It's all out war in the toy box.
Most of us played with toys at one time or another, be it soldiers, wizards, fairies, or spacemen. We all had our favourites. Playing with toys is as much about imagination as the figures themselves, creating personalities, stories and worlds for the little plastic figures is where the fun truly lies. Toy Soldiers: War Chest aims to tap into that nostalgic sense of fun by bringing toys to life.
At its heart, Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a tower defense game. The player chooses a faction and loads into a map where they use their limited resources to build towers, and turrets to take on waves of enemies. This foundation is solid. Towers feel distinct, and personal to each faction. Satisfying upgrades alter their appearance as well as the projectiles they fire. Unfortunately each faction only has six towers to choose from, half of which are already filling the archetypal roles of anti-infantry, anti-armour, and anti-air. An effort has been made to make the structures feel different across each faction, but a few more unique towers would've been welcome.
Thankfully Toy Soldiers has an ace in its War Chest in the form of playable heroes. Each faction has a leader who is capable of wiping out waves of enemies with super powered weaponry. Each hero can be tailored to a specific mission: if you know there's going to be tonnes of enemy tanks, then equip your best armour busting guns, or you might want that anti-aircraft rifle instead.
You control these heroes like a third-person shooter and you're free to move around the map addressing threats as and when they come. The only limitations are health and (understandably for toys) battery life. Heroes will stick around for 90 seconds before expiring, but the time limit can be replenished by batteries dotted around the map. On the one hand, the heroes are empowering and moving down whole battalions of enemies is great. Unfortunately trying to move them can lead to frustration. Strangely none of them can jump and even small ledges become insurmountable obstacles. There's also the issue of them getting stuck on scenery. I found this to be especially problematic for the larger, level 2 heroes, one of which -- a German tank -- got stuck on sections of terrain that appeared completely flat.
Despite these few hiccups unlocking these heroes in a battle is still a cause for celebration, but unlocking them at all requires a fair amount of effort. Despite Toy Soldiers: War Chest being a tower defense game it places a lot of emphasis on direct player involvement. The game encourages you to take control of your towers and shoot at enemies directly. This often yields the best results allowing you to focus fire on the primary target whereas an AI turret will generally fire at the nearest threat. More importantly though consistent kills with a player controlled weapon fills a bar which, when full, grants access to your most powerful units. Cleverly this metre drains when you are not killing your opponent toys, and then sometimes lengthy gaps between waves will deplete it entirely. The draining bar encourages aggressive play and initiating waves early to maximize metre build.
The game's greatest strength is how slavishly it sticks to its theme. A great deal of care has been given to ensuring everything appears authentic. Soldiers move in a jittery way that makes them feel like the barely articulated models that they are. Likewise, destructible trees and buildings disintegrate into lumps of shiny plastic when shot at. The maps are self-contained arenas and the occasional glimpse of the room around them reminds you of the tiny scale, as does the odd discarded plate or cup acting as makeshift terrain. However, my favourite detail is how the hero characters burst out of their packaging when activated.
The bulk of the game comes from its campaign which can be tackled with any of the game's four factions: Kaiser Wilhelm, and his World War I-themed German force; Phantom, and her space marines; Star Bright's unlikely army of Care Bears, unicorns, and pixies; and Dark Lord, the D20 wielding baron of all things fantastical. The many missions manage to inject some variety by adding bosses, enemy towers and unique controllable units.
Tackling the campaign missions with each faction will earn you experience unlocking new upgrades for your towers. These upgrades also carry over into the multiplayer mode where you face off against a human opponent, taking turns to attack and defend. The offensive player selects which units will attack in a particular wave, taking into account which towers the enemy has built,. The player then takes control of their faction leader and tries to clear a path for the units to reach the enemy base. Managing resources is key because once your wave has been destroyed play switches over and attacker becomes defender. Blowing all your money on attacking units will leave you wide open when the enemy player goes on the offensive.
It's worth noting that there are four additional factions in the game which can be purchased separately or come bundled with the Toy Soldiers: War Chest Hall of Fame Edition. These factions are He-Man, G.I. Joe, Cobra Commander and Ezio from Assassin's Creed. The review code provided was for the basic edition of the game and I have not been able to use these additional factions.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest does an admirable job of expanding on the tower defense formula by encouraging the player to be a more active participant in the action. Some of the technical implementation of these ideas is a little rough, but the overall theme and attention to detail tie the different gameplay elements into an amusing, enjoyable package.
This game was reviewed with a digital copy provided by Ubisoft.
Images courtesy of Ubisoft.