*Disclaimer: Toy Soldiers HD review code was provided by Accelerate Games and The Redner Group for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
After multiple delays, Toy Soldiers HD has finally made its way to PC and consoles. As a little lad I spent hours playing the original Toy Soldiers on Xbox Live Arcade. Or, at least, I spent hours on the demo. With only weekly pocket money to go on, I never got around to picking up the full game. Flash forward 11 years and here I am, ready to dive into how Toy Soldiers holds up now, and whether this remaster is worth your time or money.
A Constant Supply of Fuel For The Flamethrower
Toy Soldiers, for those unaware, is a tower defence game in which waves of WW1-era toys try to make their way inside of your base, creatively expressed as a tin toybox. What sets it apart from other tower defence (TD) games is the ability to command various units and towers yourself, giving you a direct chance to turn the tide of battle. Where most TD games have you sitting idly by while the battle unfolds in front of you, Toy Soldiers puts your little toys’ lives in your hands, keeping you constantly engaged for the duration of the mission.
Toy Soldiers HD offers a surprising range of variety in its missions. With each new stage comes new enemy units, different ambush positions and drastically different ways to place your towers, giving you a steady but definite difficulty curve that feels rewarding to conquer. And while the backdrop of each map may blend into a bit of a muddy mess upon reflection, in the moment, the variety of grassy plains, mud-soaked trenches and snowy hills should be enough to keep you engrossed in the atmospheric setting.
Upon beating a stage, you’ll often be rewarded with new towers, upgrades and units. For someone like me who absolutely adores minor and constant progression in video games (check quite literally any other of my reviews), this in itself was enough to keep me hooked well into Toy Soldiers‘ run time. No matter how arduous the stage was, the promise that I’d get to make my machine gun a bit bigger in the next level gave me all the incentive I needed to press on, even when some aspects of the game felt a little… strange.
Andy, Why Are Your Toys Committing War Crimes?
Toy Soldiers feels a little too real. Now, obviously the game firmly reminds you every chance it gets that you are playing with a bunch of plastic models (with soldiers having clear mould lines and tanks having cogs and gears visible), but some technical aspects of the game might have you fooled. The game uses quite naturalistic lighting, opting to go for a sepia tone that is often associated with the early 20th century period. Combine this with a film grain filter that appears at the start of stages and when you’re near death and the propaganda-like loading screens and this game starts to feel a little less like Toy Story and a lot more like All Quiet On The Western Front.
Within any given stage you’ll be mowing down hundreds of little German soldiers with real-world, historically accurate machine guns, mortars and flamethrowers. The arcade-y nature of the game does help to offset this otherwise oddly realistic WW1 aesthetic, with coins and multipliers appearing above enemies as they die, and it is clear that you’re playing on a table top diorama, with painted room walls being visible around you and moving wooden cut-out targets appearing at the sides of stages. But I found it a little difficult to shake this tonal juxtaposition. After all, gassing a horde of WW1 soldiers is a bit weird… especially when their death animation has them coughing violently before passing out.
The Faint Frustrations of Battle
This is a pretty okay remaster. There are some things Toy Soldiers HD genuinely improves upon over the original, but there are also a handful of things that it seemingly neglects. To begin with, this remaster gives you all of the original DLC and a sprinkling of new bonus levels. Be warned though, these bonus levels are extremely difficult, so you’ll definitely want to experience the core game first. Controls have been generally streamlined, which is a very welcome addition. Now, moving your cursor and building and upgrading your towers has been paired back to only two or three button inputs, which keeps the game’s frantic time-based battles minimally frustrating. Controlling towers and using the sniper are also extremely intuitive, similarly only needing a few button presses to wreak havoc. That being said, though, not all controls seem to have gotten the same treatment.
Flying one of Toy Soldiers HD‘s planes feels like you are genuinely flying a WW1-era biplane, in the worst way. With both pitch and yaw tied to your left thumbstick, trying to turn your plane can be a bit of a clunky ordeal, especially as the game keeps adjusting your pitch automatically, which can cause your camera to shift suddenly. It’s also pretty irritating that you can’t swap between flying and command view; whenever you want to upgrade your towers you better be ready to lose your plane because as soon as you hit that “B” button it graciously plummets into the ground with a puff of smoke. This is also the case with tanks, giving you only ten seconds to upgrade and build your towers and get back in before it self-destructs. This seems like an odd choice, especially as there are only a limited number of vehicle units per stage.
Where some units’ controls will have you thoroughly immersed in a somewhat-twisted power trip, the vehicles’ controls will have you wondering why you even bothered in the first place.
Meeting Your Waterloo
I played Toy Soldiers HD on a base Xbox One, a fitting format to play an Xbox Live Arcade classic on. It’s just a shame that it’s pretty broken.
In general, the game’s framerate is… unsteady, to say the least. In the first few stages you’ll probably be hitting 30fps and above, but as soon as you start facing flying enemies and ground enemies at once, well you better get ready for some dips. At times, Toy Soldiers HD dropped well below 15fps, harkening back to fond memories of Dark Souls‘ Blighttown.
From a visual standpoint, Toy Soldiers HD is definitely an improvement on the 11-year-old original, but that isn’t saying much. Ground textures are still a little blurry, soldier models look a bit jagged, and the aforementioned sepia tone plastered all over the game makes everything look a little muddy, especially when contrasted with the inexplicably bright skybox. Vehicle models themselves actually look quite crisp. However, while they have a neat mechanic that visually indicates how much damage the vehicle is taking, the damage textures are a quite unclear, with bullet holes looking more like smears of silver paint.
The sound design in this game, however, is absolutely on point. Each turret sounds distinct and unique, but all sound extremely visceral and incisive. Taking over a tower feels suitably powerful and worthwhile thanks in no small part to this audio design. The use of period-like music during the loading screens and WW1-associated sound effects like air raid sirens helps to capture the atmosphere and aesthetic of the game quite well.
But now for the part where I tell you how Toy Soldiers HD is broken. I encountered just one bug with this game. It just happened to be a bug that locked me out of half of the game. Upon completing mission 9, “Battle of the Angre”, my game froze. I closed it down, started it again, and pressed the “Continue Game” option on the main menu. The menu text fades, and the cinematic background is left on screen. No loading screen appears. I closed it out again, and had the same issue. I try the “Level Select” path this time, and still no luck. I uninstalled the whole game and reinstalled, and still, just that main menu cinematic stuck on repeat.
Normally, if I come across a bug during a playthrough I only give it a brief mention in my review of the game. But this is one of the worst bugs I’ve ever come across in my two-decades of playing video games. I am now locked out of half of the game (more if you count bonus stages I haven’t unlocked yet). Yeah, I can go back and play the previous stages, but I physically cannot access half of this game. This isn’t really acceptable. I know this game has been delayed a bunch and the hard-working team behind the scenes has had to do all of this in a global pandemic, and sure, it’ll probably be fixed soon, maybe even before the release date (tomorrow at the time of writing), but I can only review the product I’ve been given and I would be lying if I didn’t say that this has majorly affected my opinions of the final product on offer here.
For the most part, you know exactly what you’re getting with Toy Soldiers HD; a remaster of an Xbox Live Arcade classic with some improved controls, nicer visuals and a few extra levels. For better or worse, this is pretty much the same game as the 2010 original. So, if you’re a fan of tower defence games and a unique WW1 toy aesthetic then you’ll be thoroughly engrossed for its entire run time, but you probably still won’t count it in your top games of the year, especially if it ends up locking you out at the halfway mark.
Final Verdict: 6.5/10
Words By Cmaeron Swan