Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review: You Want a War? You Got a War!

Seattle-based Signal Studios delighted gamers last year with their debut title Toy Soldiers, a tower defense game that oozed style as you fulfilled your childhood fantasies of blowing the crap out of little plastic soldiers and tanks. Now they’re back with a sequel, which moves the conflict from World War I to the good ol’ days of the Cold War – because, well, who doesn’t enjoy blasting commie toys to smithereens?

Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Signal Studios
Developer: Signal Studios
Genre: Strategy/Tower Defense
Release Date: August 17, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen

Fans of the original will feel right at home as Toy Soldiers: Cold War still sports the same cool art style and humor. Gameplay hasn’t changed, as you still must defend your toy box from waves of enemies by placing turrets on fixed build sites. Each kill earns money that you need to buy, repair or upgrade your turrets.

The action-packed campaign spans 10 levels located on unique tabletop toy battlefields, complete with giant lamps, cassette tapes, pencils and other common household items, adding a fun ambiance to the gameplay. Maps include southeast Asian jungles, Mount Rushmore, and even Washington DC. There are more destructible items and buildings than ever, which are not only fun to destroy but also reward you with precious cash.

Each of the six available turrets are upgradeable to three levels, and just like in the original, you can take manual control over them at any time. You would want to do this as much as possible, not only because it’s fun as hell mowing down hordes of enemies, but also to gain valuable combo bonuses. Kill 20 enemies in a row and you earn unlimited ammo as long as you can keep the combo going. Kill 40 in a row and you unlock the new Barrage bonus, which gives you devastating new weapons like an artillery strike, a B-52 carpet bombing, or even a small nuke. You can even unlock an AC-130 gunship that is unabashedly lifted straight out of Modern Warfare.

But the best Barrage is the Commando, a hilarious Rambo parody complete with a classic 1980s mullet. His ridiculously overpowered machine gun and grenade launcher will cut down the toughest enemies like they were, well, plastic, but the best part is his grunting Stallone-like one-liners that will have you giggling every time you use him. The Commando and AC-130 are only available for a limited time, but oddly there is no timer, so you never know when you’re about to run out.

Fortunately, the game’s vehicles do have a timer of sorts, a bar indicating battery life. When the battery runs dry, the vehicle is destroyed and you have to wait for it to respawn. The updated vehicles are a blast to use, and include tanks, two types of helicopters, and an F-14 fighter jet. Strategic use of these vehicles is vital for victory, as you can wipe out several waves in a row that could otherwise overwhelm your turrets. This is especially important during boss fights.

Yes, the crazy huge boss fights of the original return, but the new vehicles make them easier to take down. In fact, the game as a whole seems a bit easier, thanks in part to the handy rewind function that lets you go back to a previous wave and start over if you screw up. Of course, you can also ramp up the difficulty by selecting General mode, where turrets do not fire automatically; instead, it is up to you to manually control each one. Yikes.

The short but sweet campaign can be completed in an afternoon, but there is still a lot to do. There are six minigames that mainly task you with destroying as many enemies as possible within a time limit, but also include an AC-130 mission, navigating a missile through a colorful spinning kaleidoscope, and shooting down swarms of giant houseflies. Gross. The minigames are fun, but unless you’re a leaderboard fanatic, they’re really only something you’ll play a few times.

You can also compete head-to-head with another player either online or locally. You buy and build turrets just like in the campaign, but can also buy offensive waves to launch at your opponent. This quickly becomes a tricky balancing act as you not only need the cash to overwhelm your opponent, but must also have enough to defend against his attacks too. There is also a cooperative mode that is local only, where you and a buddy must work together to fend off infinite waves of enemies. You each earn your own bankroll, so be prepared to divvy up your cash if your partner runs short. Playing with or against a buddy is a ton of fun, and is the key feature that will keep you coming back for more.

Overall, the game is very enjoyable and worth your money, but a few issues prevent it from taking the tower defense crown from the current Xbox Live Arcade kings of the genre, Defense Grid and Plants vs. Zombies. As with the original, the biggest problem is the camera. In the default mode, it is too low to the ground and can severely limit your view (this is especially true when it runs up against hills or buildings); in the bird’s-eye view mode, it is way too high and vertical to be of any use. It’s never a good thing when you end up struggling with the camera more than you do with the enemy. It can get very frustrating at times, especially when the action gets hectic and you’re rushing to upgrade or repair turrets. This is a vital issue that must be fixed if Signal decides to make a third installment.

Another problem concerns the very small number of fixed build sites. This essentially limits your strategic options to a handful of solutions, most of which center on using your vehicles as much as possible. This is in stark contrast to the more traditional Defense Grid and Plants vs. Zombies, which offer much greater strategic flexibility and allow you to try a wide variety of solutions. It is this flexibility that makes these games so addictive, since you can constantly experiment with new and unique ways to win.

As it stands, the more rigid design of the Toy Soldiers franchise ends up hurting replayability. Certainly there are incentives to keep coming back, like completing challenges, earning Achievements and improving your score, but it doesn’t have that “one more game” addictive quality that its competitors provide.

I also came across a couple of bugs, including one that didn’t recognize the final wave was over after I did a rewind, and another that caused the game to crash right to the Xbox dashboard when it was loading the last level. Hopefully these will be fixed in a patch.

These issues keep Toy Soldiers: Cold War from being the best tower defense game on Xbox Live Arcade, but it is still a fun, stylistic, action/strategy game that will provide many hours of entertainment. Although the campaign won’t hold your attention, the multiplayer and cooperative modes have enough plastic commie-blasting fun to keep you coming back. Rambo and his mullet would approve.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Toy Soldiers: Cold War was provided by Signal Studios for the purposes of this review.

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