Toy Soldiers Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Mar 09, 2010

Tiny tin troops travel from trenches to toy boxes in this World War I tower defense game from developer Signal Studios. Featuring a first-rate presentation and exciting arcade-style shooting sequences, Toy Soldiers proves that good things do indeed come in small packages.

The Pros
  • Jump into units to fire at enemies
  • Controllable tanks and biplanes
  • Strong replay value
The Cons
  • Can't save during a battle
  • No co-op play
  • Smallish battlefields

Toy Soldiers is a tower defense game, though you'd never know it from the promotional videos or the official game description. Seeing footage of it in action will make you think it's a cross between a real-time strategy game and "Battlefield 1914". Part of the confusion stems from the ability to control your faction's machine guns, mortars, tanks, and planes from a third-person perspective, allowing you to directly attack waves of soldiers trying to storm your defenses. The 3D presentation is also distinctive, as it places you right on the front lines.

Toy Soldiers

Breaking the Waves

After a brief tutorial, you'll begin Toy Soldiers in a British campaign spanning 12 battles. German forces will periodically appear on the opposite side of each diorama-modeled battlefield, running, rumbling, or rampaging across the ground in an attempt to infiltrate your home base: a toy box. If 30 units enter your toy box, you lose the game. Repelling the enemy involves placing a choice of five weapon types in specially designated areas (circles or squares) on the terrain. Each unit can be upgraded twice for added range and power, and consist of the following types: machine gun, mortar, artillery, flak guns, and chemical weapons. Barbed wire fences are also available to slow infantry.

The core gameplay will be instantly recognizable to those familiar with tower defense games. You must strategically place stationary weapons (i.e., towers) to attack waves of foot soldiers, tanks, cavalry, and planes as they follow specific routes to your base. Shooting or blowing up enemies will earn you cash to purchase new units, upgrade existing units, or repair damages. What sets Toy Soldiers apart from just about every tower defense game you've played is the level of interaction after establishing your defenses. Suffice it to say you won't be bored.

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Cannon Fodder

Every unit aside from infantry is playable. Press the "A" button over the Vickers machine gun, for example, and you'll aim a crosshairs target to mow down any infantry that dares cross your path, earning combo bonuses for multiple kills and giving you an edge over the default A.I. Each map also has a "free" sniper tower, which you can use to pick off individual enemies from afar. Unmanned stations will try their best to defeat nearby targets, but they have trouble prioritizing those that are an immediate threat.

Not only can you take command of defensive units, but there are also two types of tanks and two biplanes you can control once you reach specific maps. What's interesting about the tanks and planes is that you can patrol the entire diorama with them, assuming you can survive the barrage of enemy anti-air or anti-tank weapons. You can directly engage Albatros D.IIIs, go on bombing runs, or take out enemy defensive positions to use as your own. It's also immensely satisfying to fire a shell into a group of infantry and watch their bodies turn into bouncing springs and gears. 

The well-designed campaign introduces a variety of maps that promote different styles of play. Some maps will have you spending the majority of time in the air, while others require strong ground support with tanks. Every three levels you'll encounter a giant boss unit, which is like watching an AT-AT or Optimus Prime stomp through Smurf Village or the world of Polly Pocket. Yet if you fail to destroy the boss before it reaches your base, you'll have to start the entire level from scratch. Considering the final battle consists of 26 grueling waves before the boss appears, this is no small complaint. Alas, you can't save during a battle.

Toy Soldiers

World War Fun

While tower defense games aren't known for their high replay value, Toy Soldiers is different. Not only are there four difficulty levels, but after you complete the 12-mission campaign, you'll unlock a survival mode and opportunity to replay the campaign from the German side. There are also side objectives to shoot for, medals to earn by conquering the elite setting (which forces you to man every defense -- the computer won't fire at nearby enemies), high-score leaderboards, and both split-screen and online support against a friend. The multiplayer component is limited to five maps and isn't radically different from the single-player game, but it's a welcome diversion nonetheless.

Toy Soldiers

Jolly Good

In addition to its addictive gameplay, Toy Soldiers has some of the highest production values seen in an Xbox Live Arcade game to date. The animations consistently amuse, the battlefields feature a surprising number of destructible elements, and there's even authentic music from the time period. More importantly, the game elicits a warm sense of nostalgia for anyone who grew up playing with army men as a child. Only this time, you won't have to rely on an M-80 to manufacture explosions.