I’ve never had much of an interest in Tower Defence games, mainly because I feel like I’m just dumping stuff down for the sake of it and then crossing my fingers to see if it works.
But then I played ACE Team’s Rock of Ages series a couple of years ago and it really clicked with me. Experiencing the defenses first-hand in real time action made each defensive unit’s usefulness make sense. Turns out that combining Tower Defence with real-time action just works.
So that is why I decided to give Toy Soldiers HD a punt. It released back on XBLA and apparently it was quite popular at the time. Like with Rock of Ages, this game combines Tower Defence with real-time action, since you can man your defences and mow down the enemy with your own bare hands.
Does it work? Why yes. It absolutely does.
Many thanks to Accelerate Games for the review code.
A SMALL WORLD
Forgoing any kind of traditional story, Toy Soldiers HD instead focuses on set-pieces based around the first world war. Considering how horrific that war was, the game instead frames it as a child playing in his toybox with his action figures. The game doesn’t make light of the situations, playing them off with surprisingly serious aplomb, but the brutality certainly doesn’t seem as bad when the toy men break apart into springs and plastic instead of blood and guts.
As Toy Soldiers HD also contains the DLC from the original title, the story extends quite far and mostly seamlessly. I didn’t even really notice when the game transitioned to levels from the first DLC pack, although there’s quite a shift in tone once the second pack kicks in as the game takes a turn for the strange. It all fits that toybox theme though, and the brief synopsis before each level starts is more than enough to fill you in on what’s going on.
BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED
For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s set up like a traditional Tower Defence: you have a base, in this case your toybox, and you need to protect it against attacks from waves of enemies. You have certain spaces that you can build your defenses, but in some levels you can claim more by destroying enemy turrets and the like.
Defences range from standard machine gun nests, to anti-aircraft and mortars. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, so you need to take care to look at the waves coming up to decide what you need. Money starts out scarce, but thankfully initial waves tend to be infantry and machine gun nests are pretty cheap. With some extra money in the bank gained from killing enemy troops, you’re able to upgrade your existing defences or build more elsewhere. Upgrades are unlocked as you progress through the story and some of them are excellent; explosive machine gun rounds or a Howitzer that can basically destroy things on the other side of the map never cease to provide endless enjoyment.
What makes Toy Soldiers HD stand out though is everything else it offers. As mentioned at the start, not only can you place defences, but you can man them too. Taking control of a turret and mowing down the enemy is both extremely satisfying and more efficient compared to just letting the AI do its thing. Furthermore, you also have access to sniper towers and vehicles that can aid you in your progress. Need to clear out enemy defences? Use the tank to blow them up. Are the hun initiating an air strike? Time to hop in a plane and help out your AA turrets. It’s a lot of fun being in the heat of the battle and certainly beats waiting around just checking to see how things are going.
As a HD remaster, there doesn’t seem to be a huge jump in visual presentation compared to the original. Certain UI elements have changed and things look a bit more polished, but not that much more than that. It still look like an XBLA title at heart, but that’s not to say it looks bad. It has those same muddy colours that generation was known for, but it makes up for it with it’s art direction. All the little touches to show off that this is a diorama in a kid’s room is what sets the game apart: tanks roll over open books posing as mountains, and lamps provide the glaring moonlight – it really looks great, and the pompous military tunes help tie the aesthetic together. The major gripe I had with the game’s presentation was the rather lengthy loading times before each mission. It’s not much of an issue loading in for the first time, but it starts to irritate when having to reload a difficult stage multiple times.
CARRY ON UP THE KAISER
There are 18 main missions (including those DLC levels) to work your way through, and each one offers a unique challenge to make it feel different from the last. You may be holed up in a small area with very few build points in one, and then faced with a sprawling railyard the next – complete in one of the game’s epic and rather enjoyable boss fights. As aforementioned, the final section of the game takes a rather unexpected turn, but it also strangely does away with the game’s difficulty settings; a rather odd choice, especially as the final stage in particular seems to be incredibly harder than any other mission before and it results in the game ending on a rather frustrating slog. I’m not sure if the lack of difficulty settings for these levels is an oversight or intentional, but I hope it’s something that eventually gets rectified.
The campaign should take you around eight hours or so to get through, but thankfully there’s plenty of other content on offer to extend your playtime. Each level contains secret golden cubes for you to find that unlock items for your ration chest, and there are also level-based challenges for you to try and achieve too. In addition to this, campaign progress will also unlock extra bonus missions, difficulties, and game modes too. The latter includes a ‘survival’ game mode that sees you defending your base against endless waves to see how long you can last, and a ‘German’ mode that see you in the role of the spiky helmet wearing hun fighting against the British menace. What makes this mode especially enjoyable is that the maps are slightly altered, giving you a reason to go through the whole thing again.
Those looking to take down a friend will also be pleased to hear that the game offers both online and splitscreen multiplayer. It plays largely the same as the base game, except you also need to purchase offensive waves to attack your opponent. Multiplayer runs surprisingly well, even in splitscreen, although the small screen space can make it a little tricky to manage. Needless to say, fighting against friends is a remarkably fun time, so I’m sure this will provide many more hours of fun for more social gamers.
I played through Toy Soldiers HD with a grin across my face the entire time. It’s blend of Tower Defence and real-time action is immensely fun, and offers tons of replay value to keep you invested for many hours. Lack of difficulty settings in the later levels and lengthy loading screens hold it back from achieving true greatness, but it’s not that far off.