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Well-worn gameplay in 'Toy Soldiers: War Chest' a little too retro

"Toy Soldiers: War Chest" by Signal Studios does a fantastic job of recreating the action figures of some of the most beloved children's cartoons of the 80s.

IN-GAME SCREENSHOT

By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 4, 2015

“Toy Soldiers” from Signal Studios was a surprise hit on the Xbox 360 back in 2010.

The (at the time) clever melding of tower defense, real-time strategy and action was supported by a unique plastic action figure visual aesthetic.

The titular toy troopers were carefully crafted to look late 80’s action figures and they did battle across dioramas that looked crafted out of Styrofoam and plasticine. Many of the battles were modeled, at least in passing, after World War I era conflicts. Playing the game was like living the fevered dream of a historical reenactor with an overabundance of time and historically accurate action figures on his hands.

The game grew beyond its initial premise as an inexpensive Xbox Live Arcade title, spawning several expansions, a sequel in “Toy Soldiers: Cold War” and a PC port in 2012. That moderate success has led to Signal Studios going back to the well with August’s release of the third title in the series, “Toy Soldiers: War Chest.”

This time around, the reliance on historical armies has been thrown straight out of the window. In their place are armies modeled after late 80’s cartoon properties.

Players can now pit He-Man against GI Joe, or Cobra Commander and his armies against a character that looks like, but is legally distinguishable from, Rainbow Brite and the Care Bears. The attention to detail of each character and their supporting army is exceptional, and it’s quite a nerdy thrill bringing He-Man to bear against an army of nefarious Cobra commandos.

The problem with “War Chest” is that more or less sums up all there is to the game.

The base formula of setting up towers of varying types and mowing down ever advancing waves of enemies no longer feels as fresh as it did five years ago. Since “Toy Soldiers” launched, the genre has branched out quite a bit, and even worse, it’s become a staple of cheap, mobile game offerings.    

While I had plenty of fun with “War Chest,” I could never quite shake the feeling that I was simply playing a reskinned version of a five-year old game. There are a couple of upgrades, like action meter that fills up the more kills you rack up while personally controlling a unit.

Once filled to a certain level, players can drop in a hero character (like He-Man, Duke, and even Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II). While a nice addition to series, it ultimately fall flat due to the limited amount of time the hero can stay on the field and its fragility. It takes a long time to fill up the action meter and to see your ultimate warrior get demolished by simply brushing up against an enemy unit is a downer.

Other than that, and a slightly tweaked army upgrade mechanic, there just isn’t enough new material here for returning players. The multiplayer offerings are anemic as well, and the lobbies remained empty, leading to lengthy wait times.

Additionally, the PC version is plagued with excessive load times, including a loading screen for (and this is no joke) a loading screen. I can’t help but think that some of the money that went toward licensing 30 plus year-old toy properties could have went towards the game’s actual development.

It just seems that Signal Studios is banking too much on the buying power of nostalgic mid-30 year olds.

But even though I’m square in the target demographic that actually remembers the original He-Man and GI Joe cartoons, I found my enjoyment with “War Chest” to be really limited. I liked the licensing they were able to obtain and the adorable aesthetics more than the actual gameplay, which I found utterly forgettable. 

Still, “Toy Soldiers: War Chest” remains a decent premise for a game. It is a budget title, after all. Those who missed the other games in the series may get their $15 worth. Anybody not excited to indulge in a trip down memory lane may want to find something else to play this weekend.

Bottom line: “Toy Soldiers: War Chest” is a budget game that feels constrained by a dependency on licensed characters, rather than gameplay improvements.

darnell.michael@stripes.com

Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
ESRB rating: T for Teen
Online: signalstudios.net

"Toy Soldiers: War Chest" allows mid-30 year-old gamers the chance settle their childhood arguments over which cartoon character was best, once and for all.
IN-GAME SCREENSHOT

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