Rolling credits on Tails: The Backbone Preludes is only the start. Partly because the latest game from Eggnut is a prequel. Fans of Tails’ anthropomorphized, piercing world get a chance to see through the — young and more hopeful — eyes of familiar characters. But it’s also hard to close the book on The Backbone Preludes due to its poignant observations and branching storyline.
The first has my brain churning as I go through my daily routine. The second, makes me want to dive back in and see what might have been. And it doesn’t hurt that the game’s high-caliber writing is backed up by resplendent pixel visuals.
Clarissa Bloodworth is aptly named. At the age of seven, she sits on the boardwalk with her grandfather. Watching the crowd and making sense of the world through a child’s eyes, her conversation reveals hints that the family business is less-than-reputable.
But for this brief moment in time, the patriarch simply enjoys the time he has with his granddaughter. Picking between various responses and questions moves the plot forward, and it feels like even small questions could alter my future path.
At one point, I’m prompted to pick between dialogue that will brand me with a specific trait — powerful, ambitious, or clever. I choose clever. The scene eventually fades to black and a tangled narrative web appears, highlighting the choice I’ve just made, and mapping out the multitude of possible futures that flow from it. It’s an effective device for getting me excited to move through the story, but also pulling me to go back through once it’s completed. I always want to walk down the path not taken.
There are three other characters whose stories move me to make a choice about their personalities. Howard is just moving into his college dorm, Renee is digging through newly obtained reports for an article, and Eli ponders a recent discovery at his dig site.
While I choose a trait in each vignette, the narrative web suddenly stops focusing on that choice. Renee’s recap mentions how she convinced her partner of the reports’ discrepancies, and Eli’s discusses the uncovered artifact. It makes me feel like everything has been set into motion, and the plot is moving forward at a speed I don’t have control of — an exciting way to add tension in a game that’s otherwise page after page of text.
The dialogue is always accompanied by the game’s stunning art style. A 2D, side-scrolling adventure title, The Backbone Preludes doesn’t have a lot of action. However, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Uniquely for a pixel-centric game, the light shimmers off surfaces, making marble hallways gleam, windows stream with light, and illuminating particles swirling in the air. There’s also something remarkable about the way the visual perspective makes me feel like the characters inhabit the world, not just walk through it.
Only one minor element dims the game’s more brilliant aspects. Certain scenes require me to manipulate and place particular objects. This can be as small as nervously organizing a shelf before having a big conversation, or important as setting up samples for my scientific experiments.
Either way, the mechanics never feel quite precise enough for clicking, dropping, and dragging small objects smoothly, and these sequences can get tedious — especially if I miss the thing I need to interact with because it isn’t highlighted well enough. But ultimately, this is just a small blemish on an otherwise engaging experience.
The game closes in a much harsher place for all of the protagonists. Some storylines are bittersweet triumphs, some are tragic ends, and others are just life moving forward. Every finale gets its own couple-paragraph epilogue in the narrative web, allowing me to see how the original game’s characters came to be. And while all are satisfying conclusions, it’s hard to resist starting over. The untrod paths reach out and beg me to uncover the details I missed.