Review: Tails: The Backbone Preludes expertly expands the universe of this delightful adventure franchise

Backbone was released back in 2021, and despite some flaws, I generally loved it. To this day, I still consider it one of the best-looking adventure games ever created, seamlessly merging 2D rendered characters into a 3D rendered world to create a unique aesthetic. Overall reception from audiences though was more mixed, with some criticizing the game for its abrupt shift in tone at the end of the third act, combined with its rather abrupt ending. 

Tails: The Backbone Preludes is as the name implies a prequel to the former game. You play as four different characters, spaced across various points of their lives. Three are returning characters from Backbone; original protagonist racoon Howard Lotor, investigative fox journalist Renee Wilson, plus cunning and villainous polar bear Clarissa Bloodworth. They’re also accompanied by a new character in the dog scientist Eli. Each character has their own story and none of them tie directly together, although they all do intersect in various ways within Backbone. Here we see Howard attending college as a photography major, while Clarissa grows up in the shade of her domineering mafioso father.

Tails: Renee's apartment
Inside Renee’s apartment.

Although each story is separate from each other, they interweave randomly between each scene, jumping from Howard to Clarissa, Eli to Renee randomly. This helps to keep each story feeling dynamic as you’ll be continually seeing different things. Similarly, player choice is a major part of the experience. At the end of each scene, you’re shown a spider diagram which maps out your decisions made in the previous scene against a workflow of all possible choices. This means that each section can play out in a variety of different ways, and the choices you make earlier can change the flow of the story later. This was something absent in the original Backbone, which allowed you to alter Howard’s personality, but was locked on a predefined narrative path. This definitely gives plenty of replayability, incentivizing a replay in order to experience a different set of choices.

Overall, the writing and stories of Tails are just as strong, if not sometimes stronger than Backbone was. There is a mixture of intrigue here, exploring a lot more about the ominous “Artifact” which is central to the story of Backbone within Eli’s story, but also lots of human moments; Renee discussing an arson case with her boyfriend, or Howard hanging out with his roommate at university. The way the stories intertwine keeps things fresh, and each tale helps to flesh out the Backbone universe of anthropomorphic animals immensely.

Visually, you are once again getting an absolute feast for your eyes. Environments are just as fantastically beautiful as before, with pitch-perfect pixel art backgrounds merged into 3D environments, populated by 2D characters. It’s always worth seeing in motion as a screenshot doesn’t really do it justice, thanks to all of the animated elements such as leaves fluttering on the ground, or the rain and the wind.

Tails: Clarissa funeral
Clarissa at her grandfather’s funeral.

There is again a nice jazzy soundtrack, although it features some more variety including some fun faux-pop songs which Howard can listen to at university. Gameplay wise this is still predominantly a story-driven adventure game so you’ll mostly be doing plenty of talking, but there are some new “tidying” elements which appear to have been influenced by the puzzle game Unpacking, where you can arrange items on a shelf, or clean up dishes and stack them in the cupboard.

Tails: The Backbone Preludes can be played by those who haven’t experienced Backbone, but those who played the original will definitely get the most out of it, especially as you’ll already be familiar with the characters and setting. However, new players could decide to play Tails first and then move on to Backbone, as this game does not expect any prior knowledge from the player.

Tails wonderfully brings more context and depth to the world, while telling some interesting stories in its own right. As a prequel, it is perfect at managing to support the original game, giving more background even to some of the more controversial elements. I seriously hope developer EggNut will continue to build upon the strengths of both games and create a proper sequel, as the cliffhanger ending of Backbone is still tantalizingly unresolved and it would be wonderful to see what happens next in this fascinating world.

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