Ask anyone who knows me, but I am terrible at real-time strategy and tower defense games. I’m a tactical dunderhead. I love to play them, but I get frustrated too quickly at my inevitable defeats, and now I almost always avoid them. But there was just something different about Toy Soldiers. I had to try it. I’m glad I did.
Toy Soldiers is the first must-own Xbox Live Arcade game to hit Microsoft’s concave beast since Shadow Complex. Absolutely no-one who owns a 360 should miss this game.
Set inside intricate toy boxes / dioramas of 1920’s-era toys of World War I soldiers, Toy Soldiers offers a unique twist on the real-time strategy / tower defense genre. Players control one of two factions of toys as they defend their own toy box from the invading forces of the opposite team.
Attacks can come in many forms as waves of enemies wash upon your toy box defenses. They can appear in the form of infantry (light and heavy), cavalry, armor (light, medium, and heavy), aerial (attacker and bomber), and boss format. Depending on the attack, and where the attackers rush from, determines what defenses you should put into place.
If the enemy manages to rush past your defense, they enter your toybox and a point is taken away. If too many enemies enter your toy box, you’ll be writing letters home to a lot of toy widows and upset metal mothers (toy soldiers in those days were made of hand-painted metal, not plastic).
In each diorama, there is a set number of large and small predetermined placement areas for players to set up defenses. In small defense areas, players can purchase machine gun nests, chemical warfare nests, or mortar stations. All three are essential for thinning out the numbers of enemy infantry. To slow down the advances of the seemingly endless numbers of foot soldiers, you can also purchase small sections of barbed wire. Barbed wire is particularly useful when stationed near chemical warfare stations as it concentrates the enemy in a smaller area, allowing the poison gas or fire from the chemical station to reach a greater number of enemies. In large defense stations, players can set up any of the defenses that will fit into small placement areas, but they can also purchase 18-pounder artillery canons, or pom-pom anti-air emplacements which are absolutely essential to your toy box defense when the enemy sends a squadron of bi-planes or the wind-up tanks come rolling over the dark horizon.
While the AI does a marvelous job of gunning down enemy soldiers, sometimes a good toy general has to take matters into his own hands. In Toy Soldiers, you can control any of your units. Feel like the machine gunner could be doing a better job of suppressing the cavalry? Hop into his station and do the gunning for yourself. The same can be said for all the other defense structures.
Once all your defenses are in place, the enemy may still seem overwhelming. By killing enemy units, gamers are granted money which in turn can be used to purchase upgrades to defense units, making them more lethal by increasing their range, improving their munitions, or by increasing their health. Players can also control individual, non-computer controlled units like tanks, bi-planes or the sniper in the sniper’s tower. So while the stationary defenses are holding off enemy forces and you’re waiting for the coffers to refill, you can take the fight to the the enemy by shooting down their planes with your own planes, by strafing their formations, or by flanking their tanks with your own.
Controlling the units requires no prior training. Planes control like planes. Tank controls are intuitive. Within the sniper tower, it’s point at what you want to knock over and pull the trigger.
Graphically, Toy Soldiers is superb, upping the ante for all games that appear as downloadable content. Signal Sutdios nails the look of these classic toys and the dioramas that they once appeared in. While playing, the game never loses its boyish charms as you are whisked away to a younger age and a more innocent time. But concurrently, when you aren’t paying attention to the authentic detail of these classic toys, it feels like war and it can be dark and scary. Never have I played a game that stirred up such conflicting emotions, and I love it. Toy Soldiers is a twisted dream come true.
When you’ve exhausted all the fun from the single player campaign, players can also mix it up with friends locally or over Xbox Live in some multiplayer gameplay which is as terrific as the single player campaign. So for what amounts to around $10, gamers are getting a TON of value in the single player campaign alone. Toss in the superb multiplayer gaming and you have yourself one of the premier titles to own for the Xbox 360.
So, my tactical nincompoopery aside, I was awestruck at what Toy Soldiers had to offer. What I couldn’t account for in my strategy, I could slightly make up for by controlling my own units. That isn’t to say that Toy Soldiers is an easy game. It’s not. There were plenty of times when I had to try and retry and retry (and retry) a few levels over again. And for the hardcore strategy fans, there’s an unlockable harder difficulty level.
Without a doubt, this game solidly lands my nomination for downloadable game of the year. And it’ll take a hell of a game to steal it’s potential crown.