At my age, being married, two daughters, a dog and a cat (both female) I find myself surrounded by frilly items, dolls and cutesy dress up toys. I endeavour daily to both encourage and rationalize the fact that when shopping for toys I must seek out Barbie, Polly or LPS (Littlest Pet Shop for the uninitiated). I look to my loving family and thank all that is good for the happiness that fills my heart and soul. But every now and then I stray to the 'real' toys. Guys, you know what I'm talking about; the action figures, miniature cars, toy guns and trucks that seem to become more advanced every single year. I have tried to mix in these items at birthdays and Christmas and, being that it's not 1950, no one really seems to mind, however; girls will be girls and the frill and tea cups always make it to the top of the pile.
Thanks, you say, but why the useless, yet incredibly interesting, information? I wanted to ensure that everyone reading this understands why I was so eager to get my hands on this title. For me this is exactly what my entire household needs, traditional toys presented in the easy to clean video console format.
Signal Studios, a brand new developer, has managed to do something most in the industry recognize as the 'brass ring' of start ups. Not only have they brought together a unique and enjoyable title but they've done it using their own proprietary gaming engine; the Sig Engine. How many times have we heard of a new studio that fails to deliver or, more commonly, experienced a title from a new studio that is simply new paint on an old cover? Congratulations, Signal Studios, you're off to a running start; so much so that Microsoft is using their premier title to launch the 'countdown' to the Xbox 360's new 'Gameroom' experience.
Toy Soldiers, undeniably, has its foundation in the 'tower defense' gaming format. But its the 'action/strategy' format that sets this one apart from the many forgettable offerings out there. The idea is surprisingly simple; take the traditional toy soldier toys and make them more interactive. However, its the twists that create the enjoyment. First; these toy soldiers are not formatted around the old, plastic, one color (easy to melt, hehe), toys that so readily come to mind but are rather based around the classic metal diorama styled toys that were most prominent in the 50's and 60's (if your family could afford them). Anyone who has seen these pieces has envisioned the epic battles that could be waged and won; having them come to life is as satisfying as anything my mind could have put together. Secondly, the game is as straight forward as any top of the line game can be; protect your 'toy box' and beat the bad guys. Finally; being able to jump into any of your many weapons emplacements, tanks and planes allows you to become the master of your own destiny (no more cursing at the AI for not picking off the one soldier that magically meanders past your defenses).
The gameplay area is setup as a WW1, miniature, diorama in a playroom or child's bedroom. Surrounding the play area are lamps, dressers and plenty of novelty items to make you feel as though you have taken control of a little toy battlefield. Some of my favorite moments are when waiting for the next wave you happen to notice another detail that isn't needed but truly adds to the overall enjoyment.
Controls are virtually seamless, you are directed with specific tasks and you try to complete them by placing different units within the play field. You can upgrade, sell, repair or take control of any of your placed units. When in control you take a third-person perspective of the surrounding area and influence the outcome with your actions; do you take out the soldiers or the planes first? There are 4 difficulty settings to ensure that even the most novice gamer can progress through the game. The more you play the more you become engrossed with the different tasks and milestones to be found throughout; from trying to score the 'General' rank to filling out the nostalgic rations box.
The sound has great moments and frustrating moments. The in game sounds of the battlefield are excellent; you are compelled to work harder, aim straighter and even celebrate when completing basic tasks but some of the games musical soundtracks are hard to take for an extended period. The music is traditional early 1900's songs that are thankfully only most prominent during the loading and menu screens.
As a pleasant addition to this title, the multiplayer offering is very enthralling. I was apprehensive at first because I really enjoyed the single player campaign and found it difficult to rationalize how playing one on one with another gamer could work. But the multiplayer adds an extra bit of strategy to you arsenal; rather than simply defending your 'toy box' now you are on the offensive against your opponents 'toy box'. Multiplayer is only 2 player, online or split screen, and only offers 5 unique maps but going up against, and trying to outwit, a live player does take all of the cunning and luck of any other title I've played.
The breadth and depth of this title is outstanding. To have it offered as a 1200 point Xbox Live Arcade title is stellar. To finally have a real male gender based toy around the house is everything I could have wished for. There is a demo of this title available for download and while it does outline the basics, it does not even begin to showcase why this title is sure to be the most downloaded Arcade title ever.
Thanks Signal Studios, you've set the bar very high...wow you truly have a challenge ahead of you.