The tower defense genre of games came out of almost nowhere and have morphed into numerous hybrid gameplay types rather quickly. The same basic principle still applies to these games - defend your base from waves of enemies by placing strategic towers in areas around the map. The latest entry into this is Toy Soldiers: Cold War - a sequel to last year’s XBLA game Toy Soldiers which was set during WW1.
The charm of Toy Soldiers: Cold War is apparent from the first mission, players control a machine gun turret while shooting enemy soldiers that are running around Russian stacking dolls. You see, this Cold War takes place in the toy box. You’ll find your battlefield littered with VHS tapes, flashlights, and other equipment you might find in a kid's bedroom. The perspective is always done just right that while you are looking at a battlefield, you’ll catch glimpses of the fact you are a small war in a bigger more playful world.
The game’s mission ramp up with each battle, giving you access to more defense structures with every turn. You’ll have machine guns, anti-tank guns, mortars, artillery, make-shift, and anti-air towers all at your disposal - each one capable of three upgrade levels - all costing precious cash. Like the rest of the game, these are full of inspired design and life. For instance, the flame thrower make-shift tower is built with an aerosol can and matches. All towers can only be placed on designated areas, and some towers require a bigger area to be placed in, so everything isn’t completely interchangeable. All of this is done in the name of protecting your toy box from enemy invasion - too many enemies breach it - and it’s game over.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War separates itself from the genre by giving players direct control over the turrets for shooting enemies. But it doesn’t stop there. Battery operated tanks, helicopters and even planes are at your disposal to take out those little green army men. Each vehicle controls quite well and the game does a good job of giving you the controls of the vehicle as soon as you hop in as a friendly reminder of its capabilities. Quick successive elimination of the enemy also increases a score multiplayer and eventually earns you special attacks like artillery barrages and the commando.
I’m saying this now - the first dozen times you spawn a commando you will laugh the entire time. It’s basically a drunk Rambo character with unlimited rockets and bullets for 30 seconds spouting slurred 80’s action movie lines. Another bonus gives you a Modern Warfare style AC-130 aerial support mini-game.
Co-Op in Toy Soldiers: Cold War can be played locally with two players or online with two. The entire campaign is playable in co-op as well as the game’s survival mode. Each player controls their own cursor and manages their own cash resources - that means they earn money independently and spend it that way as well. The turrets and vehicles on the battlefield can be used, upgraded and repaired by any player - so there’s no limitation there.
We had an absolute blast playing through the game’s co-op mode in vertical split screen, marathoning almost the entire 5 hour campaign in one sitting. Strategy-wise the cooperative play works well in Cold War because one player can work on manually controlling defenses and vehicles while the other can manage the strategy. And because of the way the money system works, there’s this round robin type game play that goes on that causes players to switch roles every few waves.
All in all Toy Soldiers: Cold War is an impressive addition to the tower defense genre as well as XBLA. On top of your standard campaign there’s a survival mode with three maps that’s fairly addictive as well and a versus mode that you can play online - though we didn’t get a chance to try that out. All the modes of play have various difficulty levels and unlocks and there’s also a decent set of mini-games to compete for high scores against your friends in too. Looking at all of that - there’s quite a bit of content and gameplay for your $15.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War quickly became one of my favorite games in recent memory - definitely a pleasant surprise. With its unique and fun style, quick pick up and play gameplay, addictive strategy and variety of game modes its easy to see why the game is one of the bigger releases on Xbox Live Arcade this summer. The full co-op support in both couch and online modes is simply the icing on the cake - a very, very tasty cake.