Tooth and Tail's singleplayer plays like a bite-sized StarCraft campaign

Pocketwatch Games founder Andy Schatz once described Tooth and Tail to me as the Mario Kart of RTSes. The studio behind Monaco is aiming for a more accessible take on the RTS genre, designed to play comfortably with controllers, on a couch, and even with split-screen versus mode on PC. It's definitely a simplified experience, but the opportunity for deep micro and macro is still there—a fact that's clear from the game's already lively competitive scene within its closed alpha. 

Tooth and Tail on The PC Gamer Show

Pocketwatch Games founder Andy Schatz joined us on The PC Gamer Show, our weekly live podcast, to show off Tooth and Tail last year. You can catch that episode and see the PvP in action right here.

A regular match of Tooth and Tail lets each player choose six units or defensive structures before the fight from a list of 20. Most of the units are then spawned in by constructing unique buildings that they'll automatically spawn from over time. You only directly control a single leader unit which you run around a randomly generated map placing buildings, claiming and improving windmills to get food (the game's only resource), and scouting the enemy. You can issue orders from your general with a pull of the trigger, commanding either your entire army or one unit type at a time. From there, Tooth and Tail behaves just like you'd expect a competitive RTS, except you can learn the controls after just one or two of its roughly seven-minute matches. 

Tooth and Tail is also going to have a full singleplayer campaign, which I played an early version at PAX East last weekend. It feels like a bite-sized version of the StarCraft story campaigns, which makes sense given the game's goal of condensing that experience down into a more digestible form. I played through three levels, all connected by a larger story and a communal tavern where I got new missions from the various animals in Tooth and Tail's Redwall-meets-WWI setting. Each mission switched up the regular rules of the game in one way or another, limiting what units I could build or changing my objective from killing an opponent to surviving a set amount of time, and none of them lasted longer than a few minutes.

The first mission was called The Bonepit Riots, and dropped me into a chaotic battle already in progress. I had to skirt my pre-built army around the enemy's and kill their leader instead of a central base, but I couldn't build anything past what was already on the field. The second mission had me turtle up and defend a single windmill, but I was only able to build immobile turret nests against the AI's waves of exploding toads and poison-spitting snakes. They both felt like moments that would play out in multiplayer (a big fight, defending against a siege, etc.), isolated and tweaked until they could stand as a challenge on their own.

But the most interesting of the bunch was a mission called The Long Thirst, where I needed to survive three nights in a desert. Each night the enemy army would come hunt me down as I tried to defend myself, only able to build land mines and moles—a unit that doesn't spawn from a building and can be built individually anywhere on the map. But with no windmills, the only way to get food to fund my army's growth was to go hunting for lizard enemies scattered around the map during the day.

While the first two missions were more twists on a typical Tooth and Tail match, The Long Thirst really showed off the potential of campaign. The gameplan and pacing was so different from playing the PvP, and it's exciting to see Pocketwatch isn't afraid to mess around with the strategy pieces it's already built, even for a mission that was only about five minutes long. It felt like a mission concept that could be extended into a 20 minute level, but Schatz told me they generally want to keep missions short and sweet in keeping with Tooth and Tail's style. 

I've had access to the multiplayer alpha for almost a year now, and it's been a solid PvP game that entire time. The short match lengths mean losses are less frustrating, and all I have to do is watch the game's best players face off to realize how bad I really am. But playing the campaign reignited my excitement for Tooth and Tail. It looks gorgeous and already has a soundtrack I'm pretty sure we'll be praising for years to come. With a campaign, Pocketwatch has the opportunity to explore the world it's built in a way it can't do with just PvP.

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.