360 XBLA Review - Toy Soldiers

2nd April 2010 - Xbox LIVE Arcade games are always trying to top each other by being the most unique, inventive or as big and shiny as possible for a downloadable game, but rarely take the challenge to simply be the most enjoyable. Toy Soldiers looks to take on all those challenges. Its primarily a tower defence game, but also a shooter/simulation or sorts. Read on to find out if this mash-up of genres have what it takes to get the hardcore and casual alike jumping to its sound while still being worth its steep price tag.

As I said, Toy Soldiers is primarily a tower defence game, and for most of us who have paid for and downloaded one of the other handful of similar games from the Arcade, one is enough. But that’s not the case here, as Toy Soldiers doesn’t give you a ‘played one, played them all’ feel like every other half-assed defence game on the Xbox does (even the hilarious South Park one lost its charm very quickly). Toy Soldiers takes it one step further and gives you far more playability and enjoyment than you bargained for.

The first thing the game has done right is let you control each ‘tower’ in its very own way. Simply click any of the towers you have placed and be seamlessly put into the boots of the men operating it. But its not simply point and fire while controlling, but rather a quite detailed shooting experience. Just try to balance the units you control evenly to ensure your toy box doesn’t get overrun. Speaking of Toy Box, that’s the objective here; don’t let a certain amount of enemies through your defence or they’ll overrun your poor unsuspecting toy box and then you’ll really be in for it.

But although controlling the units is very fun and empowering, one of the game major downfalls is that you only have access to 6 different types of defence. This make each mission feel very similar, and even for a tower defence game, get quite repetitive. Its best to be had in small doses, or you will quickly get sick of it, and likely never pick it up as much it should be.

While it may not sound too exciting, the WWI setting is a great and fresh idea for a tower defence game, and being war, really bring out the good stuff of shooting the enemies first-hand. But don’t simply sit at one tower and think you can take on the opposing armies all by yourself- there is still a fair amount of strategy to be had here. Choose carefully where you put your towers, and try to give yourself an even number of each type. At times during the campaign, this can be a tricky thing to balance and you will end up becoming very frustrated as you power through a mission like nothing, only to be defeated in an embarrassing display right at the end. But its certainly not your fault mind you, the game has quite a few balancing issues due to the power of some of the more armoured enemies, and more often than it should have you pounding your skull into the controller. Especially on the harder difficulties, which really do live up their ‘Hard’ and ‘Elite’ names.

Not many tower defence games manage to give off a decent multilayer experience, but Toy Soldiers is in the minority here. Its all very simple, and probably wouldn’t have gone down well if not for the ability to take control of the towers. You send your waves at the enemy with a tap of the ‘Y’ button, and defend your home base as you normally would. Like I said, simple. But oh so effective, and very fun. This will be sure to add a few extra hours onto your gameplay time.

Yet another XBLA game to excel in its own style of presentation. The game looks good, that’s for sure, and really recreates the atmosphere for a WWI shooter with its grain-film style and real music from the era. The animation of the little Toy Soldier men looks great, and even could be mistaken for a retail game in terms of unit detail and textures, which are in a good supply as the levels really vary setting and scenery. The battles look and feel as you would imagine a WWI battlefield would do, apart from the fact the foot soldiers run aimlessly toward a full barricade of machine guns and cannons. But hey, if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be very fun now, would it? In overall presentation, Toy Soldiers looks as good as it plays.

An I mentioned, the game uses real era music and tunes throughout, not to mention the epic boss battle scores. But apart from that little addition of realism that helps create the WWI experience, Toy Soldiers doesn’t have much in way of great sound. There’s gun sounds and explosions, but they all sound very forced and fake, and bring down the possible intensity the game could have had. Even turned up to 11, the sounds don’t have you trembling the way a battlefield full of explosions and head-popping madness should.

Now we get to the part that will turn away most peoples heads, the price tag. At 1200 Microsoft Points, a little too many people would simply turn heels and take for the hills without first giving this a chance. You will get more hours out of this than some other arcade games of the same price range, but that will all depend on your skill level and how much you enjoy a challenge and taking on the world. Of course, its not for everyone, but even those of you that can’t get into tower defence games are still likely to find consolation within the games surprising depth and enjoyment. If it were a measly 800 MP, it would be a far easier game to recommend, but since its taking the more expensive side of Arcade game, I will have to say try before you buy this one. And seeing as its free to download the game demo, at least give it a go and see if you can’t be persuaded to dish out.

There’s little doubt this is the best Tower Defence game on the Xbox LIVE Arcade, so give it a go if you’re one of the few genre fans. But even if you’re just a casual arcade player and don’t mind giving everything a bit of a romp, as I do, then you may still find some great value here. The game looks great, and with some magically fitting musical scores, great scenery for a game where you cant explore it, and some impressive animation, is a worthy addition to anyone’s casual game library. Sure, it has its flaws, like the many frustrating missions and difficulty curve, as well as bland wartime sound effects, but what game doesn’t? But for 1200 Microsoft Points, be sure its your thing before you go digging deep.


+ Tower Control is a great addition and adds all the flavour to this game
+ Fun and lasting multiplayer and a decent slice of replayability in the single player game
+ Animation, style and battlefields all look great and compliment the gameplay

- Can get quite frustrating at times and features a some very difficult missions
- Compared to the rest of it, the sound effects are very under par and bring down the experience
- Pretty steep price tag at 1200 Microsoft points


Reviewed and Written By John Elliott