The previous Toy Soldiers game on XBL was the opening title for the 2010 XBLA House Party event and proved to be my favorite of the games offered back then. Offering simple tower defence gameplay within a great World War I setting, and the chance to control the various turrets and use my own shooting skills against the enemy, Toy Soldiers was an endearing game which I kept on going back to.
This time around, the setting has moved to the Cold War threat of the eighties and the game is the closing title for the Summer of Arcade. A whole bundle of classic eighties references have been shoe-horned into this tower defence game, along with some pretty cool new features that push this game beyond even the brilliance of the first.
As a Tower Defence game, the objective is simple. Stop the enemy units from entering your toybox. Yep, I said toybox. This game is, after all, played with toys on impressive looking playsets, the kind of which I never had as a child. That being said, occasionally the player will see other, every day items being used as scenery, breaking the immersion and reminding the player that they are playing with toys.
Around the playset will be places where turrets of various types can be mounted. These are the primary source of defence against the waves of enemies that will try to breach your toybox during each level. As play progresses, new turrets will become available, each with their own speciality. For example, machine gun turrets against troops, anti-tank turrets against enemy vehicles, anti-aircraft turrets against – you get the idea. Not only will the player have to place these turrets strategically, but they will also have to maintain them by repairing damage and upgrade them to make them more powerful.
Buying, repairing and upgrading turrets will all cost money, which the player receives for destroying enemies. In each level, the enemies come in waves, with a set time limit before the next wave launches, allowing the player to do their housekeeping, as long as they destroy the previous wave in a timely manner. The waves will vary from the plentiful troops or the fast moving quad bikes, to well defended tanks and the occasional massive and supremely powerful bosses.
This in itself would make for a good Tower Defence game, but Cold War offers a bit more than that. Whilst the AI controlling your turrets is certainly competent enough, the player can take control of the turrets and take care of business themselves. The player can rack up a combo for their kills which will first unlock turbocharge, giving the player unlimited ammo on that turret for a short while, and then unlock a barrage. There are a variety of different barrages available, from the impressive to watch bombing run to the not quite as impressive as it sounds Nuke. But the favorite has to be the Commando. This Rambo wannabe will appear on the screen for the player to control for a short while, complete with immensely powerful machine gun and rocket launcher, spouting Stallone style one-liners.
Then there are the vehicles. On certain levels, the player will have access to a battery powered vehicle, such as a helicopter gunship or a tank. These vehicles are incredibly powerful and can easily turn the tide of a given wave, but as they run on batteries, their use is limited. Once the batteries run flat, and assuming that the player hasn’t managed to pick up some of the random batteries that are stashed around the level, the vehicle will return to the charging station and the player will have to wait before they can use it again.
Both the visuals and the sound of the game are to a very high standard, emphasising the eighties feel and the fact that these are just toys after all. Players who were around during the eighties will have nostalgic flashbacks to bad hair, bad dress sense and some of the best action movies ever made.
Although the campaign is the obvious highlight of this game, other modes are included as well. The mini game mode gives the player a selection of score based games to compete in and compare with their friends. The versus mode allows players to not only build up their defence, but also purchase attack waves to send at the opposing player. The survival mode is sheer co-op joy as you hold out as long as possible against wave after wave of enemies.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War exceeds the previous game in every aspect. From start to finish, the action doesn’t stop – just like an Eighties action movie – and whilst it may seem somewhat childish to the more serious gamers out there, I doubt that would stop them playing and enjoying the game. At 1200 MSPoints, it is well worth the cost and is my highlight of the XBL Summer of Arcade 2011.