Vicious Vermin

HIGH Fantastic premise, fantastic art.

LOW The difficulty curve spikes midway and the game doesn’t teach enough.

WTF They… They really ate him?


There are few genres that I’m not at least reasonably proficient in, but I’ll readily admit that Real-Time Strategy (RTS) is one of them. Part of it is due to the fact that my family didn’t own a PC until I was nearly an adult and on my own, so I didn’t have much access to this style of game for many years. I’ve dipped in here and there once I was able, but I’ve never clicked with an RTS — the micromanagement and juggling multiple things at once doesn’t come easily.

Despite this lack of connection with the genre, I always keep my eyes open for new entries that might be The One, and Tooth and Tail from Pocketwatch Games looked like a real contender thanks to streamlined design and a console launch. It’s a great project, but after my time with it, I’m adding one more to my ‘nope’ list.

Tooth and Tail tells the story of a multi-faction conflict starring animals, and the winners eat the losers. It’s good motivation to get things rolling, especially as the game opens with the first group’s leader declaring that someone has eaten his son and he’s out for revenge.

Once past this gruesome start, it’s impossible not to notice the sharp-looking pixel art and the strong soundtrack by Austin Wintory. Each unit is easily discernible from another, they have loads of personality, and the sounds are a perfect accompaniment for a hard-fought revolution.

Past the aesthetics and audio, Pocketwatch has taken an interesting approach to simplifying and streamlining their take on RTS action. Essentially, the player is given farms which generate resources to summon troops, and a single flagbearer leads the summoned forces around. This character must dash back and forth across randomly-generated battlefields, giving commands and calling the shots from the front lines. It’s a great idea and I adore the concept, but I had more than a few issues with it overall.

My first problem was that Tooth and Tail doesn’t explain much about itself. Perhaps some of this is the result of the dev assuming genre knowledge on the player’s part, but since it’s launching on PS4 — not a well-known haven of RTS titles — I can hardly imagine that I’m the only one who will feel at a bit of a loss here.

The story mode doesn’t take any time to introduce the units, their individual quirks, or strategies for play — the campaign just roars ahead starting with the second mission and expects the player to keep up. After a defeat, I often found it difficult to figure out what I was doing wrong, or what I could do differently to win. The randomized maps also meant that some attempts were doomed from square one. Beginning too far from resource-generating farms or surrounded by hard-to-cross terrain gives enemies too much of an advantage.

Another issue is that with this ‘flagbearer’ system, it’s impossible to be in two places at once. The player must be in the area where an order is to be given, so scanning a map and giving orders to units in different places takes time. Since the AI has no such problem itself, it will scoop the player over and over again. For example, on one map I needed certain troops to guard the rear. While I was getting them to their destination, enemy troops were ripping up my front lines and destroying the army that I just spent all my resources on. Frustrating, but even worse was that the troops being killed were sitting passively, taking no action to defend themselves from the foes sitting just a short distance away.

My patience for Tooth and Tail ran out about halfway through the campaign when I kept failing one particular mission and ended up replaying it at least 15 or 20 times with no success. The AI kept rocking me, I had no ideas about what I could do differently or how to play better, and the repeated failures turned things sour. When I called it quits on the campaign I went over to the multiplayer, and found that the game fared much better there.

The multi mode offers ranked and unranked matches, as well as local. Being able to choose which units I wanted was great (the story campaign pre-assigns all units on each map) and going up against players who don’t have the AI’s advantages felt much more manageable. It was immediately noticeable when I saw real players struggling with the same difficulties that I was. However, the problem of randomized maps still applies – a player with two farms spawned together has a huge leg up on someone whose closest farm is across a bridge or over a series of hills.

I hate to sound so negative about Tooth and Tail because there’s a lot to like about it — the concept is great, I love the aesthetics, and the goal of streamlining the RTS genre and making it more approachable is one that I can get behind. And in truth, Pocketwatch has been largely successful! However, I’d recommend it only on the strength of the multiplayer. The campaign’s lack of in-game information, AI with too much advantage, and spiking difficulty curve make it tough to embrace. Perhaps RTS vets will disagree with me, but as a mostly-console player coming to this project, it’s got to go a little further to meet me halfway. Rating: 6.5 out of 10


Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Pocketwatch Games. It is currently available on PS4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed1 hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence, Blood, Crude Humor, and Use of Alcohol. Although it’s kind of creepy to think of these animals eating each other at the end of battles, there’s really nothing graphic or questionable here. It’s pretty safe overall, and what little blood there is can be turned off.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no significant auditory cues and all dialogue is delivered via text. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Brad Gallaway
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