Squirrels with guns, boars with flamethrowers and maddened, grenade throwing skunks; I’m pretty sure George Orwell, author of Animal Farm, never saw things escalating quite so dramatically as the nightmarish war of the furries that Pocketwatch Games has envisioned here. So it is then that Tooth and Tail has landed in our collective laps; bringing with it an animalistic spin on the typical RTS whilst at the same time stripping the concept down into a leaner beast and smothering the whole thing in some gorgeously whimsical pixel art.
Not your typical RTS
From the ground up, it’s abundantly clear that Tooth and Tail has been designed to mercilessly distil the concept of the RTS down to its bear (sorry) bones. Rather than drowning the player in a bloated UI and mountains of stuff to learn, developer Pocketwatch Games has elected to keep it simple with relatively small maps, a lean selection of unit types to choose from and a range of easy to grasp objectives.
As a furry, flag waving battle commander, each skirmish in Tooth and Tail has you rushing about the map using your standard to rally units to your side and direct them into combat against specific foes, or, order them to guard a particular area on the map. Viewed from an isometric perspective, you can also build new structures which in turn spawn new units, hire mercenaries and construct turrets and other defences to guard your territory. So far, so RTS then.
The kicker to all of this however, is that do any of this neat stuff, you need to have the requisite amount of resource (in this case, food), to get it done and food can only come from the farmland that surrounds the gristmills which are friendly to your cause. Once you’ve assigned the workers to till the land (again this also costs food but you usually start with enough of it to get you going), the edibles start rolling in and before long you can start buying units, building structures and generally begin fuelling your ambitions to conquer your neighbours.
Such a reductionist approach to what can so often seem to be an overwhelming genre helps Tooth and Tail fare well and stand out on PS4 too. Since most of Tooth and Tail’s battles can be resolved from just five to fifteen minutes of play, it means that those who don’t relish the idea of sitting in front of a screen for hours on end to get their RTS fix, are able to do that now with just a fraction of the time needed.
Elsewhere, bereft of superfluous clutter and only displaying the most pertinent information, it’s fair to say that Tooth and Tail’s appeal to console folk is further enhanced by the virtue of its lightweight UI, too. Make no mistake however, in spite of its brief skirmish times and lean tactical model, Tooth and Tail brings the fury and the thunder in equal measure as each and every battle, especially on regular difficulty, ensures every tussle feels like a hard won conflict and one that elicits an equal level of satisfaction when victory is achieved.
Despite how deeply Tooth and Tail would seem to eschew the typically overwrought RTS template, it still adheres to it in the areas that make sense in real terms. Unit types, for example, fare different when pitted against one another, so artillery focussed units will do well against structures, anti-infantry flamethrower units will do best against other troops and so on, and so forth.
Where things come a little unstuck, is that it can become a little frustrating to manage your forces on a per-unit basis when your forces grow to any sort of considerable size. Sure enough, you can elect to rally some or all of your army, and a handy ‘burrow’ ability that allows you to effectively teleport to one of your gristmills with little effort, but when your forces are divided and positioned across the map, it can be tricky to effectively co-ordinate them in an efficient manner.
A great single-player campaign bolstered by equally great multiplayer
Providing an evocative and compelling showcase of Tooth and Nail’s streamlined take on the RTS, is the single-player campaign. Presented as a series of battles that are linked up by a civil war narrative whereupon the Longcoats, the Commonfolk, the KSR, and the Civilized are in the midst of a conflict over who gets to be predator or prey, Tooth and Tail does a grandly commendable job of weaving a darkly comic tale of nature and revolution as a backdrop to its military engagements.
Sadly, as much fun as the single-player campaign is with its humorous ensemble cast, entertaining writing and well-structured missions, it isn’t an especially long endeavour and remains one that can be conquered in a single evening. When it comes to the multiplayer side of the equation on the other hand, it’s clear that Tooth and Tail has the sort of legs that will sustain it for a good long while, as local and online multiplayer game modes are supplemented by fully customisable factions and procedurally generated maps; the latter of which encourage tactical improvisation over simple memorisation.
Of all of Tooth and Tail’s strides, the one I hadn’t counted on was just how effortlessly it would bring the RTS to the couch. Due in no small part to its easily accessible mechanics and pint-sized scenarios, Pocketwatch Games have fashioned a console RTS effort that everybody can, and should, enjoy.
Simply put, Tooth and Tail is a breath of fresh air for the genre and a welcome addition to the PS4’s upper echelon of multiplayer games.