I am ashamed to say I missed out on the first Toy Soldiers, an error I now intend to put right. I don’t know what it was that discouraged me. The reviews were good, the game had style. Maybe it was the way the game was sold that did not hit the mark, or perhaps it was the war era on offer that kept my head safely in my trench.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers a bit of everything. At its big, bold and brassy beating heart is a solid Tower Defence game, but sprinkled on top of that is some first-person combat from your towers, a little third-person action with the familiar commando, and some vehicular fun as you jump aboard a tank or take to the skies. When all these elements are wrapped up together with slick presentation, plenty of 80s movie references and a selection of toy-themed battlefields, something good happens.
The last few years and recent gaming platforms have seen the rise and rise of Tower Defence games. The setting doesn’t really matter, and even though a developer may strive to add a new twist or take on the genre, you can usually bet real money that you know what you are getting into. This is where Toy Soldiers initially stumped me, because in my experience Tower games have always rewarded building units up, investing heavily, repairing where possible and planning for the eventual onslaught. In this game it took me a couple of levels to realise that you are better off replacing your units on the fly, because it allows you to change your strategy at a moment’s notice to suit the next wave. With limited areas to position your beautifully modelled units, it is often the case that the weapon that mowed down the last few waves will be smashed under the tracks of a tank in the next. Playing the game well will grow your cash reserves pretty quickly, though, not to mention that build times are fast and the upgrade path is limited by campaign progression.
The maps are well-realised and their construction certainly nods to some of the creative things that young boys can do creating living battlefields for their plastic troops to charge across. The limited amount of placement or build sites can be frustrating, but it makes Toy Soldiers more akin to a puzzle game, as you see the challenge before you.
After a slightly bewildering start, and having wrestled with the options to invert the controls, I started to find myself enjoying the game. Information and activity that seemed to overwhelm me now made sense, and before I knew it four hours had passed. This game is fun and once you get the strategy, you will be flowing from turret to turret, racking up the points without concern. Perhaps the most fun are the ‘Barrage’ bonuses; controlling a turret in a manner more effective than the AI fills up a combo bar, and when full this offers the player a randomized special effect. These range from third-person control of a fabulously Rambo-esque character to a Modern-Warfare style airstrike, and the Barrages often deliver game-changing strategy at just the right time.
It’s not all about turrets either. Each map offers a vehicle to control; the argument for their relatively short lifespan is the use of battery power, and at the end they will explode and leave you waiting for the next vehicle to charge up (there are top-up batteries scattered around the levels, but best to use them when you really need to). Of the vehicles the most effective is the chopper, followed by the tank; the jet fighter can be a challenge to control and crashes more often than the others in my hands.
There is a pretty good range of units available to deploy, and for all their childhood familiarity my favourites are the makeshift experimental units, the upgrade path for which is a fine example of what not to do with fireworks or aerosols. The levels are nicely paced in terms of enemy waves and generally throw in a reasonably challenging Boss conflict at the end.
For the statisticians there is a wealth of performance information available, and striving to attain better rankings and beat friends may well be the incentive for longer term play over the campaign. Speaking of friends, there are also co-op and versus modes available, but I am currently unable to access Xbox Live to try them out.
A nice game for 1200 points and I will certainly be exploring the first game in the series now I have the urge to defend my toybox at all costs.
Lasting Appeal: 8.0
Available on Xbox Live Arcade.