One of the most rapidly changing genres in gaming today is that of Tower Defense. Really only starting a few years ago, the genre has gone from a simple, yet addictive desktop Flash based game to one of the most fun and diverse in gaming. From its basic origins to Defense Grid: The Awakening to the upcoming Orcs Must Die, different companies have come up with new and creative ways to put their own spin on Tower Defense.
In Toy Soliders: Cold War, Players are given a limited supply of funds and locations to deploy various armaments against a soviet assault. In addition, players can hop in to these various turrets and control, aim and fire themselves at the oncoming forces adding a whole new level of depth instead of being solely focused on building and upgrading.
As stated above, players must create a line of defense against waves of oncoming enemies during Toy Soldiers: Cold War. To do this, they are given a choice between six different kinds of turret, each with its only strengths and weaknesses like the machine gun which can mow down foot troops but doesn’t do much damage to heavily armored vehicles to anti-air artillery which can be used to shoot copters out of the sky but cannot target ground forces.
Each of these has three levels of upgrades which include special alternate firing modes depending on their level. For instance, players can zoom in on a “bullet cam” and steer anti-tank missiles at their intended targets. During this time, players must also monitor the health and repairs of all their other turrets and keep a watchful eye out that no enemies have snuck past them on their way towards the Toy Box (the location players must prevent enemies troops from reaching).
Players also get to control battery operated vehicles, adding a whole new action aspect to the game. Given a limited amount of time with various vehicles such as tanks and helicopters, players are given assault vehicles to use in addtion to their turrets to fend off their attackers. Players can add time by collecting batteries through the level or parking the vehicle on a recharging station.
If need be, players can also just leave the vehicle mid-battle which will cause it to teleport back to the recharging station. This can be a great asset if a vehicle doesn’t have enough power left to return on its own, except then players must wait for the battery to fully charge up before using it again.
Players now also earn the benefit of Attack Barrages by pulling off massive rapid kill streaks. These range anywhere from a nuclear strike, air support or the Commando. The Commando is a fun addition to the game as a Rambo rip off whom players can use to annihilate enemies using his machine gun and rocket launcher.
The loose story of Toy Soldiers: Cold War revolves around American forces defending democracy from the red scare… with a twist. This isn’t an actual battlefield that people are fighting and dying on. Instead, the whole game takes place using toys. Not the molded plastic, brightly colored, politically correct crap that kids today use to “learn” with.
No, these resemble the classic army toys of OUR youth with pointed corners that were guaranteed to take an eye out. The battlefields are set up in the middle of someone’s living room with objects like sunglasses finding themselves on the edge of the combat. It’s this aesthetic that gives Toy Soldiers: Cold War its charm. Seeing plastic soldiers burst to bits allows people to have that experience they always envisioned in their youth but were only able to experience a few times before their parents stopped letting them blow up their toys using M80s.
In addition to the campaign, players also can experience a Survival mode. This allows them to fight wave after wave after wave until the life of their Toy Box has been depleted. These scores are then uploaded to the game’s online leader boards to be compared to the rest of the world and their friends list.
The leader boards also keep track of the game’s six minigames as well. Players can pop in and attempt various forms of target practice including cowboy mode “High Noon” where players never need to reload, “CAS Roundup!” where players get to bombard a battlefield using the night vision of a AC-130 like they did in the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and even “Thread the Needle” where players direct a missile through a obstacle course of rotating walls. These modes add tons more play time for players as well as reason to go back to previous games to defend their high scores.
The team at Signal Studios did a great job of blending the realism of a battlefield on top of the action figure motif of Toy Soldiers: Cold War. It is easy to view the game from either of the two perspectives but never feeling immersion is broken at the same time. People are able to enjoy watching toys get destroyed brutality without ever feeling the guilt of killing “real people” on the battlefield. The animations for the most part are incredibly smooth except for one occurrence of a massive frame rate drop during the AC-130 night vision minigame.
The sound design is solid though the statements made by the individual turret crews are somewhat repetitive. Had there been a way to give each turret their own personalities, it could have added a little something to the game as many kids used to have their own voice for each of their individual toys.
Having never played the original Toy Soldiers for XBLA, it was kind of surprising how quick it was to pickup and enjoy this sequel. The cooperatively play as well as leaderboard system, minigames and Survival mode give Toy Soldiers: Cold War tons of replayability. Of the “Summer of Arcade”, this was one of the most enjoyable, even if it was a sequel.
There is a lot to be said for any downloadable title that proves itself to be just as fun as full retail releases. With a smaller budget, smaller team and less production time, it is quite a feat to accomplish. Luckily, Signal Studios has proven they are up to the task and have delivered an awesome tower defense game that not only is worth every dollar, but continues to push the boundaries of its own genre to new levels.
XBox Live Arcade
Developer: Signal Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15.00)