Tooth and Tail Review – Bombs Away (PS4)
It seems like it was just yesterday (actually about a month ago) that I was reviewing another RTS and mentioned that this was under-served genre on PlayStation 4. Well ask and ye shall receive! Here we are, a little over a month later, and Pocketwatch Games’ is answering my call with their new release, Tooth and Tail. This 8-bit inspired and heavily streamlined RTS experience has the potential to thrive in the PlayStation ecosystem, as long as it is given a fighting chance. This is even more impressive, when you consider that it manages to do all of this while featuring an inebriated rodent as a primary character.
Fire When Ready
Who knew that the circle of life could be so friggin’ violent? Survival of the fittest be damned, because the moment that woodland creatures start toting rocket launchers and flamethrowers, all bets are very much off. Take any creature that you could imagine appearing in the wilderness and now arm them to the teeth. THIS is your army. And call me crazy, but there’s something about the dissonance between the most low-tech creatures imaginable and an arsenal that would bring a twinkle to Patton’s eye that is oddly satisfying.
The core storyline of Tooth and Tail revolves around the onset of turf warfare once resources become limited in a region. The stakes are especially high, given that the life of each faction quite literally hangs in the balance. Over the course of the campaign players end up taking control of all of the game’s primary teams in a rather comprehensive set of missions. These staged battles do a fantastic job of showing all of the different tactical styles and their core mechanics, while never making you feel like you are playing the same thing on repeat. Additionally, once you’ve had the chance to see the conflict from each side of the battlefield, it’s hard to not begin to see the merits (both comical or otherwise) of each faction.
The most important aspect of damn near all of the missions is the constant back and forth pull between generating new units and “farming” for more materials. In this case, the term farming could not be more literal. Players establish settlements around defunct windmills, which are then used to legitimately plant and harvest crops until the land is either depleted or destroyed by invading forces. The dilemma is that the same materials are used create troops, capture these windmills and seed resource fields. Also, it’s critical to keep a close eye on the output of resource fields, because as you begin to drain land of its effectiveness, you have the option to sell the turf and move on. Wait too long to pull the sales trigger and the land will wither and die.
A Literal Battle-FIELD
Shifting focus back to the front lines of the conflict, all of the units on the map are led by a central commander type unit, which the player controls. Using the triggers on the controller, there are a series of hot-mapped commands such as attack, regroup, or fall back, which will impact all units that have currently been grouped around the leader character. While pushing the battle forward, it’s very important to keep an eye on the leader’s health. It’s fairly easy to lose sight of this in the heat of battle, which rarely works out in the player’s favor. AI troops tend to be temporarily rendered aimless without the aid of a leader. Additionally, there are basic on-screen prompts associated with capturing windmills, queuing up the planting of land, and choosing what types of units to generate in a given bunker. When you consider all of the different units at play and the expansive maps, the game’s shocking amount of depth suddenly becomes evident. This is made all the more impressive when considering the very constricted control scheme.
The amazingly creative setting, storyline, and characters are further complimented by the pixelated art style featured throughout. Though I would be inclined to say that it leans more towards an 8-bit aesthetic, the argument could also be made that the presentation itself could be closer to 16-bit, with a bit of Vaseline smeared over the camera lens. That last statement isn’t meant as an insult by any stretch of the imagination. This is more meant to somewhat explain how unique the aesthetic is, and how different it’s from anything else out there. The smeary style helps take some of the edge off of each sprite, which provides a slightly different permutation than gamers might be accustomed to.
Completing this surprisingly stout offering is the inclusion of full multiplayer functionality. Though it doesn’t feature any sort of matchmaking, players have the option to join any number of different lobbies, in search of their desired map and match type. Further adding to the fun is the ability to mix and match the unit types from every faction, into a single super squad of units. This was a personal touch that I enjoyed, especially given that most of the RTS titles that I’ve played online in the past forced the player to pick sides in order to lock down their desired unit types. The result is an amusing free-for-all where anything can happen and quite often does.
It’s rare for a game to sneak in under the radar and genuinely catch me off guard. Tooth and Tail is one of these infrequent pleasures that feel like discovering a diamond amongst the coal. This is a stellarly constructed and well-considered RTS that goes a long way towards showing how the genre can stand out, even without the aid of a keyboard and mouse. When also factoring in the approachability that the art style brings to the table and its shockingly deep well of unit types, it becomes obvious that this is the full package. So, lace up your boots and reach for the ammunition. It’s high time to blow some drunken squirrels back to hell, where they belong. Fire away, soldier.
Review code for Tooth and Tail provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.