World War I was incorrectly labeled as, “The War to End All Wars”, but rightly so. It was when all the various technologies emerging at the turn of the century suddenly became used for warfare and while history buffs might find that fact interesting, the soldiers in the trenches at the time, probably not so much. Toy Soldiers allows you to play from the standpoint of a war between World War I era toys. Taking up the mantle as either the Germans or the British forces, the game immediately tosses the player right into the mud for a vast view across No Man’s Lands.
Noticeably attempting to fill the role of a tower defense title, Toy Soldiers easily accomplishes this mission with grim efficiency. From the onset of the introductory level, the game has a design that belies its initial underlying simplicity. Players place sandbag surrounded weapon nests on either large or small positions to defend the routes leading to their toy box, which they then must prevent enemy troops from entering. This is intriguing as certain weapons have one of two differing size requirements. A machine gun nest, for instance, can be placed on either a large or small weapon spot. Conversely, an artillery piece or anti-aircraft gun can only be placed on a large terrain position. Thankfully, the game denotes the positions capable of accepting what weapons quickly and easily without leaving any room or doubt.
In addition to the mere placement of weapons, completing levels in the campaign progressively unlocks upgrades that will definitely come in useful. These can be anything from a level 2 machine gun that has a bit more power to allowing an artillery piece to fire clear across the map. Also, while the game doesn’t immediately make it clear, you can alter what direction certain weapons face prior to placing them to maximize the effect of kill zones the player can create utilizing barbed wire to slow down enemy troops. And while this would be enough for any tower defense aficionado, Toy Soldiers takes it a step further.
By placing your cursor over a gun position and selecting it, you have a few options. Repair and sell are self explanatory, however you’ll rarely sell a position unless you need to place a different weapon as the endless stream of enemies will keep you well-funded. Upgrade, which enables you to do just that up to level 3 making that weapon in particular exceptionally deadly to the charging enemy toys. Last but doubtlessly not least is the ability to assume command of a unit, utterly setting Toy Soldiers apart from its predecessors.
The first time I took control of a machine gun nest in the face of oncoming enemy infantry, it felt awkward and slow. But by about two levels in, I had grown accustomed to the controls and speed and was able to mow down entire waves by myself. Practice did, in fact, make perfect. This extends to all the weapons available, allowing you to take control of poison gas teams as well as artillery pieces bombarding the battlefield from afar. As a slight aside, when holding down the right trigger, it will follow the fired shell to its destination, which I only mention because I caught myself doing it repeatedly throughout the course of the campaign – it just never got old. Progressing through the campaign though will unlock the ability to make your way out for the trenches.
For instance, the first time you find your base the subject of a bombing raid by enemy aircraft, you can assume command of an anti-air gun, place several of them and hope for the best or jump into a bi-plane and shoot them down yourself. At first striking me as nothing more than a quirky, tacked-on mechanic, I couldn’t stop doing it once I got the hang of flying. Anyone who previously played Crimson Skies on Xbox will feel right at home swerving through anti-air fire and scoring a few kills against the Kaiser. Eventually, you’ll find yourself able to fly bombers, bi-planes or drive tanks into the midst of enemy charges. No matter what the challenge, it never felt unmanageable in a way that made me feel as though the game was merely using quantity to overwhelm.
The levels ultimately felt well-thought out and exceptionally designed to allow players to relish in the arcade-feeling of shooting masses of enemies and drop artillery on them while still remaining aware that something could slip by them and make it into the toy box. Conversely, the game encourages players to continue placing weapon positions, upgrading them and striving to repair them as each level ends with an enemy boss dauntlessly making their way towards your toy box.
Replay value definitely stands out as this is probably one of the best arcade games I’ve played on the 360 in a while and will keep going back to for a good time to come. The overall gameplay truly is an amount of whimsy fun mixed with genuinely compelling gameplay in a fashion that works so well that I was utterly surprised. For a game that seemingly came out of nowhere, it was definitely a hidden gem. For those still on the wire, not sure whether to charge forward or not the demo is currently available on Xbox Live and even at 1200 points is well worth the price.
Final Score: A+ (9.5 / 10)
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