‘Tenderfoot Tactics’ review: a solid tactical combat game with an absolutely enchanting overworld

Traverse a beautiful, abstract archipelago while beating back the Fog

A great malevolent fog is smothering the land and it’s up to your band of goblins to discover the source and lift the miasma. Tenderfoot Tactics, as you might have guessed from the name, revolves around compact turn-based tactical battles in the vein of the classic Final Fantasy Tactics. However, you’ll spend just as much time traversing and exploring its overworld: a strange, shifting archipelago that’s as vibrant as it is varied.

Tenderfoot Tactics is a beautiful-looking game from the get-go. The sprawling overworld is made up of these huge swathes of colour, like the blocks of an abstract painting. As you move about, grass and trees shoot up from the ground in front of you, while the sea and clouds seem to phase in and out, jaggedly warbling into existence like an agitated seismograph. The entire world, with all its shifting shapes and nebulous forms, possesses an almost numinous quality, where it feels as though you’re only ever able to see a hazy, indistinct representation, rather than the concrete reality itself.

Tenderfoot Tactics
Tenderfoot Tactics. Credit: Ice Water Games

Much of Tenderfoot’s dream archipelago is made up of open, empty space. Your group of goblins, following behind one another (you’ll control whoever’s at the front), travel at a brisk pace. There’s a generous slide ability which you can use to glide down hills and mountaintops. As your goblins hit the water, the group will pop into a little sailing ship, which makes traversing a lot speedier. You can zoom out from your little goblins and take control of a bird in the sky, where you can see the world more clearly, with points of interest like towns and camping spots highlighted with a marker.

Tenderfoot’s span of islands range from red deserts to autumnal forests to damp woods. Much of the islands’ landmass is shrouded in pockets of darkness, which you can slowly extinguish by picking up “fae-weed”, or by defeating the enemies that stand watch there. Enemies in the overworld are stationary until you draw close enough to breach their circles of awareness. Afterwhich, they’ll rush and converge on you – although with some careful navigation and some well-timed sliding, it’s possible to escape and continue on with your exploration.

Once you’re pulled into an encounter, a randomly generated battleground will appear, and you’ll be able to pick your goblins’ starting positions and turn order. After every turn, grass sprouts from the ground, which can catch alight from fire spells and abilities, and propagate outwards. Likewise, some abilities can terraform the land, elevating or flattening tiles, or turning the entire arena into a moist wetland. There’s a great deal of fun to be had just experimenting and transforming the environments and seeing what tricks you can use to gain an edge in battle.

Each goblin starts as a generic class, but can branch out and evolve, providing you meet the level requirements. As you win battles and explore the overworld, you’ll level them up and be able to evolve them into more advanced, hybrid classes, which come with a more sophisticated suite of abilities. For example, a goblin who’s level four in both the Knight and Wizard classes, can evolve into a Spellsword and so forth.

Tenderfoot Tactics
Tenderfoot Tactics. Credit: Ice Water Games

There are a couple of really clever mechanics that elevate Tenderfoot’s tactical fights. If a character is hit from the side or back they become unnerved, and tumble down the turn order list. This means with careful targeting, you can deny powerful enemies their turns, and give yourself more time to work your magic. On top of this, after you defeat a unit, they leave their XP and a small amount of health behind. This means you can move a unit into that space and recover a couple previous hit points and, if the stars align, level up the unit completely, which also fully heals it.

Both of these mechanics combined allow you to walk the metaphorical tightrope, and come out on top despite some often tricky situations. You manage to deny a powerful enemy his turn just long enough to defeat them before you’re wiped out. You manage to level up and fully heal your only remaining character, allowing them to turn the tide and win the engagement.

On top of all the solid tactical battles and the spectacular overworld is a magnificent original soundtrack. Of particular note is the eerie music that occasionally plays in battles, those chant-like drums that recall the main theme from the cult horror film Suspiria. Odder still, the theme was produced by the band Goblin. I think that’s what’s most impressive about Tenderfoot Tactics: It’s unexpected. Despite looking quite cheery and whimsical on the surface, there’s always that dark fog threatening to roll in. A creepy, mysterious fog, that looks and sounds like psychedelia.

‘Tenderfoot Tactics’ is out now for PC.

Our Verdict

Tenderfoot Tactics combines solid tactical combat with some very smart mechanics, and offers plenty of room for elemental experimentation. The game also has an absolutely wonderful overworld – a dream-like archipelago, whose strange distortions add so much to the game’s dark and foggy themes.

Pros

  • Vivid, enchanting aesthetic
  • Solid tactical combat with some smart mechanics that make fights more dramatic
  • Dynamic, terraforming battlegrounds and plenty of elemental mayhem
  • Great, slightly psychedelic soundtrack

Cons

  • The map is huge, so expect some lonely treks and a fair bit of repetition
Advertisement

More Gaming Stories: