics. Where the two titles find common ground though is in the fantastical and comic setting they both apply to rather grim circumstances. Tooth and Tail may be a game with cute squirrels and mini-gun wielding badgers, but underneath that lies a great story about fighting for freedom. With equally impressive and inventive strategy too.
What we liked
Animal Farm meets Advance Wars
Simple intuitive controls and setup
Great art style and fantastic music
Both humorous and bleak when it needs to be
What we didn't like
Some unit-type micromanagement would have been nice
Randomly generated maps can sometimes backfire and make missions more difficult than they need to be
Could have used a bit more variety in the mission types