Review

Tooth And Tail Review

  • First Released Sep 12, 2017
    released
  • PC
  • PS4

Animal Farm

Tooth and Tail is a bizarre cocktail of a dozen great ideas. It's a minimalist RTS that tosses out complex tech trees in favor of action-packed but accessible play. It's set vaguely in Eastern Europe in the 1910s, with both the Russian Revolution and World War I in full swing. Playing up the grim tumult of the era, Tooth and Tail also casts itself with all manner of cute--though ragged and crestfallen--critters. With so many disparate items, it's a wonder that Tooth and Tail manages to work at all, but it excels with but a few minor blemishes.

Superficially, Tooth and Tail looks the part of a standard RTS, but familiarity with genre staples isn’t required. Yes, you still have resources and units, and a "base," of sorts, but the similarities end there. Instead of using a cursor to drag and select groups of units, for example, you play a sole critter twirling your team's battle standard. Tooth and Tail simplifies a notoriously complex genre into a few fundamental, direct rules.

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You need a gristmill to build farms. Farms are used to grow food. Food is spent on units, making more farms, and claiming more mills to make more farms. Before each match, you pick up to six units you want to be able to use from a pool of 20. You can only build near a gristmill. Finally, you marshal units to destroy your enemies' mills.

That simplicity is marvelous. Tooth and Tail distills strategy games to its essentials--building out armies, growing stronger, and the dynamic, puzzle-like nature of play--and gets rid of nearly everything else. That means ludicrous actions per minute no longer matter.Randomly-generated maps keep others from gaining an unfair advantage with terrain knowledge. The playing field is almost always as level as it can be, leaving commanders to compete on raw strategic/tactical prowess.

Instead of building out specialized scout units and sending them to collect telemetry on the map, your commander does it on their own. The cost, of course, is that if you're scouting, you can't build because you wouldn't be near the mill. You can't attack on your own, either. This keeps you from rushing or spawning tons of machine-gun-toting squirrels near your foes' farms and claiming victory. You can, however, burrow back at any time to queue up more soldiers before heading out again. This guides a core pace to the game--rush out and study before retreating to build. It's a simple pattern that's welcoming to new players.

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Strategy veterans may balk and think that this takes streamlining a step too far. After all, without unit upgrades and heavy micromanagement, it would seem that there's not much else you can do, leaving skilled folks idle and bored. That issue doesn't come up much in play, though. Because maps are random, and you never know which six units other players will bring, most start off with similar levels of knowledge. Advanced players will, of course, have a deeper understanding of which units can cover for what weaknesses, but they won't be able to use that to counter pick either the roster or the map. Instead, their play becomes much more reactive. They have to scout like anyone else, and they have to adapt to whichever assortment of woodland animals hit the map.

All this does not make expertise meaningless. When the only thing under your control are which parts of the map you can see, what you're building, and whether or not you're advancing or retreating, each of those choices carries much more weight. Food also isn't unlimited, and unless you were nabbing territory in the early game, you'll run dry (and starve) in short order. This keeps the pace brisk, and, when combined with the limitations inherent in controlling one commander vs. having a nigh-omniscient view of the map means that the action almost always hits at the edge of what feels manageable. Tooth and Tail supports up to four players, and when everyone's in, things get chaotic. With all four of you fielding armies of tiny, skittering squirrels and badgers or hawks and owls, things get messy fast. And, this is where Tooth and Tail begins to shine.

Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS.

As mentioned, at any point there could be 20 different units on the field. Unlike your StarCrafts or your Sins of a Solar Empires, though, your arrangement of units are unique each round. You pick your commander--who will hail from one of four factions--and then you select your roster. Neither option has any impact on the other, but which critters you pick will have a huge impact on strategy.

Unit types range from defensive artillery to flamethrowers and run the gamut of classic military roles. Medics, transports, gun nests, heavies, engineers, etc. get their due. But big decisions hinge on being able to read the lay of a battle in an instant. You only have a couple of buttons with which to command your troops. One order will have them pressing forward, another will pull them back. The ability to understand, at a glance, which armies have what units and who has the advantage is essential. Lacking the simple visual cues of a uniting theme or aesthetic as in other strategy games, Tooth and Tail has to make each of these figures clear and recognizable in the heat of battle. And, thanks to stellar art and crisp animations, that's never an issue. Each unit has its own heft--or lack thereof--and they're all recognizable by silhouette with the possible exception of a handful of the smaller scrappers. All you need do, then, is worry about a small band of critical choices.

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Because of that purity, playing with a controller feels as tight if not better than a standard mouse and keyboard. The analogue stick is a touch more responsive than otherwise limiting WASD keys. This also makes it one of the few games to nail real-time strategy on the console. And, like with Pikmin, the relative straightforward approach to tactical challenges doesn't come with any costs.

Tooth and Tail picks the right premise, with the right pacing, and the right amount of streamlining to keep every second of a match feeling heated. Games run their course in 10 minutes or less, and that brevity feels revolutionary. Matches in most other RTS games run half-an-hour or longer, limiting who can pick up and play a round here and there. That doesn't need to be, though. Tooth and Tail shows that you can have a zippy, engaging strategy game that's satisfying, nuanced, and accessible.

My only real complaint is that, while the game is deep, you'll want to play with friends. A single-player campaign gives you a basic introduction to the world through a tongue-in-cheek presentation of different political factions. There's a civil war on, and the throngs of fluffy animals are all fighting to be the one who doesn't get chomped by the rest. Each loosely aligns to a real-world political philosophy, but they are all pushed so far into the realm of the ridiculous that none of them come as either mean-spirited or pointed critiques of anything tangible. These characters are fodder for the game's morose sense of humor, and it works. It is not, however, as groundbreaking as the bulk of play, and it doesn't amount to much beyond progressive, contextualized challenges.

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Campaign maps are procedural, which keeps things from getting stale but, given the more specific mission objectives for the campaign, it also isn't as balanced as its free-for-all multiplayer counterpart. You will, at some point, end up with a map that feels stacked against you. And, luck of the draw though it may have been, it still frustrates. Then again, all you need do is wait out the 5-8 minute match and you'll get a new map to try again.

Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS. Nothing else in recent memory offers quite the same white-knuckle thrills. Scouting and modifying your unit composition with up-to-the-minute info on enemy forces, rallying them into battle, continuing to grab up new farmland to fuel your fluffy hordes, and switching between them every fifteen seconds is divine.

Rotating through the band of 20 fighters will offer plenty of depth on its own, too. There's plenty of room to fake out foes by overbuilding one type and feinting a foe into countering that so you can sweep them with your own reserves. If you don't have quite the squads you need to deal with enemies in the best way, you'll have to adapt -- and strong variety will give you the tools to come up with unique combinations and tactics on the fly.

When all of that comes together in a tight, four-player battle royale, it is a thing of beauty.

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The Good

  • Straightforward play makes it easy to learn
  • Interplay between different units provides layers of depth
  • Excellent local and online multiplayer modes ratchet up the action to ludicrous levels
  • Fast-paced play is a shot in the arm for a the increasingly stale genre
  • Gallows humor is appropriately grim, yet cheeky

The Bad

  • Lackluster single player doesn’t give you much to do
  • PS4 version’s text can be hard to read depending upon TV size, distance, etc.

About the Author

Dan Starkey’s been playing RTS games for more than 20 years, and he’s always excited to see one try new and creative ideas. He received two download codes for the sake of review, one for the PS4, which he completed the campaign on, and another for PC where he spent the bulk of his time in multiplayer.
23 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Gelugon_baat

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Apparently, during actual gameplay, the matter of animals slaughtering other animals for meat is only seen in the animations for the gristmill, which seems to have a guillotine saw that is cutting into something bloody when it falls. It's just merely aesthetics.

Even in this presentation, there is some narrative inconsistency. The 'food' is produced by having porcine farmers work field plots of what is apparently grain. I am tempted to think that the farmers themselves are actually the fodder for the gristmill, but this is just speculation.

This is still so far from implementing an element of the premise in the actual gameplay.

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k--m--k

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Was considering this game until I saw the graphics. Not my type.

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Calikidd86

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Edited By Calikidd86

Game would be great on Switch, playing it on the TV doesn't really do it for me. Still, definitely a fun game.

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NeverMore0

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I don't like when game developers intentionally make their graphics look bad, but I watched some gameplay videos of this and it looks like a pretty fun game. I'll pick it up at some point.

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n0on3

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@NeverMore0: I don't think they intentionally made the game look bad, they simply didn't bother to make it look good.

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KingKalo

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So much negativity. Game is fun, different and has awesome accents. Its $20 bucks. The graphics are fitting. I think it's great, dont listen to the nancies.

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iskaroth

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Nice graphics, remind me of the first Red Alert from 1996.

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Gelugon_baat

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Some of the characters are quoting clever modifications of philosophical quotes.

For example, the Longcoat commander says "victory comes not from benevolence but self-regard".

That might be an alteration of Adam Smith's quote: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest". Considering that the same character says that the war would decide who becomes dinner, I don't think that this is a too-far-off guess.

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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

Considering that its premise starts with sentient animals eating other sentient animals, that this is is not implemented in the actual gameplay is quite disappointing in my eyes.

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digiangel234

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@Gelugon_baat: What animation would you have? It's not like they can stop and sit down to chomp into meat on the battlefield. The gristmills have doors, they open, they shut, big sawblades come down and make a splash of blood, meat pops out of the top as the saws drip clean.

Pretty implemented if you ask me.

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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

@digiangel234: It's not a matter of animations. I did say "actual gameplay", did I not?

But yes, I would like them to stoop down and eat the remains of their enemies, either to gain a buff or regain health, or at least collect them for later butchery, e.g. as a method of resource gathering.

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Vrokespell

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@Gelugon_baat:

I don't know if it was meant to be funny but I really laughed. You made a great point, haha.

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yukushi

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This looks like a facebook game.

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deactivated-5a50575ec5600

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@yukushi: Funny, because that looks like a facebook comment.

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Gelugon_baat

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@yukushi: Incidentally, some casual games are RTS-lites.

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MJ12-Conspiracy

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@Gelugon_baat: also RTS games never work on consoles.....

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LPDisturbedHU

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Edited By LPDisturbedHU

@MJ12-Conspiracy: Halo Wars.

Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it doesn't work.

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MJ12-Conspiracy

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@LPDisturbedHU: Starcraft, XCOM

and just cus you love this dumbed down trash doesn't mean it's good.....

2 can trumpet up games and put down the other's ideas just the same....play a real strategy game once then come back and say halo Wars was any good....it lacks depth is the main thing, I liked Bungie's Halo but I would have been fine with a turn based strategy halo game, sure at first I might have been like whut why?? but then I wouda started to realize wait, turn based could work well....

consoles can not do justice to real time strategy, you can't create squads/battle groups, can't easily set up battle tactics and you lack the ability to build bases all over the map which is useful cus what if you're attacked and lose all your production cus it was all in one spot?? this is why in other games it's smart to build 2 or 3 of every production factory and space em far apart for tactical purposes.....even real military forces put bases all over the place so if one is destroyed or damaged others can fill in a needed role....

on PC there are no real limits for RTS games.....

turn based games as I said simply work very well on consoles, XCOM, Gladius [gen 6 turn based strategy from LucasArts] Tacics Ogre [spinoff series of the Ogre Battle games], FF Tactics [has been on many platforms, GBA, PSX, PS2], FRONT MISSION 1-4 [one of the best examples of turn based gameplay] all classic Final Fantasy games were turn based as well but weren't considered tactics games, the reason those got backlash in the end was cus the formula never evolved beyond spell, attack heal strategy, in FF tactics you have way more options in a battle....

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Gelugon_baat

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@MJ12-Conspiracy: They can - if you are willing to lower the level of complexity that you demand from the RTS games that you play.

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MJ12-Conspiracy

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@Gelugon_baat: sorry but simplistic strategy games are boring.....look at Halo Wars, fracking pointless games really.....

I'd love to see more turn based games on consoles though......

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Itzsfo0

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@MJ12-Conspiracy: simplistic strategy games are boring to you, no reason to be sorry - just your opinion others may disagree no big deal. just avoid them. I can name several great strategy games that are simplistic in nature, easy to play and run flawlessly and if thats a persons cup of tea they will naturally enjoy it - but I am not a huge fan of either...but theres some that I enjoy. Simplicity is not a negative for some.

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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

@MJ12-Conspiracy: I used to think that they are pointless because they are simplistic in my eyes, until I tried to get other people to play AI War: Fleet Command, or Paradox's real-time 4X games.

The other people complained to me that they could not cope with those games - it's too complicated for them, or too many things happen too quickly for them to catch up (without resorting to pausing in-game time).

(Hence why some of them prefer games of this complexity to be turn-based. Perhaps you do too.)

Games like Tooth and Tail, or Halo Wars,are there for those who can't handle any real-time titles as complex as the ones inspired by Command & Conquer and Warcraft.

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Tooth and Tail

First Released Sep 12, 2017
released
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4

8
Great

Average Rating

8 Rating(s)

6.5

Developed by:

Published by:

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
Blood, Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol, Violence