When I was a kid, little action-posed plastic army men were pretty popular. They were readymade green and gray imagination fodder that I kept bagged up and neatly stashed away for any sandbox or corner-of-the-living-room-rug opportunity that might arise. My son, though, was different when it came to his youthful make-believe skirmishes. He was no plastic purist. Instead he’d populate the field with any old toy box flotsam that might be handy. Dinosaurs. Power Rangers. Stretch Armstrong. Batman. Hey, they were all welcome to join in on the battling booyah.
While some of Signal Studios’ older Toy Soldiers video games harkened back to my nostalgic style of place-your-squad soldiering, Toy Soldiers: War Chest – Hall of Fame Edition is aimed squarely at my son’s. In this version of the tower-defense strategy play, space action heroes and He-Man squads can go toe-to-toe, and WWI triplanes can be shot out of the sky by rainbow-powered battlements.
The formula is fairly universal: Your task is to keep your headquarters—your toy box, of course—safe from any set of marauding space aliens or heart-clad unicorns. The sandbox or bedspread-like battlefield is generally strewn with everything from upturned ball caps and plastic cobblestone walls to rainbow sparkles and stuffed kitties that might have been snatched from a sister’s dresser. You use a limited treasury to strategically purchase turrets and artillery armaments that will hopefully blow up any parade of predators that comes your way.
As wave after wave of troops, battle tanks, aircraft and super-mechs roll toward the open toy box and blast at your defenses, you determine how best to use your dwindling resources. Will you save up to unleash an extra antiaircraft gun just before the dragons fly in; or upgrade standing defensive units, beefing up their attack power or range and layering on walls and barriers?
You can also personally man a unit and look right down the cannon barrel at oncoming forces. Not only does this give you better range and a quicker reload, but it also fills an onscreen meter as you rack up kill-streak multipliers. Hit a certain level and you can call on a superpowered weapon to help out in a tough pinch or pull a special hero out of his original sealed plastic package.
In the Hall of Fame version of this game you get eight different pumped-up figures to call on—including the old-school G.I. Joe and He-Man, but also the likes of Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed. There’s a Rainbow Brite-esque character called StarBright and a laser-packing amazon queen named Phantom. Each has his or her own mega-weapons to clear the field with—while their battery charge lasts, of course!
So what does all this “clear the field” action look like? As dragons, fairies and action heroes meet their end, just how vivid is your, uh, imagination? The answer is: It’s all pretty kid-like. This is a shooter, without question. Tiny characters can cry out in pain when riddled with gunfire. And I’m really not crazy about Ezio showing up as blatant advertisement for an M-rated slash-and-shoot game. But the blasts and explosions you experience onscreen are merely flashes of light in this context. And while Ezio’s forces may be giving it their all with their da Vinci inspired war machines, there are no bloody blades or gory mess to deal with here. This is a toy box, after all. So how could there be, really? When characters and weaponry are bested, they either crumble into plastic shards and springs or return to their pre-posed polystyrene form and fall over or bounce out of the frame.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.