Tooth & Tail, the latest release from Pocketwatch Games, sees militant skunks, squirrels and boars caught in the midst of civil war, as food shortages have pushed them to feast on the fallen. Looking like a Redwall novel encased in sleek 8-bit pixel art, the stylish RTS strives to be accessible for all - touted as "a popcorn for RTS veterans and newcomers". The title places you in the role of commander, rising up legions of bloodthirsty critters to seize control of the land and cripple your opponent's food supply.
Within the campaign, you'll see the revolution unfold from the perspective of the four rival factions - The Longcoats, the Commonfolk, the KSR and the Civilised. You'll take missions from interacting with NPCs at each faction's base, which will open up further the more missions you undertake. Each of these bases is brimming with detail - the Longcoats' stronghold, for example, is filled with the chatter of drunken squirrels and there are many posters and paintings on the walls that on interaction will leave your character to pause and reflect on the ongoing conflict.
There is a total of 24 missions, resulting in around 10 hours of gameplay, which can be replayed to provide extra mileage. Alongside the mission's primary objective, there are also heroic objectives, which present a further layer of challenge - tasking you with completing a mission within a specific time frame or by finishing with an abundance of a required resource.
The primary goal of most matches is to destroy your enemy's gristmills; halting their food production and leaving them fair game for consumption. The main currency in Tooth & Tail is food, which can be farmed at your gristmills after a bit patience and a small investment. Your harvested resources can be spent on burrows, which spawn units over time - as well as traps and additional gristmills to expand your territory. Tooth & Tail succeeds in creating a continual sense of tension, as you're always left to anticipate your opponent's actions and best prepare yourself for an inevitable strike.
We played Tooth and Tail with a mouse and keyboard and found it to be a fluid experience with regards to the controls. Left-clicking allows you to rally your currently-selected troops into battle, whereas right-clicking moves your entire army forward - holding down either button can also halt your troops. You'll need to use these methods of attack strategically; for example, to prevent your short-range squirrel troops from becoming cannon fodder to an enemy turret, you may opt to send just your ferret units in first, which are equipped with long-range mortars. Pressing the spacebar allows you to set down new burrows and traps and the E key enables you to cycle through your units, which feels awfully smooth, positioned adjacent to the movement controls. We also tried the game out on a controller, and found it to be an accessible and easy way to play the game, and you can't say that about many real-time strategy games played on a controller.
During each mission you're handed a fixed squad of creatures, which all possess their own special stats and abilities. These include flamethrower-wielding boars, venom spewing snakes, and chameleons that can blend into the environment. As mentioned previously, you'll want to utilise the strengths and weaknesses of these characters and learn how they can be best used alongside each other. There are also traps, which can be positioned to hinder enemy advancements. Feather fire can leave enemy's with short-ranged attacks helplessly tangled and landmines and bullet hives can also provide a nasty surprise for any unsuspecting attackers.
Environmental factors will occasionally creep into story missions - helping to ease the repetition and forcing you to abandon your current strategy. In one mission, for example, your crops perish under the heat of the sun once you have 200 food harvested. This forces you to act with a sense of pace and prevents you from stockpiling resources. There are also varying mission types - some will see you freeing troops from captivity, whereas others will see you stealing meat supplies to help amass an army. These varied objectives are a nice touch, but sadly the campaign mainly just boils down to the core objective of destroying gristmills.
Tooth and Tail features procedurally generated terrain - meaning that upon each retry the map is almost completely reshaped. It's an interesting concept, but too often we found ourselves spawning in front of an enemy bullet hive - chewed up by bullets before we had the chance to react. Another gripe to be had with Tooth & Tail's environments is that due to its pixelated style and top-down perspective, it can be difficult to see just which rock or tree you can squeeze past. The minimap also does little to remedy this issue, as it only features coloured blotches displaying which territories are currently owned by you and your opponent.
Outside of the campaign are several multiplayer modes, ranked, unranked and local split-screen. You start each multiplayer match by choosing your commander and selecting which units you want to be a part of your army. Getting an effective blend of troops is a must, as you'll have to contend with having no knowledge of what to expect from your opponent. From what we observed from the multiplayer, environmental factors and quest-specific objectives are absent here - leaving the familiar goal of destroying gristmills. While this lack of variety only works to underscore the repetition of the campaign, the thrill of playing another player and their completely random and unpredictable nature does help to compensate.
It isn't without its flaws, but Tooth and Tail is still a competent RTS title that provides enough strategic depth for veterans, whilst also providing an approachable entry point for newcomers. Its backdrop of an animal civil war translates perfectly into the genre and each unit type was a joy to master and experience in battle. It does suffer from repetition and some of the choices made with regards to the presentation may have come off as a little sketchy at times, but these blemishes struggle to detract from what is a truly fun and unique RTS.