Tails: The Backbone Preludes is a post-noir adventure game from Eggnut that follows the stories of four anthropomorphic animals before the events of Backbone, the previous game in the series.
Each scene begins by telling you which character you’re playing as and when it occurs. You spend scenes with Howard in each year of university as he makes friends, spend scenes with Clarissa from her childhood to young adulthood as she deals with her relationship with her gangster father, and so on, alternating between all four until everyone’s story is complete.
The overall gist of the stories is on the grim side, in line with the dystopian future the characters live in. Within those stories, the bulk of the gameplay is dialogue choices.
For example, you enter your new dorm for the first time as Howard, and you get to choose what you say to your RA and your new roommate. Then those choices go on to influence those relationships within a small branch of possibilities that sometimes manage to feel meaningful.
The writing is subtle when it wants to be. Characters don’t have to say everything out loud, and yet you can tell there’s more going on behind the scenes. This is very much a character study, and that part of it is well done.
The pacing is also pretty good. The game is about 2 and a half hours long, with a few story branches that could warrant a replay, and while this is short, it means there isn’t a ton of filler. You start a scene during an important moment in a character’s life, do some dialogue and maybe a puzzle, and then you move on.
The puzzles are the weakest part of the game. Some of them aren’t puzzles per se — more like playing a worse version of Unpacking — but others are boring and overly easy puzzles like the one where you need to make a gooey creature’s state match the one you’re told by pressing buttons. The best puzzles involve convincing a character of something through dialogue, but other than that, puzzles feel like brief time-wasters.
The music ranges from good to great, and the pixel art is attractive, especially in motion.
The game is at its best when it creates tension, or nostalgia, or regret. But if you don’t like the vibes of the game, you’re absolutely going to hate it, because there just isn’t a lot else going on.
While you clearly have some influence on the endings for these characters, some parts of the ending text scroll felt unrelated to what I had done in my playthrough. They’re necessary to set up the timeline for Backbone but make your choices retroactively feel hollow, and many didn’t like that game’s ending anyway.
The relationships are well-written. Even though it was only a couple of hours long, I liked some of these characters. And despite the ending text feeling a bit forced, the final scenes are dramatic. They feel satisfying in the moment, even if they’re left extremely open-ended and I don’t feel like they’ll stick with me.
The artistry and writing craft on display in Tails is impressive, but this isn’t the best overall package. Subtlety is one of this game’s best qualities, and those subtle moments get overlooked to shoehorn these characters into where they had to be for the sequel.
If you liked Backbone, you’ll probably like this. If you were frustrated by Backbone’s ending, this doesn’t do much, if anything, to recontextualize that ending. If you like adventure games, this is good, but it’s too unfocused to recommend for any specific reason. And that’s my overall thought — well made but unfocused.
Tails: The Backbone Preludes releases on February 2 on PC for $14.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Tails: The Backbone Preludes.