You’re never standing still in Toy Soldiers, which is saying a lot about a game that’s about setting up static gun emplacements. By giving control of individual units to the player, the game adds a layer of action to the tried-and-true tower defense formula. The result is a game that is constantly engaging and challenging, whether playing alone or against a friend.
Toy Soldiers has an intriguing aesthetic style behind it. Battles play out between opposing toy armies of World War I combatants; the edges of the battlefield reveal desk lamps and table edges, and your base is the toy box on your end of the diorama board. Detailed tin soldiers come alive and charge into battle, and every unit carries little reminders of its true nature, like the tiny wind-up keys on the side of every tank. Era-appropriate music fills the menus and pause screen, and ads for the vintage toy company pop up in the background.
The game needs these childlike qualities, as the battles being reenacted are some of the most gruesome and bloody in human history. As you place machine gun turrets and chlorine gas emplacements on the field, the enemy flings himself onto the meat grinder again and again. Careful unit selection and resource management is essential. Many tower defense games stop there, but Toy Soldiers ratchets up the interaction by giving players command of battlefield units at any time. With your finger on the trigger, any unit inevitably jumps in efficacy, so the game becomes a constant interplay of defense building and then switching to control the unit at the heart of the action that can turn the tide. As the game rolls forward, bi-planes and tanks come under your control as well. These mobile death-dealers are powerful, but they can easily distract you from base protection to disastrous effect.
The single-player campaign is difficult even on the default setting; the next two challenge settings are a true test of tactical acumen. The sequence of battles successfully mixes it up, and demands unique strategies for every board. Every few levels, some mammoth enemy toy rolls onto the field, and these boss fights will push your defenses to the limit. Complete the entire British campaign, and you’ll be welcomed by a reworked Campaign+ mode commanding the German forces. It’s a lot of game for your dollar… and that’s before you factor in multiplayer.
In split screen or online battles, you’ll face off against your buddy’s opposing army of automatons. Unlike the defense-oriented campaign, multiplayer adds in offensive capabilities. Even as you set up your mortars and flak guns, you’ll need to save some cash to send out waves of attackers. Only a careful analysis of your opponent’s defensive strategy will tell you which of your attackers have a chance of breaking through.
There’s a little weirdness that tarnishes the shine on this otherwise pristine toy set. Aiming some units is more challenging than it should be, and bomb runs are too awkward to pull off to be as valuable as they should be. It’s also annoying that abandoning a plane or tank in the field results in its destruction. Balanced against such a strong and original concept, none of the game’s flaws hold back a strong recommendation. It’s a great downloadable title, packed with hours of fun in a setting unlike anything else out there.