If you've ever screamed at your TV towards the end of a heated tower defense match, wondering what it would be like if you could take direct control of a unit and turn the tide of the battle, Toy Soldiers is an Xbox Live Arcade release to keep a close eye on. You get exactly that.
Microsoft provided our first look at Toy Soldiers during Tokyo Game Show, but wouldn't let us touch it. At CES 2010, however, Toy Soldiers was tucked away in Microsoft's Xbox section with a controller firmly attached. I'm also happy to report that Toy Soldiers is just as entertaining in practice as it is in concept, positively modifying the base gameplay driving tower defense to the point that I'm pretty much going to demand this from other tower defense games in the future. This is noteworthy innovation.
The ability to hop into the heat of battle changes everything.
In the CES demo, it wasn't possible to take control of individual infantry units on the ground (that might change with more upgrades in the full version), but in addition to giving me the opportunity to man cannons, turrets and mortar launchers, I could hop in a tiny plane and man a loaded sniper tower. I didn't find much reason to actually hop into the sniper tower, but I found myself taking control of my snipers simply because, well, I could. And hey, that's good enough reason for me.
Some units are more ambitious than I'd expected, too. I'd breezed through the demo, upgrading my units and barely paying attention to the battle -- I was much more concerned with trying out all of my toys. Just as the AI was going down for the count, they launched a massive spider thing from the other side. It lumbered across the countryside, clearly eying on my homebase. Attempting to take down the monster exposed issues Toy Soldiers currently has (dropping bombs is extremely difficult, even with optional "bomb view"), but just watching this Transformers-like machine clumsily move towards me was enough to make me giddy. Sure, death was impending, but I was giggling the whole time.
Brian Leahy was off playing Splinter Cell: Conviction (which also looks fantastic), so I wasn't able to check out the head-to-head mode available in the demo, but taking on a human opponent sounds like it could lead to some heated matches. Toy Soldiers isn't far off, either, as the CES kiosk listed the game as a "spring" release. Hopefully, that's sooner rather than later.