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Toy Soldiers: Cold War

It’s no longer good enough to be a traditional tower defense game. Developer Signal Studios have their sights set a little higher with the Toy Soldiers series, aiming to blend action and strategy together in a cohesive way. Their first attempt was a hit, fast becoming last year’s best-selling Live Arcade title. It did the one thing that seems to have eluded many like-minded developers, giving players control of their turrets and doing tower defense in a style best suited for consoles. Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers up a refinement of those ideas, a suitable follow-up for series veterans and a good enough entry point for newcomers.

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The most essential change is in the setting. Transitioning from the vintage toys inspired by World War I to caricatures of ‘80s action figures gives the series a nostalgic point of reference that’s a bit more recognizable for the audience. The developers have embraced the changing dynamics of warfare experienced during the Cold One, while also delving into America’s identity crisis in the face of communism. This is a game designed around the merits of iconic films like Red Dawn, Top Gun, and anything featuring Sylvester Stallone kicking some Russian ass.

Fittingly, one of the most notable features is the Commando unit: a controllable foot soldier wielding a pistol and rocket launcher, capable of leveling pretty much anything in the game. The American Commando’s a Rambo lookalike who’s proudly outfitted with a red headband and the most patriotic kind of mullet. However, Ivan – the Commando’s Russian counterpart – is modeled after Dolph Lundgren, Stallone’s iconic Communism-loving rival.

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As these characters are devastatingly powerful, their use is limited. This is handled with a new “barrage” mechanic, providing further visual feedback as players mow down lines of soviets, rewarding sufficiently large combos with a randomized reward. When the combo’s run high enough, turrets are also supplemented with turbo boosts, providing unlimited ammo and damage boosts for as long as the combo continues.

The truncated campaign will be a bit of a letdown for fans of the original. It’s about half as long, consisting of only a dozen missions and only presenting the American side. To the other end, these missions include new level specific challenges, often based on recently unlocked types of turrets, which are evenly introduced over the course of the campaign. It feels like just enough, with many of the levels referencing films from the era, such as a Top Gun mission which seamlessly integrates land, air, and sea combat in an interesting way and allows control of a slick fighter jet.

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Sometimes the levels feel too small for aircraft, as you’ll have to re-circle after each pass, and unless they’re airborne, the enemies tend to flow in neat, orderly lines towards your toy box. It’s still fun and feels reminiscent of Dreamcast classic Toy Commander in execution. That can only be a good thing.

There’s some ancillary content thrown in to make up for the succinct campaign. Some mini-games are included, though most are merely shooting galleries. There’s also a survival and versus mode. The latter two remind why Cold War’s best kept as a medley of action and strategy, as the friendly A.I. does little to alleviate high pressure situations, while the opposing A.I. continually strengthens, and does their fair share against you. This incentivizes players to manually control turrets – and that’s Toy Soldier’s main draw – but it also undermines all the work they’ve put into balancing and sometimes expects the player to be in too many places at once.

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Toy Soldiers: Cold War is sure to attract fans of the original with its slick refinements of key concepts, while also pulling in some new players with its campy nostalgia for the ‘80s. It’s a fun experience while it lasts, even if that might not be as long as you’d like. Still, this is a marked improvement, and even as a kind of iteration, is a reminder of Signal Studios’ potential.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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