We adore the tower defense genre, but if there’s one thing that drives us batty, it’s when our idiotic sentries auto-aim at the wrong enemies. This is still a bit of a bother in Toy Soldiers, but this XBLA tower defense game submits itself to your control in a refreshing, relieving way: you can take direct control your constructions and choose exactly which target to blast into melted plastic shrapnel.
In spite of its grim World War I backdrop, complete with gassed trenches and crunchy explosions, Toy Soldiers is charmingly childlike. There’s a sense of nostalgic wonder that washes over you as you realize you’re blowing bits of plastic to pieces inside a diorama play set. Setting up turrets from above feels like lording over your toys as a kid, but switching to somewhere closer to the ground and doing some dirty work, such as mowing down infantry from the seat of an upgraded machine gun or dropping bombs from an airplane, makes you realize that you’re a tiny toy in a big box. The scale of Toy Soldiers is surprisingly impressive, and its scope is unlike any other tower defense game out there.
Sure, the basics of it remain as simplistic as you’d expect: trade in cash, earned from taking out attacking enemies, for bigger, better towers. You’re aiming to protect your base from various German foes, whether they’re infantry, cavalry or mobile artillery, but you’ll need to take matters into your own hands to properly prevent the invasion. Again, part of this is because your towers often ignore the immediate threat, but other times it’s because the A.I. simply can’t do everything you can.
If you want to take an aircraft on a bombing raid, you’ve got to fly it yourself rather than send it on its way. Sometimes you’ll need to cross the expanse to the other side in a tank, taking out your enemies in an assault rather than relying on passive/aggressive tactics. The campaign is just a few hours long, sadly, and the loading times between levels are shockingly long for a downloadable game. The breaks are a bummer, but they don’t ruin the game’s effective mix of this Battlefield-esque third-person action and top-down real-time strategy.
Better than the campaign’s missions, however, is Toy Soldiers fantastic multiplayer. Competing against an online or local buddy takes on an entirely new level of delicately balanced strategy because you’re not just limited to building up your defenses – you’ve got to sink a substantial portion of your earnings into attacking their outpost, something that is rarely touched on in the single-player. The single-player A.I. is tough, but it’s an entirely different and satisfying experience to topple a human player’s stronghold.
If not for the ability to man the gas guns or anti-air cannons yourself, Toy Soldiers would merely be another enjoyable, but just satisfactory, addition to a stagnating genre we admittedly can’t get enough of. Because of its innovation, however, and because it works as well as most shooters with similar ideas, Toy Soldiers easily earns its worth.
Mar 12, 2010