One of my favorite surprises of 2021 was Backbone. The game put you in the role of a raccoon detective as he is hired to find a cheating spouse. However, things quickly spiraled out of control as Howard stumbled upon a chain of events that included missing people, cannibalism, revolution, and a parasitic alien creature. I wanted more from the universe, and now Tails: The Backbone Preludes is giving me exactly that.
Tails follows four unconnected stories that lead up to the events of Backbone. Three of them are about characters from the original game: you'll get to see the college years of raccoon detective Howard, the rise of polar bear crime boss Clarissa, and the failed marriage of fox reporter Renee. However, the most important story probably comes from the fourth character, a pine marten scientist who, along with his research partner, discovers a mysterious life form outside of the city walls. Considering that there wasn't much about the life form in the original game, this is a chance to learn a little more about it.
You'll alternate between stories as you move through the game's four acts, which may be for the best as it makes sure to alternate between different tones that always complement each other. Clarissa's blood-soaked tale of climbing up the ranks of the mafia manages to balance Howard's rather goofy, if sometimes bittersweet, college romps with his roommate Larry.
However, no matter which story you're playing, the writing for the characters you'll encounter is always on point. Be it Renee's police chief husband Lukas who really is trying to make his relationship work out, to Eli's coworker Jorge and his more world-weary views, I enjoyed talking to everyone I came across. Moreso, I would go out of my way to talk to as many people as possible. I really loved getting to explore the world of Tails, and I always felt like I was encouraged to do so.
I also did have to watch what I said. During each character's first chapter, you'll pick one major personality trait that will give them different dialogue options and various points in the game. For example, early on I chose to have Howard be investigative. Later, when Larry bet Howard couldn't guess his major, I was able to use this investigative trait to help narrow down the options.
That's not the only choice that will affect what happens in the story. At the end of each chapter, you get to see a tree, showing which of several paths your character is traveling down. It's an easy way to show where the divergence points are, and if you're going for multiple playthroughs, where you need to change things up to try to see some different routes. While Tails' tales may all have a fixed ending -- several of them are continued in Backbone after all -- the route you take to each one is going to be unique.
Unfortunately, there is one major thing that Tails is lacking, and that's much in the way of puzzles. There aren't zero puzzles, but there are very few. An early chapter has Renee needing to try to convince Lukas of a situation being mishandled by the police by cross-referencing newspaper reports with questions he's asking. A later bit has Eli needing to find ways to manipulate the alien parasite to change its form to a few different states. But these are the only real puzzles I can think of. It's especially strange when Backbone had both puzzles and stealth segments, yet Tails barely has puzzles and has no stealth.
It's not too hard to understand why since Backbone rather infamously dropped a lot of its gameplay elements in the second half. However, instead of making it so Tails has puzzles the whole way through, it feels like the developers went the opposite way. There are segments where you do things like clean dishes or organize shelves, but this is mostly just dragging and dropping a few items so they feel more like they're there to pad out the game.
If there's a real star to Tails other than the characters, it's the presentation. Backbone caught a lot of eyes with its lovely use of pixel art and a soundtrack described as "doom jazz." Tails doesn't back down from any of this. Whether you're exploring Howard's college dorm, the run-down industrial area of the city, or the endless desert outside its walls, every scene is beautiful. It's all complemented by a soundtrack that is, yes, still doom jazz. But the fact that Tails has a weird 70s psychedelic rock song by a guy named Tony-Roo is also my new favorite thing.
Tails: The Backbone Preludes Review | Final Verdict
While it's hard to see Tails: The Backbone Preludes as a step forward for Backbone, the lack of gameplay elements really hurt, this is still an extremely enjoyable and welcome dive into the world. All of the characters are well-rounded, fantastic, and well worth talking to, and the much needed extra context for Backbone really does a lot of wonder. If you wanted to see more of the world, then this is basically exactly what you're going to get and likely going to enjoy.
TechRaptor reviewed Tails: The Backbone Preludes on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Fantastic Characters
- Interesting Stories
- Lovely Graphics and Soundtrack
- Almost No Puzzles