Tower Defence. There I said it. This tower needs some defendin’. What’s that? You don’t like tower defence games? I’ll let you in on a secret… neither do I. When you set a tower defence game in a kids room filled with action figures and include thinly veiled references to Rocky, Ivan Drago, Top Gun and other eighties tropes though something wonderful happens. Somehow, you get a great game like Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
The major difference between this and other tower defence games isn’t only the tone and setting. In Toy Soldiers, you get to jump into and control every one of your turrets. With unique control systems for everything from anti air guns to artillery, jumping into the different weapons is hugely satisfying. The standard anti-infantry machine gun is perhaps the most enjoyable as you mow down wave after wave of miniature warriors while being accompanied by impressive visual flourishes like wave bonuses, multipliers and cute twinkling stars as your enemies scream in pain. Using lock on missiles, guided anti tank rockets and subtly-steered mortars are all a great deal of fun too.
Early on the game does a great job of teaching you the basics of the different weapons and systems you need to learn. A steady tutorial and some early easy missions break you in, while minigames pop up to teach you the basics of each turrets control. Even this early in the game the detail and production values are clearly high. The game looks good and every weapon feels responsive and satisfying while every action made by the player is ranked and scored. There’s rarely a moments play where you aren’t unlocking bonuses, medals or new weapons and you are frequently ranked compared to your friends list as well as the international score boards. You know a game is doing something right when you want to replay the very first mission over and over to improve your score.
The learning curve is brilliantly judged and you never feel overwhelmed. Positioning, upgrading and repairing turrets and choosing the correct options is the main challenge of the game. If you are able to do this well then theres no need to jump into and take control of them. That being said, a poorly devised defence can be bolstered by taking manual control of the turrets and this can give you the leeway to re-jig your defences and sell the poorly positioned ones. By the time that you get to the later levels and the difficulty amps up you often feel the need to reset the mission and develop a better defence early on for a higher score, rather than struggling on and scraping through. That being said, resetting the mission and trying over is a thrill in itself and the challenge was well enough balanced that I always felt like I could succeed with just a little better planning and foresight. In one particular level the opponents artillery was a real pain during the early game, but despite the challenges it posed to me it was engaging to try a few different approaches to taking it out before I eventually found the best strategy to use.
Its not just the manual use of turrets that get you out of trouble. There are also a series of battery powered remote controlled vehicles you can use for a brief period of time to bulwark your defence. Including the likes of the Tank, Jet fighter and helicopter, these vehicles will annihilate wave after wave of enemies easily and as such their timely use can ensure that the more troublesome heavy tanks and transport choppers don’t overrun you and destroy your version of the tower that needs defending: the toy box. These vehicles feature in some of the highlight moments of the game including one memorable level played out on an aircraft carrier where your jet fighter must defeat wave upon wave of transport choppers. The combination of the Top Gun inspired soundtrack and the huge enemy boss (a giant submarine) on this level make for a stunning set piece.
In fact the addition of bosses is just one of the more dramatic and challenging aspects of the game and they tend to cap off levels in dramatic fashion. Facing huge anime style super-tanks is a at times a little incongruous, but as an imposing and intimidating climax it works well. At these times its often beneficial to use your barrage attack, a one-off super attack that includes nuclear strikes, Aerial AC-130 bombardments and commandos. The commandos are the comedic high point. Inspired respectively by Rambo or Ivan Drago for the USA and Russians, they shout one liners like “You want a war? I’LL GIVE YOU A WAR!”
There are a few minor issues though. Control of the camera and cursor takes some getting used to and you frequently feel the need to get further away from the action and higher up while wrestling with the thumbsticks. Eventually you become accustomed to this view though, and it proves to be a good choice, making you feel like a child leaning over toys rather than a standard RTS viewpoint. The multiplayer is fun but too much of a war of attrition with games frequently taking over 30 mins, even when one player is clearly better and will win.
Despite that the positives far outweigh the negatives. The replay value is high with badges and medals to win and a host of minigames to waste time on. Beyond that, the campaign was the first game that during this long summer lull that kept me up till the early hours of the morning, bleary eyed and yawning but determined to play one more wave.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Toy Soldiers: Cold War is that in the company of great Summer of Arcade titles like Bastion and From Dust, it holds its own. In fact, its probably not just the best of those games, but one of the best games of any sort this year….. and that’s from someone who doesn’t even like defending towers.
9 Drago’s/Rambo’s out of 10