Ah, the good old days. Nothing was better than waking up on a Saturday morning, and after cereal and cartoons, going to the grocery store and begging your mom for a bag of those artificial chemical smelling, shiny green plastic army men. There’s something delightfully nostalgic about Signal Studio’s Toy Soldiers, and that quality alone sets it apart from other one-off’s that have flooded the so-called “tower defense” genre. Aside from bringing back fond memories of days past, Toy Soldiers provides casual gamers with something more than the usual cartoony, flash-style visuals and repetitive gameplay that plague similar games. After setting up your defenses, you’ll endure waves of enemies on foot, on horseback, in the air and on tanks… and you’ll need to use quick thinking and solid judgment to defend your toy box.
Don’t think you’ll have time to relax; between commandeering individual units to control the action, repairing soldiers wounded in battle, and preparing for what’s to come, you’ll have plenty to do and find yourself appreciating this game for giving you more. So what’s the catch, where are the flaws, and more importantly, is it worth 1200 MS Points? Read the HOTs and NOTs to find out!
Top Notch Surroundings and Sounds
As far as Xbox Live Arcade games go, graphics are not always up to the standard that we’ve come to expect in the high definition era. Toy Soldiers, however, is absolutely stunning. There are five different maps to explore, and every single one of them is detailed, engaging, and wonderfully retro. Using individual battles from World War II as a setup for each map, you’ll begin with just a few units and unlock more as you go along. Killing enemies earns precious dollars that are used to purchase more units and upgrades. Each one is unique and detailed; you’ll have hours of fun taking control of each one and using it to destroy your enemies, who all perish in hilarious fashion (the soldiers on foot are especially laughable). Makes you wish you had these sort of set-ups when you were younger!
The soundtrack is especially excellent; each battle has a sweeping score and intense battle sound effects that add to the tension and overall experience. There’s something about hearing some classic music turn ominous and listening to your units fire away as a huge tank rolls out in the distance, shooting projectiles along the way. Signal Studios did a great job of accomplishing auditory cues mixed subtlety with music, and it’s a fresh change for an Xbox Live Arcade game.
Snobby gamers be warned; anything above casual mode will provide a significant challenge to even the most seasoned gaming veteran. The hardest mode requires you to control all of the units with no AI support, and is a process that will take hours to master. The mid range mode is best, providing a healthy balance and giving ample time to prepare for upcoming enemy waves. During the precious few seconds of down time, maintaining your defenses is critical; you’ll find yourself frantically upgrading and repairing each unit while hearing the telltale siren signaling the next onslaught. You can click the right thumbstick for a top-down view of the battlefield that is especially useful for planning purposes. As previously mentioned, cash is earned per enemy kill, with bigger enemies obviously netting more dough. You’ll need to quickly determine which unit would most effectively kill the most ominous enemy, get behind it, and fire like hell. Each map has an entrance to your toy box, and there is a counter in the corner of the screen that displays the number of enemies that can enter that toy box before you lose the battle. Keeping an eye on that counter is critical; a few enemies on foot that slip by can cost you the entire skirmish and cause a disheartening restart. The challenge is good though; if the game was too easy, it wouldn’t feel as satisfying when you complete the level.
Toy Soldiers has several different gameplay options that really make it stand out. The single player campaign offers plenty of options to win each battle. Besides choosing which unit to purchase and where to place it, you can take control of each one and feel the action of the battle, something that similar games don’t always necessarily provide. You can also get behind the wheel of tanks, airplanes and zeppelins to fend off enemy attacks. Setting up your army and then driving out to meet the next wave is especially rewarding. There are local and Xbox Live multiplayer modes, and both are equally entertaining and fun. The local mode requires you to control an offense as well as a defense, and while this is somewhat difficult to grasp considering this option isn’t offered during the single player campaign, it certainly gives a different take on the gameplay. The replay factor is high here; it’s easy to grab the controller and knock down a battle or two between obligations, and that’s important to most older gamers with *gasp* a life!
There’s Not Enough!
For 1200 MS Points, gamers want more. More hours of gameplay, more maps, more guns… you get the picture. Toy Soldiers hits the nail on the head with actual gameplay and fun factor, but a few more maps or multiplayer modes would have put this game over the top. Also, more control of the camera would have also been a plus; it was a little disappointing not to be able to zoom in and out as completely as you’d expect, and although it seemed quite clunky at first, was not as noticeable as the game progressed. Hopefully there will be some downloadable maps to add life to Toy Soldiers once gamers have played through the single player campaign.
Toy Soldiers gives a surprisingly fresh take on tower defense style games and gives adult gamers a way to reminisce about their childhood without having to drive to the dollar store and get the real thing. The graphics are great, the gameplay is solid, and although it’s not as long as you might like, you have to appreciate the fact that smaller, relatively new studios are putting out high quality, affordable games for the gaming masses that don’t have a “2” or “3” next to the title. We need more games like Toy Soldiers to remind us what gaming is all about: having fun and doing things you can’t do in real life… and this game has both.