Try not to catch a Blighty one
It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when a remaster of a game that was originally in HD is suffixed with “HD.” That doesn’t tell me anything. Toy Soldiers HD is particularly strange and vexing to me because, in 2016, we got Toy Soldiers Complete, which was a combination of Toy Soldiers and Toy Soldiers: Cold War. So, going in, I didn’t know what to expect from this remaster. Was it going to be any different? Were there any additions?
It’s actually a bit of give and take, but when it comes down to it, Toy Soldiers HD stands apart enough to justify its existence.
World War I was a horrible, pointless war. Empires fell, borders were redrawn, millions died. And for what? So we could get back at it for an encore twenty years later.
A major issue was the use of 19th-century tactics with new 20th-century technology. Everyone had their new toys out and was quickly trying to figure out how to use them. So the war was slow, and everyone on the western front stood in mud, waiting for their turn to run at the machine guns and artillery through razor wire.
This might be why Toy Soldiers HD decided to depict the absolute horrors of that war with the use of miniature dioramas. Because watching a person melt under the heat of a flame thrower is far less traumatizing when they’re made of metal.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Toy Soldiers HD is a tower defense game. You have one or more toy box entrances, and you need to keep the Huns from goose-stepping their way in. Unless you’re playing as the Huns. To do this, you have the best gear that WWI had available: artillery, mortars, machine guns, flak, and chemical weapons. As well, some missions provide you with tanks and planes so you can join the frontline.
Waves of enemies queue up to take a run at your boys. The strategy is to anticipate what’s coming next and prepare for it. Artillery can hit at a distance, but groups of enemies can sometimes filter past. Machine guns are mostly useless against vehicles, but essential for cavalry. Mortars are your best bet against vehicles, but you’d better lay them down thick and get them upgraded if you want to stop the Kaiser’s boys in their tracks.
You get money for every kill and can grab bonuses if you wade in and take control of your implements yourself. You can build up combos by either hitting groups of enemies with a single shell, or by mowing them down in quick succession. It’s important to decide where you’re spending your money and when. It may be tempting to kick your artillery up to the top, but a group of planes could then be your undoing.
Toy Soldiers HD contains all the levels of the original, plus the DLC The Kaiser’s Battle and Invasion!. That would be the bare minimum of what you’d expect, but to sweeten the deal, six new levels have been added in as bonuses.
Is there anything to make Toy Soldiers HD stand out? Actually, yes. The visuals have been retouched from a technical standpoint, but more importantly, all the levels have gone under the microscope and been reworked. This means both a reconfiguration of placement points and an overhaul of the terrain. Mostly. Some levels look entirely the same to me, but others look magnitudes more detailed.
Likewise, it’s been rebalanced. There are small and big emplacement pads, and previously, you could only place a single large or small weapon on the big ones. Now, you’re allowed to jam in four weapons onto one of the larger foundations, which allows your strategies to be more flexible. Not a fan of artillery? Just drown them in mortar shells when they get in close.
Other additions include the ability to drop general use barrages on enemies. This is a feature of Cold War, but here, there’s only one type of barrage and it’s just okay, I guess. It rains down artillery around any foes on the board and sometimes hits them.
You’re also often provided with more tanks and planes. Considering these are largely single-use vehicles, it’s helpful to have a spare if Archie grounds your plane when you didn’t know he was even there. It also allows you to be more flexible with your use of them. You can bring them out when you need the extra support, or when you’re just comfortable with how the AI is handling your emplacements and you want to joy-ride
There are some drawbacks. Co-op, which was available in Toy Soldiers: Cold War and Toy Soldiers Complete, didn’t make it over to this version. Instead, you’ve got the adversarial multiplayer, which is definitely fun, but the formula just seems well-suited to co-op. It’s a shame it got left behind.
For some reason, you can still unlock rations for completing special objectives in each level, but you can’t view them. At least, I couldn’t find a way, and I specifically looked. In the original version, each ration had a short blurb about what they were, giving meaning to unusual names like Bully Beef and Hardtack. Maybe not a huge loss for some, but it kind of makes earning the rations seem a bit pointless without it.
Otherwise, Toy Soldiers HD is probably how you remember it. There are some noticeable changes, but nothing revitalizing. Unlike Toy Soldiers Complete’s tendency to just shoehorn new mechanics into the old game where they didn’t necessarily fit, Toy Soldiers HD feels true to the original experience. It’s a bizarrely lighthearted take on a nightmarish war, but not one that feels like it wholesale throws away the history.
More could have probably been done with the remaster. For example, Toy Soldiers Cold War could have been packaged with it. Maybe not jammed together like Toy Soldiers Complete, but at least available alongside.
For your $30, you essentially get a touched-up Toy Soldiers. I loved Toy Soldiers, I think it’s a fantastic game. I’m happy that they took the time to make the battlefields look a little more modern, but if I hadn’t gone back to check the original game, I might not have realized that anything had been done at all. So, the real value to me is just being able to re-experience the game on new platforms, or on PC without the Games for Windows Live nonsense.
But really, that name. Toy Soldiers HD? Just throwing this out there, but why not Toy Soldiers: Remodeled? No? This is why they don’t let me name things.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]