A darling of the Xbox Live Arcade movement, the original Toy Soldiers arrived in 2010, with Signal Studios creating an enjoyable amalgam of tower defence and action. They built on this foundation and released an even more refined sequel a year later entitled Toy Soldiers: Cold War, but with the new generation of consoles, they’re looking to expand the series’ horizons while straddling the multiplatform divide for the first time.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest sees you taking control of a toy-based faction as they prepare for battle against an array of other toy armies. As in earlier entries, the game takes the form of a tower defense game, but with the key difference being that you can take control of each turret manually and be an integral part of the action. On top of that, each army has access to a hero character, who once powered up, can jump into the field and take the battle to the enemy in third-person combat.
Your choice of hero dictates your army and its abilities, with the game initially launching with four original heroes and another four available either as separate DLC or included in the Hall of Fame edition. First up, Kaiser Wilhelm, makes a return from the first games, and leads a WW1 themed army of soldiers. Phantom and her Ghost Company battalion are sci-fi toys, whose space age weaponry certainly looks the part. The third, Starbright, obviously takes her cue from 80’s favourite Rainbow Brite, and is convinced that she can bring happiness to the Toy Box with the support of her magical army of fairies and bears. The final hero, and my personal favourite, is the Dark Lord, whose tabletop fantasy arsenal includes eagles that drop explosive dice from the air, whilst tamed beasts provide artillery cover.
It’s the DLC characters that may be the biggest draw here though, with He-Man, G.I. Joe and his arch-nemesis Cobra providing some wonderfully nostalgic toy-sets, stuffed with toys from every boy’s dreams if they were born in the 80’s. Alongside them there’s also an Assassin’s Creed flavoured toy-set led by Ezio Auditore, which may actually be the least interesting collection in the game.
My main problem with the DLC heroes is that they’re only nominally different to the included armies, as all of the armies play in a relatively similar style no matter what they look like. They’re also actually quite limited in their appeal, outside of the older and predominantly male generation of gamers that will have them as touchstones from their your. The pricing will be contentious too, with the licensed armies essentially doubling the cost of the game, taking it outside of what many would associate with a PSN or Xbox Live Arcade release. Nevertheless, the He-Man set in particular is a brilliant piece of fan-service, with a number of favourite characters from the TV series showing up.
Fans of the game franchise will slip right back into Toy Soldiers’ brand of warfare, as you try to control your resources, build units in the right place, and jump in and out of direct control of your weaponry to protect your toy box. There’s very little opportunity for just sitting back, as your units aren’t anywhere near as effective as they can be with you at the helm. In particular, there are score advantages to be had by mucking in yourself, as well as giving you the ability to call in your hero character. Though it’s a highly enjoyable formula, series veterans hoping for an evolution of the franchise may ultimately be disappointed by the incremental changes found in War Chest.
The game does grant you an excellent level of control customisation, meaning you can tailor everything from the type of hero, vehicle, or turret, to different control schemes, inverting the camera or controls as required. It’s incredibly handy when you’re directing such an array of different characters and craft to manage, and is well thought out, though it takes some trial and error to get everything set to your personal preference.
Successfully completing missions, whether in the campaign or online, grants experience which levels your hero up, and in turn unlocks a variety of upgrades that can then be applied to your units, thus making them more effective in the following missions. These upgrades are doled out on a random basis, meaning that you can play through to level up only to find you only receive one item you actually need out of a possible three, though thankfully you can also purchase specific ones in the army customisation area.
You earn in-game currency through successful play with which you can buy upgrades for your units and your hero, covering their different primary and secondary weapons as well as specialist barrages. Adding a final level of unnecessary complication, there are also special weapons that can only be unlocked through Ubisoft’s Uplay portal, though regular Ubisoft players may find this is an easy way to grab a couple of powerful items early on.
Playing on Xbox One, it’s a relatively handsome game, but it suffers from some performance issues, which even affect the opening cutscene. In-game frame rate drops aren’t uncommon, particularly when there are a large number of enemies on the screen and you’re taking direct control of a hero, but things remain relatively stable, by and large. Load times heading into each level are excessively long though, and there are currently some odd glitches too, including the game crashing when I was trying to access the in-game store.
The tokens you earn through play can be used in the in-game store, but you can also buy tokens with real-world currency if you’re just too impatient to wait. It’s a shame to resort to microtransactions though, as the progression of levelling your character and army is essentially the main draw to keep on playing, robbing the game of its meaningful collections.
Having said that, there are online leaderboards for you to compete against both your friends and the world at large, though they’re a touch obfuscated by each leaderboard being broken down by character and level.
Competitive multiplayer comes with both ranked and custom game modes, but isn’t too well populated at the moment – disappointing given the game only just released – and have an excruciatingly long wait time which actually seems to be causing people to quit in and out of the lobby, rather than patiently waiting to play a game. You can also play the game co-operatively both on and offline, and on top of that there’s the Weekly War, which you can tackle alone or in co-op, and which unlocks a new challenge map each day Monday to Friday, with successful completion of all five rewarding you with extra toys for your armies.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest brings its unique brand of tower defense to the new generation, and though there are some wrinkles caused by slight performance issues and questionable DLC practices, this is more of the same classic Toy Soldiers gameplay. There’s a lot to enjoy here in a well-rounded package, with plenty of replay value thanks to the range of different heroes, collectibles and high-scores to aim for, as well as the online and offline multiplayer options.
Version Tested: Xbox One