Monday, May 7, 2012

Toy Soldiers PC: Review

Version Reviewed:
What I like: Great atmosphere, lots of content for $10, good enough tower defense game play with a twist, leaderboards.
Not So Much: While fun, taking over weapons makes it more difficult to keep track of the big picture.
Other stuff you may like: Action junkies will probably appreciate manually controlling the weapons more than I.
The Verdict: B- (Good)
* I can definitely see more action-oriented players scoring this game very highly.
About my reviews

Official site:
Toy Soldier's for PC
I was pretty late to the tower defense party, but have found many enjoyable games in this genre. Defense Grid and Unstoppable Gorg have been my favorites, but there have been other worthwhile entries too. After a very popular showing for the Xbox 360, Signal Studios decided to share their creation with the PC crowd. Toy Soldiers is a tower defense game with an interesting twist. In addition to the standard placement of towers on available locations, the player gets to control the towers and even drive and fly vehicles to cause more personal destruction. Instead of an ultra realistic presentation, toy soldiers, complete with wind-up tanks populate the battlefields, just as the title implies. Even though the soldiers are toys, there is plenty of excitement, punctuated by explosions, to be had.

The Xbox 360 version had a multiplayer mode, but none exists for the PC version. This is OK by me since I only play single player, but I’m sure this will disappoint some players.

Getting Started
There isn’t a manual, but instructions can be found within the game under Help & Options. This is adequate since game play is simple.

The main campaign has 12 scenarios and the player can select the starting difficulty level (casual, normal or hard). The difficulty level can be adjusted later if you wish. Victory must be achieved before progressing to later scenarios. With success in a scenario, an elite difficulty level for that scenario is unlocked. Once unlocked, any scenario can be replayed using all unlocked weapons. Winning the campaign in full opens up campaign+ mode (fight for the German side) and survival mode (survive as many enemy waves as you can). Six additional scenarios are also available in the two included DLC campaigns, along with the requisite survival mode.

Winning the main campaign on normal difficulty took around 10 hours. The 6 additional campaigns, campaign+, and survival mode make for a pretty good deal at the current $10 price. The Invasion DLC takes a bit of turn with spaceships, so if you don’t want scifi mixed with your WWI, Invasion may not be for you. Since this isn’t a historical game I don’t have any strong objection.

A Games for Windows Live login is required, which I didn’t find a big deal, but may be a turn off for some. This is true even for the Steam version of the game.

Game Play
Each scenario has the player building defenses to protect their toy box (or boxes) from enemy invasion. If too many enemies make their way into your toy box, it is game over and time to try again. The map defines the valid locations for your defenses, with only some accommodating your large defense platforms. Money is earned for each enemy killed. The enemy takes multiple routes to get to your toy box, so it isn’t as simple as protecting a linear path. Just as you have different weapons, so does the enemy. There are basic infantrymen who are easy to kill, but some of them may be wearing gas masks to protect against your chemical weapons. Cavalry move faster and can jump over some obstacles. Armored tanks need heavier weapons to take down and planes force you to protect the skies.

As mentioned earlier, Toy Soldier’s twist on the tower defense game is allowing the player to jump in and command the various defenses. This is encouraged by giving the player extra money for kill streaks – killing multiple enemy within a short period of time. The kill streak bonus is reset if the player doesn’t manage a kill within a couple seconds. I’m not sure if the campaign can be won without this hands-on approach as I always commanded my defenses at some point in each scenario, but it may be possible. Once vehicles are introduced, they can be entered in the same manner.

When zoomed out, the player is treated to a birds-eye view of the battlefield, typical of tower defense games. When manning one of the defenses your view is zoomed in for a close over the shoulder view. While the hands-on action was fun, it’s more difficult to keep track of the big picture. I prefer the more cerebral aspect of tower defense games. Since Toy Soldiers handles the action so well that I am glad it exists, but I wouldn’t want all tower defense games to go in this direction. All wasn’t perfect for me as I found targeting with artillery a little difficult in some of the terrain and the planes slightly tricky to control. Neither of these is a big deal and could very well just be me.
Zoomed out

Zoomed in

Your defensive structures can take damage from the enemy and are repaired by spending a little cash. Structure upgrades are unlocked during the campaign, boosting firepower and / or range. Like repairs upgrading a structure requires spending cash. During a repair or upgrade, your structure goes offline for a short time, so time your repairs wisely. Structures can also be sold off if you need the cash or decide a different structure would be more advantageous in that particular position.

The tower defense portion of the game didn’t feel as strategic as some of the others I played. It felt like the map layout and approach routes were optimized for the action aspect of the game. Whether this was a good choice will depend on your gaming preference. While the action is fun and a nice change of pace, I prefer a stronger strategic focus.

There is an adequate, but not a large variety of items to build – machine guns, mortars, chemical / gas weapons, artillery, anti aircraft, and barbed wire. Each has 2 upgrades except for the barbed wire which doesn't have any. Even though they behave differently, they don’t feel as different as the towers in Defense Grid and Unstoppable Gorg.

Every 3 or 4 scenarios are punctuated with an enemy boss battle. They keep you on your toes because they each have their own unique behavior and add some variety to killing of the usual troops. They were a welcome diversion.

Online leaderboards exist for total score and individual scenarios, so competitive or curious players can see how they compare to other players. I enjoy this feature because I like to try and get within the top 25% or better. The greatest component of the score is based on how many enemy troops entered your toy box. Unspent cash further increases the score, along with a time bonus. The time bonus is achieved by releasing the next enemy wave before the timer counts down by pressing the F key. If you are ready for them there isn’t any point in waiting.
A nice extra is the Display Case, which shows all unlocked weapons, along with a brief description. For those interested it provides a close up of the weapon artwork.
Display Case
User Interface
Defenses are built by clicking on a deployment platform to open a menu of choices and then clicking on the desired defense. The same method is used to repair, sell, or upgrade towers. Hotkeys can be used to expedite the procedure, but as far as I can tell they can’t be customized. They were easy to pick up, so I had no issues with this limitation. They are laid out for quick access, but don’t always make sense from a language perspective – i.e. sell (z), repair (x).

The user interface is minimalistic due to the simplistic nature of the game play. The two most important bits of information are how many enemies need to enter your toy box to trigger defeat, and how much money is available to purchase weapons (upper left). The next 3 types of enemy waves are displayed in the center to allow the player to plan their defenses along with the timer alerting the player how much time before the next wave attacks. The player is reminded they can press the F key to release the wave early, increasing their score. In the far right upper corner, the player can monitor the number and type of enemies on the map.

The WASD keys are used to jump from one defensive structure to the next while manning them to avoid forcing the player to exit, scroll to the next one and enter it. The WASD keys are also used to control the vehicles.

The interface works smoothly and never got in my way, easily allowing me to build and control my weapons. A scenario can’t be saved while in progress, but they don’t take too long. I didn’t time them, but the scenarios probably ranged from about 10-30 minutes or so.

Difficulty and AI

The player can choose one of three difficulty levels when they start a campaign, but can change to a different one later. At the normal difficulty level I had to replay 2 scenarios one time and 2 scenarios 2 times. By the time I figured out how to beat some bosses, it was too late and required another try. In the casual difficulty level, the enemy units have less hit points, more cash is awarded for kills, and more enemies must enter your toy box to trigger defeat. Enemies have more hit point on hard and fewer enemies need to enter the toy box to hand the player defeat. The elite difficulty places much more importance on the action portion of the game as the AI no longer will fire your unmanned weapons for you. The player must take control of the defenses and fire upon the enemy. I only attempted the first 2 scenarios at the elite level and beat them very easily. I did have all of my unlocked weapons and the first couple scenarios are very easy, so I’m sure this is not an indication of the elite level on later scenarios. The number of enemies needed to enter your toy box to trigger defeat is increased with the elite difficulty level, so the player does have more leeway and the opportunity to score more points.

The AI does a respectable job at manning your defenses, but I did see some enemies sneak through when I thought they should be stopped. I would think in most cases the player is better off commanding the defenses, but you can’t be everywhere at once. Enemy soldiers seem to fire and throw grenades in random directions, but enemy tanks seem to fire intelligently.

Graphics and Sound
I found the graphics were well done and very immersive. When zoomed out, it is obvious the game takes place in a tabletop diorama. When zoomed in the level of detail is impressive, craggy terrain, trenches, barracks, explosions all very well-done. The available resolutions only range from 800x600 to 1680x1050, but the game still looked great on my 1920x1080 native resolution LCD monitor. A small portion of my display remained unused.

Technical Performance
The game performed flawlessly without any crashes or hiccups.
My Specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i7 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 5850.

In The End...
Toy Solders is an interesting take on the tower defense genre, perhaps pleasing the action-oriented gamer more than the strategic one. I didn’t feel there was quite enough strategy involved and the game was more focused on the action than I prefer. Both aspects are done well enough to make Toy Soldiers a worthy purchase for both types of players. The artistic presentation of the game is very attractive and really adds to its personality.  This will temporarily be my game of choice when I want something quick to fill in some time, but won’t have the legs Defense Grid has had for me. Scores represent the amount of enjoyment I got from a game. Even a well-made game, such as Toy Solders doesn’t automatically get a top-tier score, but it does get my recommendation to purchase it if you’re a fan of this genre.

Score: B- (Good)
* I can definitely see more action-oriented players scoring this game very highly.


  1. Picked it up as it was cheap, agree with your review seems we have a similar taste on games ha ha. The TD part lacks variety and the action part has poor gameplay.

    I am going to try other games you have reviewed on the harder strategy area. What is your view on the light side ones as you seem to play those also, Battle for Wesnoth (that I always keep coming back to) or the new release Warlock: Master of the Arcane.

  2. If you like tower defense games, I would recommend Defense Grid or Unstoppable Gorg. Defense Grid is more of a traditional tower defense game. Unstoppable Gorg shakes things up by having the towers be built on an orbit that you can rotate to reposition the towers. Each of lots of replayability through difficulty levels, variations on levels, challenges, etc.

    Anomaly Warzone Earth was also good, but has a lot less content and variety, but you play as the attacker, trying to defeat the towers.

    I never heard of Battle for Wesnoth, so I can't comment on that. I played the demo for Warlock and it seems fun on the surface. I need to spend more time with it and plan on reviewing it.

    If you like wargames at all Battle Academy and Unity of Command are both easy to get into. As a whole, Unity of Command can be more challenging. Tin Soldiers is also very approachable and challenging if you don't mind some somewhat dated graphics.

    For more of a traditional fantasy strategy game, I enjoyed the Heroes of Might and Magic series, King's Bounty, and Disciples 2 Gold.

    Civilization is my all time favorite strategy game as a series. As a whole I enjoyed Civilization IV the most, but Civ V is also good and is the most recent.

  3. Based on your list of games and opinions try Battle for Wesnoth (its free), I think you will like it.

    1. Ok, I'll have to give it a try sometime after I finish reviewing Conflict of Heroes and then Warlock - Master of the Arcane. Thanks!