As a little lad, if I wasn’t bugging my older siblings to catch a cheeky go on their ZX Spectrums, I could often be found staging mock conflicts with my green plastic toy soldiers and generally making a mess of things in whichever part of the house I decided would play host to my latest theatre of war. Some thirty years on – but now with significantly less hair and no longer able to crunch down my own body weight in Skittles – Ubisoft has attempted to encapsulate that section of my formative years in Toy Soldiers War Chest, a tower defence effort laced with arcade action elements.
Happily then, I can confidently report that for the most part, War Chest is actually a fair amount of fun. Nevertheless, it is arguably an experience that is let down somewhat by some shoddy technical issues and a rather unpleasant in-game transaction model that desperately needs to back-flip into the sun immediately.
Starting with what works, the tower defence gameplay in Toy Soldiers War Chest is a simplistic, yet steadfastly entertaining take on the genre that we all know and love. Essentially, each stage begins with the player having to defend their toy box from the encroaching enemy forces that attack a wave at a time and, as you might well expect, an effective defence is achieved by plonking down the requisite turrets in order to blast your foes into smithereens before they reach their goal.
So far, so tower defence then. But where Toy Soldiers War Chest changes things up a bit is in how it enables the player to get stuck right into the action by taking control of the towers and various hero units during every battle. It actually works pretty well too, with examples including anti-infantry turrets that can be used to focus on destroying explosive barrels to inflict additional damage upon your enemy that the AI might otherwise ignore, or, assuming control of an anti-vehicle turret to focus on taking down the weakest of a convoy of attacking vehicles.
Elsewhere, the presence of hero units also adds to the proceedings too. Here, when a high enough number of enemies have been destroyed in succession, players can take control of a special unit for a limited period of time and gain access to a number of ranged and melee attacks that riff on the theme of that particular hero. The golden boy of Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio, for example, will utilise his sword at close range and then switch to throwing grenades and firing crossbow bolts at longer distances in order to mix things up.
Units which are exclusive to each environment can also be used to tip the balance in your favour too, though given their potency it’s understandable that they are subject to cooldown timers and so must be employed sparingly. That said, the feeling of satisfaction when soaring through the air as a pink hued, airbourne Pegasus, raining down explosive rainbow and love-heart death on your enemies is quite considerable indeed. Pleasingly, it’s also possible to extend how long these special units can remain in action too, since collectible batteries dotted around each map serve as a means of extending the life of these units beyond their default end.
As refreshing as it is to take control of your forces though, it fails to disguise the fact that the core tower defence mechanics of Toy Soldiers War Chest are really quite basic. Towers, you see, can only be situated in rigidly pre-designated areas and thus don’t allow for a great deal of tactical creativity that genre veterans might otherwise be accustomed to. On the other hand, folks who aren’t so well acquainted with the tower defence genre will still have a lot of fun here, especially as Toy Soldiers War Chest actually packs in a fairly sizable campaign stuffed with bonus objectives to fulfil, medals to collect and, in neatly keeping with its younger audience demographic, links it all together with vibrant Saturday morning cartoon style cut scenes.
Where things take a bit of a download turn is when we’re confronted by the War Chest’s frankly horrendous take on DLC. You see, if you purchase the vanilla version of the game and not DLC-stuffed Hall of Fame edition, you won’t get access to the special Ezio, G.I. Joe and He-Man characters that Ubisoft have been advertising with the game for the last few months. Indeed, if you are that way inclined to splurge out on them, either by forking out the extra £12/$15 for the Hall of Fame edition, or by buying them separately, it never really feels like they add enough to the game to properly justify the financial outlay.
What makes matters worse is the fact that when you’re playing Toy Soldiers War Chest co-op and multiplayer modes with mates, they can’t even use these additional heroes; rendering the purchase of these extra characters largely superfluous at best and an absolute waste of money at worse. Compounding the awfulness of the DLC situation, is the fact that the game also boasts microtransactions that allow players to stump up real-world money to purchase tokens which in turn can be used to buy new items, weapons and upgrades. Naturally you can just plough through the game and replay scenarios enough times to amass the currency that you need, but the mere presence of such microtransactions more than whiffs of pure greed and perhaps more troublingly, a mindset to prey on the more naïve and less frugal elements of War Chest’s primary demographic – kids.
Away from the disappointing opportunism of War Chest’s DLC and microtransactions, the game also flounders a little when it comes to the technical side of things. With frustratingly long loading times compounded by frequent slowdown during busy scenes (which occur most of the time) and some low detail textures, it’s not a stretch to suggest that War Chest wasn’t really designed with the PS4’s extra grunt in mind.
In spite of these technical failings, the actual art and presentation of Toy Soldiers War Chest still manages to shine through, however. From rigidly animated soldiers that tip over and fall down as would be expected, to hero units that burst out of their plastic blister packs in a charming visual flourish, each of the character models appear to have been designed and animated with a real attention to detail. The environments are also worthy of note too, with all manner of domestic locations such as crowded living rooms and freshly dug gardens where overgrown mushrooms can be leveraged for cover, all adding to the game’s otherwise impressive presentation.
Ostensibly one for the younger folks, Toy Soldiers War Chest stands as an enjoyably charming if rudimentary jaunt into the tower defence genre that deserves to soar far higher than its grabby DLC practices and smattering of technical issues allow it to.