Tooth And Tail PC Review

Attention to detail and variety make Tooth and Tail's take on RTS one worth looking at.

By Woozie, Posted 13 Sep 2017

Aside from revolving around a revolution that’s meant to determine which faction of anthropomorphized animals devours the others, a setting you don’t see every day, Tooth and Tail takes it upon itself to present us with a different take on the RTS genre. Where intense micromanagement and swiftly moving your camera around the map to check different points for enemy incursions might be expected in traditional RTS titles, Tooth and Tail fixes the camera on your commander and asks players to relinquish the possibility of individual unit control.

Tooth and Tail, Screenshot, PC, Review

Your economy is centered around gristmills. Being the heart of your base, farms can be built around them. Farms are worked by swine, providing food that’s necessary for unit production buildings and maintaining an army. Farms expire after 5 minutes, always requiring you to push forward and guaranteeing matches rarely take too long. You can draw your entire army towards you using right click, or specific unit types by scrolling and using left click. When close to an enemy unit or building, left click also makes them focus fire on one target. The control scheme is atypical, the game being built to support controllers as well. It takes some getting used to and, while units were responsive, constantly scrolling to get to the desired unit type was a bit of a pain. Luckily, they are automatically assigned to number buttons, as you would a control group, which helps quite a bit. The challenge in Tooth and Tail comes both from deciding which units to build, and in which order, and the proper use of these units in various combat scenarios. Getting a bunch of squirrels together and throwing them at a pillbox will probably get them killed in most situations, even if you use your commander as a shield to soak the initial shots. Having SMG-carrying birds or hammer-wielding moles will quickly turn the pillbox into ash. A fox sniper can dispatch tricky foes from a distance, while stealthy chameleons can infiltrate areas unseen, uncloaking only if a foe gets in their way. As farms expire after 5 minutes, and without a food source your army starves, you always have to push forward in order to obliterate your enemy or secure expansion points. Save from the first one or two minutes, the game will always move at a pretty quick pace, requiring on the fly assessment of the map, your base and of the composition of your enemy’s army.

Keeping track of what you left behind at base can be difficult, as the minimap doesn’t always help in that regard. This occurs due to the Commander being the cursor which means you can only ever focus vision where they are. You have to make use of calling troops in your direction to intercept enemies in their path. Left on its own, the AI proved capable to defend at times, but not without avoiding occasions where I had 5 units idly sitting around while a squirrel was casually destroying the building right next to them. Thus, control freaks won’t enjoy much of Tooth and Tail. Scouting is also necessary and efficiently burrowing back (the quickest means to travel back to your base) to spend resources is vital for your success. To me, this caused a good amount of frustration while going through the campaign missions. While I am aware I probably wasn’t using everything to its optimal capacity, when all your bases are under fire and you don’t particularly know where to run to, stuff gets overwhelming fairly quickly. And with Tooth and Tail things can go awry really fast.

Tooth and Tail, Screenshot, PC, Review

Tooth and Tail does fall victim to the pitfalls of procedural generation. While playing the story, I had to restart a handful of missions, despite having figured out a viable strategy, only to get “optimal” objective placement. The maps aren’t usually large, but objectives can be closer or further away, depending on luck. This had me going through a number of frustrating runs, as I found myself disadvantaged and really having few means of juggling troops for both an assault and a defense. I managed to beat them using the same strategy that had failed four times before when I got optimally placed objectives. Take for example the 14th mission. You start with one farm, and have to destroy your enemy’s in order to build more. Units are spawned individually, but your opponent starts with 3 gristmills. I’ve had over 10 attempts at it, with distant gristmill placement, only to capture one, sustain casualties and get crushed by a counter-attack, or simply get stomped on at the start, regardless of whether I burrowed back to efficiently spend my resources or not. The moment I got two opposing gristmills closer to mine, I won. Why? Because taking one was fairly easy by sniping it with my SMG vultures. I could also apply pressure to my opponent’s production buildings because they were a few tiles away, meaning I could very much focus on building stuff on time. This was much more difficult when the enemy was all the way across the map. Handmade levels, at least for the campaign, would have been much, much better, in my opinion at least, and saved me a great deal of frustration. That being said, the majority of story missions are not subject to this, making for both a thrilling experience and a nice way to get introduced to the twenty various units in the game.

The 24 story missions employ the use of different rules. One mission, standing in water heals your troops while another may feature wind that impairs movement or freezing outside one’s territory. In some of them, units are spawned individually instead of coming out of warrens when you have the resources. While the objective pool might seem limited on paper, the story puts you in scenarios that differ either based on alliances or the units made available to you, thus making missions with the same objective feel different due to the various, differing, approaches you must take in order to win. Furthermore, every mission also has a heroic requirement which will prompt completionists to go back and replay at least some of them.

The pixel art style Tooth and Tail employs is not without issues. While unit models are detailed and, save from situations where the screen is very crowded, you can distinguish between them well enough, the same cannot be said for certain maps that were rich in high ground. I found myself spending a significant amount of time going around half of the map, because I couldn’t particularly figure out where the pixel that allowed me to move through was. As using time efficiently while scouting can determine if you win or lose, this was pretty aggravating. It becomes even more aggravating as the minimap does more harm than good in this regard, being rather difficult to read. The maps do make use of various settings and biomes, from snowy villages to deserts and forests, adding some weather effects here and there, but, overall I found Tooth and Tail to be just okay to look at: functional, but not impressive.

Tooth and Tail, PC, Screenshot, Review

There are four different factions in Tooth and Tail. In the story missions, they are given specific units, with some overlap between them. These units have a lot of flavor to them being different from what you’d normally see in RTS titles. Whether it’s gas lobbing skunks, boars with flametrhowers and giant owls that regurgitate “chosen” mice to fight for their faction, they’re all just great to use. From a lore perspective, the factions all embody different ideals: the Longcoats desire capitalism and democracy, the Commonfolk represent the rabble, ready to latch onto anything that helps them, their desire being to survive. The KSR desire order at any cost, while the Civilized represent a more spiritually-inclined faction. While the story isn’t “deep” in an RPG sense, the writing was clearly given the necessary attention and, despite there being certain loose threads, everything comes to a good (and, honestly, surprising) conclusion that does prompt one to think about the events that just happened. Hub areas are also different for each faction. Bits of text pop up so you can read about your soldiers’ worries and concerns. There’s even a bit of humor sprinkled on top. The narrative does present a revolution that’s quickly descending into full on chaos. To paint a clearer picture, as the KSR (state police), there was a mission where the remaining three factions would primarily target me, but wouldn’t exactly mind killing each other off either. The soundtrack also shifts between moods and instruments used depending on which side of the revolution you are. I wouldn’t mind having the soundtrack on my playlist. Commanders have their own voice work and, despite using made-up “languages”, you can still notice differences that are appropriate to their characters (Hopper, the Commonfolk commander’s “lines” sound distinctly rough in comparison to Archimedes’ elevated tone and the Quartermaster’s (KSR) disciplined way of talking).

Multiplayer-wise the game offers a wide pallet of options. Whether you’re going for ranked, unranked or offline, you can get up to four players to run around the map pitting gas-lobbing skunks against exploding frogs and machinegun-wielding badgers. The matches take the more traditional turn (in the game’s acceptance of the term), having no special rules, from what I noticed. My grievances regarding map generation were also absent here, for the most part. You build farms, creatures come from warrens, the goal being to blow up the opposing gristmills (or annoy foes until they give up). You can pick a commander of your liking, although the choice is merely cosmetic, then move onto choosing your roster in 60 seconds. You can pick any six of the twenty units you played with during the campaign. This, of course, leaves way for a number of build choices and, considering that every unit is useful in different ways, there’s definitely place for experimentation.

Tooth and Tail, PC, Screenshot, Review

As for the matches themselves, they’re very good fun. While the maps aren’t anything remarkable, the fact that you start on an even footing makes for some really intense matches as you discover the enemy’s build and see if you can counter it or sneakishly attack his base from one side while hoping you can do enough damage before they figure out what’s happening. For some, Tooth and Tail might turn into their mainstay RTS choice. For others the limited number of units may not replace their preferred bigger titles. Regardless on which side you find yourself, if you’ve an affinity for, or even a passing interest in the genre, chances are you’ll find yourself enjoying Tooth and Tail. Even if you’re just playing a match or two in the evenings, there are various builds to explore, subtlety to employ and an all-around great feeling when you see the enemy quitting after you’ve strategically taken out his production chain while slipping through a poorly defended crack, or after skillfully picking targets when your armies meet on the battlefield. With friends, or a stable, larger, group, I can only see it being even more fun.

Those seeking traditional RTS levels of control won’t find it here. However, in its attempt to provide “RTS distilled”, Tooth and Tail has found a recipe of its own that, while having a few hiccups (some bigger than others), comes off as both fun and boasting at least some amount of originality. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the procedurally generated maps and their tendency to be hard to read or of the abrupt difficulty spikes I encountered in a couple of missions, I, ultimately, had a blast playing through Tooth and Tail. Figuring out how to deal with the challenges the missions threw at me harkened back to a time when a younger me was taking his first steps into Tiberian Sun and, although some missions frustrated the heck out of me, I can’t say I regret spending time with Tooth and Tail’s campaign. With multiplayer matches being intense and fairly short in length, Tooth and Tail never overstays its welcome being a good choice for both longer sessions and for moments when you want to play something but only have 15 minutes at your disposal. Simply put, Tooth and Tail is a great game that’s worthy of attention.  

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Pocketwatch Games
Developer(s): Pocketwatch Games
Genres: Strategy
Themes: Action, Casual, Indie
Release Date: 2017-09-12

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