Toy Soldiers: War Chest is one of the more disappointing games of 2015. It’s not like there was a massive amount of excitement or hype leading up to its release. Instead, it stands as a missed opportunity on something almost every adult who grew up in the 80s and 90s can relate to: playing with toys. While the first two Toy Soldiers installments were great in their own ways, this third installment includes some big, exciting additions. For Toy Soldiers: War Chest, Signal Studios licensed famous toy lines like He-Man and G.I. Joe. They even threw in Ubisoft’s Assassin’sCreed as a playable option. While that last one feels a bit odd, the idea of having He-Man and his army take on Cobra Commander is enough to get anyone from the older generations excited. Unfortunately, the experience of playing Toy Soldiers: War Chest soils what could be a great, nostalgic feeling.
If you’ve played a Toy Soldiers game before, you know the drill. Enemy soldiers are trying to reach your toy box and destroy it. As a fearless general, you cannot let that happen. You build turrets of different kinds to protect your toy box. There are ones for ground troops, armored enemies, anti-air and so on, and take out waves that come at you. It’s a tower-defense game through and through. Eliminating waves brings in more money that allows you to buy better turrets and upgrade existing ones. Where the franchise takes a left turn is with its special units.
Building up your meter enough allows you to call on hero units. This means that with enough skill and by killing enough enemies, Cobra Commander himself can take to the battlefield. These units operate as free-roaming, third-person action sequences. While I never felt over-powered as a hero character, I didn’t exactly feel like I was the character I was portraying. After all, when my He-Man showed up when I was twelve, he mopped the floor with anyone in his path. I understand not wanting the game to be unbalanced, but a little overpowering of hero characters would’ve been fun and nostalgic.
Aside from the licensed heroes there are four main heroes as well. They come with different themes but the unit types are largely the same across all armies. What’s really unfortunate is that unless you’re willing to spend an additional $5 on top of the game’s $15 price, you won’t be able to play as any of the licensed heroes. Now, while the game is fully functional with the four given armies, locking away the licensed heroes, i.e. the part of the game people were excited about, behind real money feels a bit ridiculous. What’s worse than the heroes being locked behind a price tag is that the heroes you buy aren’t necessarily better than the free heroes. Yes, it’s exciting to see Cobra units storm the battlefield and watching the B.A.T unit take to action while I had my own B.A.T figure in front of me felt really fun, but they don’t play any differently. It’s not like the hero armies are stronger, more varied or interesting than any of the four basic armies, and that’s a shame.
The campaign in Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a rudimentary tower-defense story with little to no narrative. The idea is that two children continue to get new toy sets (their parents must be loaded) and decide to pit them against each other. What’s odd is that the campaign follows a somewhat-coherent storyline of characters but, if you decide to play as Cobra Commander these storylines don’t make sense. For instance, the first level talks about the Kaiser character facing off against a new space trooper set but the Kaiser wasn’t the hero I was playing, I was playing Cobra Commander. Since these screens are typically just a picture with some text, it’s disheartening to not see any different character screens when you play a different character. In that same vein, the little loading phrases such as “painting toys” and “doing chores” are cute the first time but they repeat so often that they lose their luster after the first level. It’s a minor nitpick but it stands out nonetheless.
What’s truly unfortunate is the amount of issues the game has that make the overall gameplay experience ragged. Long load times, crashes, graphical glitches, textures flickering in and out of existence and some of the reload animations on turrets look terrible when zoomed in. That’s especially bad when playing as a turret is a central, albeit a repetitive part of the gameplay. Holding down the fire button until you run out of ammo and reloading, just to do it again, gets old pretty quickly. The game tries to vary it up with different units but the feeling of jumping from turret to turret isn’t a smooth one. Instead of being able to rotate between turrets you have to exit out of your turret, move on the map to the one you wish to take over and press X twice to do so. While that doesn’t seem like much it can be a hassle during final waves.
Overall I found my time with Toy Soldiers: War Chest to be disappointing and underwhelming. Sure, the first time I played as Cobra Commander and took down Duke from G.I. Joe I felt a rush of nostalgia but after that it was a repetitive and numbing experience. Locking the interesting heroes (i.e. the ones that people actually want to use) behind payment gates is unacceptable. The technical hiccups and overall rough gameplay experience is just not par for the course when it comes to this franchise. The first two installments of Toy Soldiers were special games but the same can’t be said for this game. Toy Soldiers: War Chest feels like a game that was rushed through without care or polish. Nostalgia can’t save this game from being an absolute disappointment.