Toy Soldiers marches onto XBLA

Toy Soldiers was recently released on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). Its basically a Tower Defense game, however you can jump into units and defensive placements around the battlefield, even fly around in a biplane dropping bombs out of your cockpit and shredding other planes.

In terms of “towers” the game only has fixed placement points on the maps, and the size of the points proves a further limiting factor on larger defenses such as Anti-tank or Anti-Air. So rather than free positioning, you’re sort of deciding your defensive “loadouts”, with the arms of the period (machine gun nests, howitzers/mortars, anti-vehicle, sniper towers, gas/flame nests and barbed wire that can be laid to slow the progress of the advancing enemy.

You kill the enemy waves for cash, then spend it on upgrading your defensive placements. The cool “thing” that sets this apart from the plethora of Tower Defense games, is you can take control of the “Towers” at any point, and have a go, directing fire a bit more effectively than the AI can. Wonderfully rendered action pours forth from the battlefield, with plastic soldiers pulling off amusing animations as they reload their Machine Gun, after the muzzle glows white hot.

To add a measure of control, many of the guns have a cool-down timer if you fire them constantly for too long. So short aimed bursts are more effective and keep you gunning for longing. Hitting choke points where the enemy have to path through on their way to your HQ (a cardboard Toy Soldiers box).

The Mortar has a nice “shell-cam” if you hold the fire trigger down, which allows you to see your mastery of the trajectory and the resulting carnage as the shell hits. The biplane isn’t bad to fly, a bit “arcadey”, and limited a bit by the small arenas, forcing a lot of sharp turning during your attacks. It has a “bomb sights” camera mode, giving you a birds eye view from above the plane, so you can try and toss your shells onto the troops and placements below.

Its all very well presented, with a lot of WW1 styling, and in the heat of the action you often forget the Toybox theme until you look out onto the horizon and find you’re playing on the inside of a box on a table of a dining room. The WW1 theme is refreshing to see, and the limitations by the earlier period machines of war makes the game stand out. There is a fair amount of historic information included to add to the theme, within the setup, the collectible toy case displaying unlock-able units and lots of information at the debrief after a mission.

I’ve played the multi-player, limited to 1 vs 1 only it seems, on 5 maps. It supports split screen for hot-seat action on a single Xbox, as well as public and private games over Xbox Live (XBL).

The multi-player is a nice addition to the whole package, especially for competitive play. However, disappointingly there is  no co-op support, so you can’t take a friend into a “Comp Stomp” against the AI. The 1 vs 1 matches usually devolve into who can get enough initial kills to get the money-ball rolling. Sadly once rolling, it starts to pick up momentum and begins to “snowball”. Your opponent can usually be overpowered as they scrat for money, whilst you upgrade your hardpoints, buy in support waves, and use your economic advantage to the full.

Using the vehicles on the maps, you can reduce your opponents money by taking out his front line placements and forcing him to rebuild them – whilst you upgrade your emplacements with the money awarded.  Once in a vehicle you can leave it for a very short time (10 seconds I think) to do some managing, and then get back in it, before the 10 seconds are up. However, if you don’t make it, the vehicle will disappear and respawn at the pickup point,  but there is a 60 second delay before you can use it again, so you can’t just keep rolling in over and over again in the same vehicle.

You can spend money on support waves of three troops, Cavalry, an armoured vehicle and a troop based mount. The Cavalry waves  can really test the opponents defenses because they’re fast and can jump over barbed wire obstacles. You win by getting a specified number of units into his toy box HQ (usually 20 units, but on the smaller maps its only 10!).  You can only call these waves in after a long summoning delay, and your opponent can see the incoming queue so to some extent you can plan to counter attack the wave.

Overall, I prefer the single player game, where your pitted against an overwhelming AI, with interesting and unique bosses. The competitive play seemed to get a bit dull after a while, mainly centering around mastering the vehicles to get the early money and then managing upgrades and support waves to overpower the opponent, who is now on an economic back-foot.

Toy Soldiers is a solid, uniquely themed Tower Defense Strategy game and if you have any interest in WW1 or defensive strategy games its worth the 1200 Microsoft Points.

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