The third entry in Signal Studios’ Toy Soldiers franchise is also the first to make it to PlayStation platforms. For the uninitiated, it’s a series of tower defense games themed around armies of minatures duking it out as a child might do with their toys (albeit with explosions). While the first two games focused mostly on the “soldier” portion of the mix, being a bit darker and grittier than your average playset, Toy Soldiers: War Chest livens things up a bit on the “toy” side by mixing in a number of colorful brands both invented and real.
Built to Destroy
The campaign is obviously the highlight of the single-player experience, and it’s a blast to play. It also serves as a great introduction to the mechanics before diving into one of the multiplayer modes. As is customary for tower defense games, you’re pitted against several waves of enemies and must use your money to build different turrets to defeat them before they reach your base (in this case, the “toy box”).
You’ve got several options at your disposal, each designed to combat a specific kind of enemy: for example, there are normal turrets to take down infantry on the ground, anti-armor turrets to beat back tanks, and anti-aircraft turrets to obliterate enemies raining terror on you from the skies. To further bolster your defenses, you can spend cash to upgrade individual aspects of these units to increase their hit points, range, and damage. Things are kept fairly simple for the most part; though there are a lot of options, they’re spread out across the campaign to ease you into each new set. Grasping the basics really is a cinch, which lets you start building effective strategies almost immediately.
Placing and upgrading your units is fun, of course, but you’re not stuck as a passive observer once War Chest‘s enemy waves start marching towards you. After you finish setting up your side of the battlefield, you can actually take control of your units and personally show the opposition the business end of your weaponry from a third-person perspective. Defeating enemies with units under your control earns you more cash than letting the AI do it, and also fills up a meter that lets you activate your team’s special character. As you might expect, it’s also an absolute blast and adds a fast action element to what might have otherwise been a deliberately-paced strategic outing.
Everybody Needs a Hero
The character activated by the aforementioned meter, called a Hero, serves as your team’s leader. You can send them out onto the battlefield at will, where they’re able to roam around freely to pick off enemies and collect batteries to keep them in play longer. Each Hero has a different style, both in the aesthetic they lend to your army and the way they combat foes on the field, and you can level them up with the experience gained from battle. You’ll also gain a number of special parts after each stage that can strengthen their effectiveness.
The campaign’s blend of strategy and action is a winning formula, and the variety of scenarios you’ll encounter is refreshing. The controls, which can also be a concern for some tower defense enthusiasts, are also top-notch. There are plenty of options mapped for moving quickly around the field, including a particularly handy way to toggle between control of all your current units. Even with all these positives, though, it’s worth mentioning that the game is best experienced in short bursts to avoid fatigue. While its low complexity is otherwise an asset, it can make things feel awfully repetitive as things get longer and more difficult.
Cooperate or Eliminate
Naturally, a main draw for many will be the ability to play competitively and cooperatively. The former has you squaring off in a two-on-two battle to conquer the opposing armies’ toy box, while the latter lets you tackle any of the campaign, Weekly War, or survival maps with a buddy. Both options are available to play either online or split-screen, and as you might expect, the experience of working with or against other human beings adds a lot of much-needed flavor. Whether you’re collaborating to take on the AI or a set of real opponents, the repetition found while playing solo is significantly reduced. Unfortunately, it seems like the matchmaking for the versus mode could use a bit of work; there’s a good chance you’ll be up against someone with a significant advantage due to their Hero’s level, which can make your match a futile effort from the start.
This iteration of the Toy Soldiers series feels a lot more welcoming thanks to its visual design. The choice to move beyond its titular playthings to include other toys brings color and life to the stages — there’s just something viscerally appealing about fairies and German armed forces blowing each other up beneath a rainbow in the sky. If that weren’t enough, the addition of popular miniatures from franchises like G.I. Joe and Assassin’s Creed are sure to send fanboys and collectors into a tizzy. These are available as DLC in the standard version of the game, but come included with the Hall of Fame Edition.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a refreshingly simple 3D tower defense game. It blends the strategy of building and upgrading your units with action-packed third-person shooting, and the result is unadulterated mayhem with a lot of visual charm. While playing solo is good fun, it can get repetitive; there’s something much more satisfying about tackling maps alongside another player. Grab a friend and get ready to take down some soldiers with your army of fairies and colorful bears — this is really the only place you’ll get to do that.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.