With a name like Toy Soldiers it is hard not to want to play Microsoft’s first entry in their Xbox Live Arcade Block Party. The idea of controlling plastic soldiers in a war setting is definitely unique and appealing. The biggest surprise gamers may receive upon booting up the game though is that it really focuses more on strategy than action. Sure you can manually control your units, but essentially this is really a very pretty interpretation of the classic tower defense formula. If you are not totally burnt on the genre and willing to deal with a few minor qualms; there really is a bevy of good times to be found in the latest Arcade title.
Like the name and screenshots imply Toy Soldiers is based on those classic green and brown plastic soldiers we all had way too many of as a child. The premise is simple enough: you lay down defenses while wave after wave of enemies plummet towards their doom trying to invade your toy box. The tutorial does a nice job of giving you the basics, but it also felt like it was rushing me through the motions a bit too fast. Watching your enemies explode into plastic bits is definitely satisfying, and when you are the one on the turret mowing them down, it becomes more enjoyable.
The single player game takes you through the standard increasingly difficult waves with bosses every few levels. The biggest problem I had while trudging through was the lack of focus. The game wants to boast action by letting you take control of each individual post, but also lacks a lot of strategy due to a severe lack of unit types. You can opt to upgrade or repair your turrets, as well as sell them to build bigger ones, but only have a limited type means that your strategy will likely play out the same for each mission.
The one exception is when you play on elite. This is almost brutal as you must control each turret manually. This is only for the hardcore fans and definitely changes the pacing of the game from relaxing and enjoyable to frantic and frustrating. The levels are interesting enough to keep things fresh from an aesthetic point of view, and the variety of units and bosses is definitely a bonus. I just can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that more units are not available for you to experiment with. There is always DLC, but at $15 out of the gate you would likely expect a bit more bang for your buck.
Navigating the battlefield is about as good as can be for a console control scheme. You can speed up camera movement by holding down the left trigger and switching between turrets is a breeze. My only complaint is that I continuously tried to manually aim turrets with the right analog out of habit. You can also place barriers for soldiers to try and slow them down for your turrets and all the standard tower defense mechanics are in place. The setting and levels really set this one apart from the pack, just don’t expect anything revolutionary in the form of gameplay outside of controlling the units directly.
Thankfully there is plenty outside of the core game to warrant the hefty price tag. Once you complete the campaign you unlock what is called Campaign+. Here new factions and levels unlock and more collectibles for you to gobble up for Achievements. There is also a survival mode that, just like it sounds, pits you against unfavorable odds to see how long you can last. Finally the multi-player adds a nice spin on the traditional formula by adding in the ability to launch offensive attacks as well as defense. This can be played either via split screen or online, so you always have something to toy around with in between campaign missions.
Visually the game really stands out as one of the more impressive Live Arcade games. The bloom effect may be a bit overdone, but the level design and animation work is superlative. Being able to zoom in and out really helps with navigating the battlefield, and up close the units and textures are impressive considering the format. Frame rate also remains solid throughout. The sound is even more impressive with a dynamic score that really sets the mood. Sound effects are customary and deliver a nice blast when explosions occur. Overall the design and layout truly feel like one of the more polished Arcade titles.
Toy Soldiers is a nice introduction to the Block Party, and a game that should entice fans of the genre. If you are worn out on tower defense this game will certainly not pull you back in, but for those still digging it, this is one of the best on the service. For $15 it is sometimes hard to gauge value for a downloadable title, but with the addictive multi-player, array of modes and plenty to come back for, Toy Soldiers definitely gives you enough to justify the tag.
Review copy provided by publisher.