Being heavily publicized as part of Microsoft’s “Block Party” promotion (one of their big bi-annual XBLA major game release schedules), you’d be forgiven for thinking that Signal Studios’ creation has a lot of expectations to live up to. A larger 1,200 Microsoft points pricetag doesn’t really help promote spur-of-the-moment purchases either. But with all these selling points there is a solid game waiting to be experienced by veteran and newbie strategy gamers alike.
Though it’s not really promoted as one, Toy Soldiers is essentially a “tower defense” game. For those not familiar with this genre, it’s essentially a sub-type of “real-time strategy” gameplay. There are a number of “bunker” positions around the player’s end of the map, and by using a combination of different emplacement weapons it is the player’s task to try and prevent the opposition’s waves of attacking units from crossing the map and attacking their base.
Despite this simple premise, Toy Soldiers offers a lot of strategic depth. Though only half a dozen emplacement types are available, the varied attributes, skill sets and ranges make trying to balance your army to protect from all varieties of enemies a challenge in forward planning, funds budgeting and strategy on the fly. Being able to take control of specific turrets, fighter-bomber airplanes and tanks and do all the shooting yourself is a great little feature, and especially on the higher difficulty levels (when the computer AI won’t help you out by manning all the non-controlled turrets) time management really comes into play.
The controls really handle well. Scrolling across the map is controlled nicely with the thumbsitcks, and creating, controlling and upgrading turrets is done efficiently via a selection menu system using the left thumbstick as a directional input, or even the control pad as a quick reference tool. For a gamer that doesn’t have much experience with “tower defense” games, it’s actually quite easy to jump right in and be reasonably proficient (if not strategic enough) with this genre of gaming,
Signal Studios has done a superb job with the look and feel of this title. Visually it’s stunning, managing to blend the look of World War I with the kiddie-yet-adult design of the “toys” you’ll be controlling… and destroying. For an Xbox Live Arcade game, some nice work has been done on the little things like smoke conditions and the toys “dying” (a.k.a. falling apart in a pile of broken plastic pieces). You truly do get a sense of the gritty nature of war, yet still realize that you could very well be acting out the whole game with a box of army men and a mate or two.
The sound effects are top-notch too – the developers have really managed to recreate the feeling of mid-World War I with both the “style” of in-game sound effects and a sample of a few early 1900’s war songs. They all give off the perfect vibe for this game.
As far as content is concerned, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. An extensive campaign mode will keep busy for hours on end (plus with a “Campaign+” mode which effectively doubles the length), together with an adequate multiplayer mode for both local gaming and over Live too. And that’s the game’s biggest flaw – the multiplayer.
Whilst the multiplayer side of things is a decent addition in its own right, it is unfortunately let down by quite a serious flaw. Sad as it is, it’s far too easy to win once a player gets a couple of points headstart on his/her opponent. Being able to fly planes straight across the map into their waiting toy chest really takes away from the strategy feel that the game works so hard to promote.
Overall Toy Soldiers is a worthy addition to the Xbox Arcade collection. It has solid gameplay, dravs you into it visually, and is very addictive. Though on the pricy end of the scale at 1,200 Microsoft points, it’s well worth trying out the demo at the very least. Experienced “tower defense” gamers will be drawn to it straight away, but even for people not like that it’s so easy to pick up on that it’s a good way of easing into that particular genre. Throw in the “action” style of gameplay with the turret control options and it all comes together nicely. If you’ve got the Microsoft points lying around it’d be well worth your time giving the demo a go, as it’s quite easy to get hooked in for a full purchase.