Being a child of the late 70’s and growing up during the 80’s and 90’s the words “Toy Soldiers” brings back many fond memories. Playing in the garden back in the day, digging trenches for the troops, fortifying artillery stations and spending long summer afternoons preparing for the oncoming assault. The little green men graced many a childhood and evoke such fond memories that moving them into a digital world was always going to resonate with gamers of this long lost time. Sadly Toy Soldiers are no longer the prize possession of a young boy’s toy chest, these days this accolade is reserved for a 3DS or an IPhone.
It’s a good job then that Toy Soldiers Cold War doesn’t just sell itself on nostalgia alone, it is instead a delightful tower defence outing played out within a fantastic tongue in cheek setting, along with a unique gameplay twist.
The first Toy Soldiers outing, set during World War I, allowed gamers to battle wave after wave of oncoming German soldiers, all played out within a very charming toy box aesthetic. The gameplay was pure tower defence and a joy to play. For this sequel Signal Studios haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel (to their credit), but they have changed the toy box era and added some excellent, if minor, gameplay tweaks. Gone are the slightly bland WWI figurines doing battle across a series of trenched maps designed to mimic the drab, soul destroying landscapes of the time, and in comes Rambo, Commando, Red Dawn and a hell of a lot of Top Gun (can you have too much?). This change of era elevates the game above the first, adding a layer of comical nostalgic cheese that will have any gamer of a certain age beaming from ear to ear throughout.
The core gameplay elements are carried over from the original game. Each mission consists of a unique battlefield scenario (a big toy box), complete with a set of build stations that allow you to deploy machine gun nests, anti tank guns, anti air units, artillery units and mortar teams. While there are a mixture of available build stations the larger units need specific sized spaces; there are all limited and all are aligned along predetermined paths thus requiring you to think strategically throughout the majority of the campaign. To build each unit requires the use of the game’s currency and these are accrued by unleashing death and destruction on the opposing force. The controls for building, upgrading and selling are simple and more importantly respond quickly during the heat of battle. It gets pretty hectic as the campaign ramps up in difficulty and the quick response controls are essential in the heat of battle.
You are afforded a small amount of time at the beginning of each level to set your stall out before the first wave of enemies comes your way and particularly in the later levels this time is essential, you will wish it was longer! Once the level begins in earnest wave after wave of varying enemies are thrown at you within varying intervals, each of which can be sped up if you desire. This function is handy if you find yourself up against soft targets in the next wave and badly need points to perform repairs or upgrades.
The timing of the waves alters based on your progress through the mission, some give you plenty of time to think, but this quickly changes to waves being deployed almost on top of each other. It certainly keeps you on your toes when you are nicely setup for certain unit types and then the game throws two completely different opposition forces at you almost simultaneously.
What sets the game apart from other tower defence games is the ability to take first person control of every available unit. It is in fact essential that you do so when playing Cold War as the bulk of the points are only handed out when you take control and mow down line after line of oncoming little plastic men. The ability to very quickly jump into the shoes of the main gunner during a large scale battle is both fun and extremely satisfying. The first person perspective is also a must for the handful of battery powered vehicles you are presented with throughout the game (Gunships, Tanks and Jets). These are time limited bonuses which auto regenerate after use and each life can be extended by collecting batteries from across the battlefield. They are a lovely variable which at the beginning of the game is joyous fun, quickly turning to downright essential later in the game.
A popular modern gameplay element has also been added to this sequel - the killstreak multiplier. Here we see bonuses in the form of barrages awarded for first person consistent carnage. Raising your score multiplier to 40x and taking down a specially marked oncoming soldier will result in the random barrage system kicking in. It’s a lottery as to which you receive but they are always bombastic and can be queued. They range from huge air strikes to nuclear bombs or even the masterstroke that is the commando. Triggering your commando is easy and can be done at any time. This essentially drops Rambo into the battlefield, complete with a top trumps style stats card, packaging and lots of cheesy one liners. Throughout the campaign I’d challenge any player not to raise a smile everytime the commando romps across the battlefield like an unstoppable force shouting “This one’s for Jimmy”. The commando is an excellent example of the humour and atmosphere presented within Cold War and adds yet another layer to the standard tower defence game model.
The mixture of strategic defensive placement and mad cap first person action plays out wonderfully. It is engaging, entertaining and most certainly never dull. The addition of the sense of humour does proceedings absolutely no harm at all also.
The only real gripe to be had with the gameplay is that when a unit is AI controlled they often do not perform even the simplest of tasks to anywhere near the standard they would when controlled by the player. Units will sit and watch as streams of tanks emerge, firing only as they are toe to toe, which is often way too late in proceedings. This really makes the first person mode absolutely essential rather than a quick blast here and there to mix it up a little. For those looking for pure strategy this may be viewed as a bit of a disappointment.
Towards the end of the game, particularly the last mission, strategy pretty much takes a back seat. The final mission is a challenge of asset management rather than a long drawn out mind game this is especially true for the end game boss which comes in three parts. This big fella can only be defeated by jumping in chopper after chopper and firing everything you’ve got before the batteries run out. This leaves you a tad exhausted rather then exhilarated when you complete the campaign. It’s a minor issue though that doesn’t overly detract from the hours of fun you had getting there.
Most games are better for having co-op and Cold War is no exception. The entire campaign has full co-op as does the survival mode (both are local and via XBL), which contains three maps. There is also a 1v1 mode which sees all of the game’s units including commandos on the battlefield causing complete mayhem on the smaller maps.
Content wise there is enough here to warrant the expenditure, the campaign is a tad short but has replay value and each mission has side objectives and achievements are dolled out for obtaining 50% and 100% of these. The survival mode is a blast and also has achievements attached. Add in to that the multiple campaign difficulty levels and the online 1v1 feature and it’s a sound purchase.
Toy Soldiers Cold War is a definite improvement on its predecessor and good value for your points on XBLA and whatever minor issues it has along the way are very easily overlooked. Boasting unique gameplay, an excellent premise and one cracking sense of humour it is definitely one of the highlights of this year’s Summer of Arcade on XBL. Recommended.
“This one’s for Jimmy!”