June 28th, 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated. This would kick off a chain of events leading to the horrific conflict known forever as World War I. Nearly a century later this conflict would be immortalized in video-game form by having cute little plastic toys blow each other to hell in back in Toy Soldiers on the Xbox 360 in the year Two-thousand and Ten. Available now is an HD update for Xbox One (available through Backwards Compatibility for the Series consoles), Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. What has changed if anything, and how does this eleven-year-old title hold up? Let us take a look and find out for ourselves.
For Queen and Country
The original release of Toy Soldiers was a surprise hit. Using what are now familiar mechanics this tower defense, shooter, and dogfighting hybrid was lauded. It still holds up quite well eleven years later too, though this is no remaster. The game is running at a higher resolution and at 60 frames per second which are both major improvements from the 360 version of the game. The textures though are rough, and it is not much of a looker. This was a lower-budget Xbox Live Arcade title and it shows. Performance is solid on my Series X as one would hope, and when you’re zoomed out it looks passable. When you take over a fortification or use a sniper tower though it immediately shows its age with texture work that looked bad at the time it was released.
The game is described as a 3rd person action-strategy game as it mixes up tower defense with direct control over multiple types of combat. There are gunners, mortars, heavy cannons, gas cannons, sniper towers, biplanes, and more to control directly. This can feel a bit odd as everything uses the left stick and the shooter in me is far more used to the right stick for moving the camera around to aim my shots. On the whole, the controls work well, though aiming with the sniper rifle can be a bit finicky at times. You start each round with a set amount of money and you earn more to further fortify your defenses with each enemy slain. Balance feels good and I can see the allure of the leaderboard system (which coincidentally is why the game was delayed 2 months) adding greatly to the longevity of what is an otherwise average length campaign.
As the campaign progressed my first attempt at a map would mostly be feeling out where troops could come from and what style of defenses I needed. Mixing up anti-air, anti-infantry, anti-vehicle, and so forth defensive emplacements and their locations is everything. You can use the sniper tower to help cover up any gaps until you have more money to replenish, build more, or upgrade your fortifications but the bosses, in particular, can demand you rebuild everything on the fly as certain emplacements do far more damage than others. It’s fun and winning a tough round feels satisfying in the best of ways.
The Total (Xbox 360) Package
This is only the first game in the series of three previous titles, but it does include all the original DLC as well as a few new levels which were well done. The campaign is long and varied, with solid difficulty ramps and incredibly spongey bosses who require specific setups to beat. Learning these was challenging and fun, and they were used sparingly enough that I did not grow bored of them.
Sound-wise the game is great, with an emphasis on old-timey music and decent enough sound effects for the weaponry and battle cries. At $30 US though it does feel a bit steep for something that hasn’t received any major graphical upgrades outside of the higher resolution and framerate. This game looks and feels like a 360 arcade title through and through. There is a multiplayer mode as well but in the early access portion of this review, I was unable to find any matches on it. If it’s anything like I remember on the 360 then it will be a ton of fun, we’ll have to keep an eye out on server performance though.
Toy Soldiers HD is a solid all-around package, though that $30 price point does feel a bit high. If you’re in the market though for some well-made hybrid tower defense, shooter, dogfighter then this plastic battleground should fit the bill. It might be ugly as sin at times, but it is a damned good time reliving an incredibly weird take on one of the darkest conflicts in modern history