Reviews

Toy Soldiers

Little army men run across the desolated No Man’s Land to their valiant, bloodless deaths. We’re not asked to ponder any deeper meaning of war. We’re just kids playing with toys in an awesome sandbox.


Toy Soldiers

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Rated: Teen
Players: 1-2 players
Price: $15.00
Platforms: XBLA
Developer: Signal Studios
Release Date: 2010-03-03

There have been plenty of games about World War II but very few (are there even any?) about World War I. Until now. Toy Soldiers tackles this oft ignored time period with a curious mixture of the real time strategy and tower-defense genres. It’s a combination that sounds awkward on paper, since the two seem completely opposed to one another: RTS games are all about building an offensive army while tower-defense games are all about building the best defenses possible. But the combination works.

Like all tower-defense games, the point of each battle is to protect your base (in this case, your Toy Box) from waves of various enemies. You have machine guns, chemical weapons, mortars, howitzers, and anti-air guns at your disposal, but you’re extremely limited in where you can place them. This makes every unit choice a big decision. Placing a chemical weapon in a corner instead of a machine gun can make the difference between obliterating a wave of soldiers and barely scraping out a win. Naturally, units can be upgraded for longer range and more power, and, boy, are these upgrades important. In one battle, a single flack cannon (max level anti-air) was enough to take out every air unit that the enemy could throw out there, leaving me more space to focus on ground defense.

But the best twist that Toy Soldiers adds to the genre is the ability to manually take over any weapon that you set down. Doing so has multiple advantages. Your damage increases, you can earn “streak” bonuses if you kill lots of enemies in a row, and sometimes you get other special perks, such as being able to fire three motor rounds at a time instead of just one. You get special vehicles in certain levels that only you can control, which change the tide of battle significantly when used correctly.

Each battle is fast paced and requires quick thinking but also an ability to plan ahead. You don’t want to get stuck trying to ward off a tank attack with machine guns. Some battles reach a climax with a huge boss that’s tough as hell, and it can seem invincible if you’re not properly prepared. In this way, the game encourages you to plan a long term strategy, to think about your defenses (not just holding off this current wave of soldiers), but also to consider future waves of heavy tanks and cavalry as well.

But this strategic depth is not what you’ll first notice about Toy Soldiers. The first thing that you’ll notice is the visual style. Your soldiers are, literally, toy soldiers, little army men (though not the green and tan kind -- that’s another game) that run across the desolated No Man’s Land to their valiant, bloodless deaths. They just break into pieces like a toy smashed on the ground. Tanks have a giant wind-up handle on their side and explode in a fun display of little grinds and gears when destroyed. Every battle plays out in a diorama box, and the loading screens are old advertisements for “The Original Toy Soldiers.”

This style adds a refreshing whimsy to what would otherwise be a violent and dramatic game. For once, here’s a war game that’s packed with action, yet with none of its associated violence. For once, we’re not fighting Nazis, we’re not bombarded with overbearing attempts to promote patriotism or heroism, and we’re not asked to ponder any deeper meaning of war. We’re just a kid playing with toys in an awesome sandbox.

A sandbox others can play in as well. A multiplayer tower-defense game sounds odd, but like everything else in Toy Soldiers, it’s surprisingly fast, fun, and deep. In addition to your normal defenses, you can choose to send out three possible waves of units to attack. Depending on the map, you’ll get several types of tanks, planes, or other units. Victory is all about finding the right balance between offense and defense. You have a set amount of money and can only buy so much, so where do you focus? You’ll have to decide fast, because speed is integral to success in multiplayer. A newcomer is always disadvantaged because the time that it takes to get acclimated with the attack orders is time not spent attacking. Like most RTS games, it helps to have a strategy ready before going in. Unfortunately, as with any multiplayer game that features one on one fights, there’s a chance that your opponent will simply quit the moment that you gain a significant tactical advantage, and the game does nothing to punish this behavior. If it happens once it’s annoying, twice it’s frustrating, and after the third time, you’ll just want to stop playing for a while.

Toy Soldiers is a smart combination of genres, the tactics of a tower-defense game along with the speed and action of an RTS, adding in a whimsical style that makes you feel like a kid playing war. There hasn’t been much hype about Toy Soldiers outside the Xbox 360 dashboard, but this is a gem of a game that’s definitely worth your time.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.