Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Aug 16, 2011

Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a innovative twist on the popular tower defense genre. Taking control of individual turrets and vehicles gives the genre a more aggressive spin, while forgiving checkpointing and compelling multiplayer options extend its life. It doesn't make the most out of its toy subject matter and the camera can be a pain, but this is otherwise a finely crafted piece of plastic pandemonium.

The Pros
  • Great mix of tower defense and action
  • Rewind feature minimizes frustration
  • Addictive versus mode
  • Novel aesthetic concept
The Cons
  • Unfortunately, the novel aesthetic concept doesn't go far enough
  • Awkward camera

Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review:

War games are always a bit idiosyncratic. Triple-A titles like the Call of Duty or Battlefield series try really hard to provide a good time, while simultaneously portraying their horrific subject matter realistically to remind us that we shouldn't be having a good time. Toy Soldiers and its sequel, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, remove this dissonance by portraying a pretend war being played out by a bunch of action figures in a child's bedroom. It's a clever motif and allows us to get into this well crafted tower defense/action hybrid guilt free.

Your 20th Century Toy

At its core, Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a tower defense game with a twist. After situating a handful of emplacements on preordained spots, you can take control of any turret to take out enemies manually. Doing so awards currency used to build more units, as well as upgrade and repair them. Simply aiming and shooting may sound repetitive, but each emplacement feels different with certain projectiles controllable in first-person. Though the AI will do a commendable job in its own, it's no match for that human touch, and it becomes absolutely essential to possess your various units in battle.

While you primarily hop back and forth between a defense building god and stationary turrets, there are a few exceptions where you'll get to control mobile units. Vehicles like tanks, helicopters and jets give a much needed sense of oomph, letting you wreak havoc upon the terrain with glorious aplomb until your batteries drain and need to recharge. New to the series are randomized power attacks called "barrages" that are attained by getting a 40 kill combo or picking off units marked with a Soviet star. These range from a flurry of artillery, an air raid, or my favorite, controlling an invincible Rambo parody called "The Commando" for a limited time. Leveling the playing field with an unlimited ammo rocket launcher and machine gun as he spouts slurred war cries is a riot.

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Tower Defense games are bound to get repetitive with endless waves of enemies invading condensed enclosures, but Toy Soldiers: Cold War does its best to alleviate feelings of monotony. A few colossal bosses breathe some much needed life into the campaign, while an endless survival mode is a welcome addition for patient gamers, and there are a few shooting gallery style mini-games that train players with various units. Also, if you fail a mission, you can rewind by a wave at any time which is much appreciated in a game where stages often last upwards of 20 minutes.

If you tire of going it alone there area couple two-player functions as well (available both online and split-screen). The main campaign and survival mode can be tackled cooperatively, though it doesn't drastically alter the gameplay. Versus mode is more interesting, where an infinite supply of soldiers storm both player's bases. Here currency is used to not only build defenses, but purchases offensive waves as well. Commandos are available without getting a barrage, needing only a brief recharge before they can enter the fray again. Placing such a powerhouse in play radically alters the dynamic, making for a more hectic experience.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War

War; What is It Good For?

Despite all this, Toy Soldiers: Cold War isn't a complete victory. The camera is finicky, opting to zoom in whenever you lower its altitude to look around horizontally. Why zooming isn't grafted to a separate set of buttons is baffling considering how many aren't used at all.

Elsewhere, while I liked the idea of using toy soldiers, the developers didn't go far enough with this concept. An early training level sees you shooting soldiers traipsing over Russian nesting dolls on a table cluttered with Jax. Once the game begins proper, these household items are mostly relegated to the backgrounds with only the occasional Jenga tower making an appearance. The zoomed out camera makes it frequently hard to tell these are even action figures and it feels like a missed opportunity for more whimsical toy mixtures. I know it's a cold war and all, but a little warmth would be welcome.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War

The Spoils of War

Toy Soldiers: Cold War's mix of third-person action, first-person aiming, and omnipotent-person tower defense is a winning formula, succeeding at all of its constituent parts. Some shoddy camera controls damage it a little and its aesthetic only skirts the surface of its quirky theme, but these are minor issues. Whether playing solo, co-op, or competitively, Toy Soldiers: Cold War reminds us that while war is hell, recreating it with toys doesn't have to be.