Toying around with toys.
Games often try to mask familiar mechanics behind a novel premise or setup to varying degrees of success. Toy Soldiers: War Chest exists somewhere in the middle, a game that occasionally falters in its adherence to the tower defense formula, but also feels refreshing with its nostalgic toy box setting. War Chest's emphasis on direct control helps alleviate some of the gameplay concerns that stem from the tower defense genre, and yet tedium still rears its ugly head. The genre/setting dichotomy results in a game with its fair share of ups and downs.
I was one of many kids that played with all sorts of toys growing up. It didn't matter what world each individual toy came from; I'd mix and match to my heart's content. Dinosaurs vs. aliens, soldiers vs. superheroes, you name it. Toy Soldiers: War Chest captures the nostalgic spirit of childhood with its similar philosophy—pick a group of toys and fight other toys in a thematic environment. It makes for some amusing combinations, such as one particular level in which I shot down dragons and other fantastical enemies with a set of rainbow-colored machinery. It's silly in the best possible way.
The game includes four main heroes, each with their own stylized army. There's Kaiser Wilhelm, Phantom, Star Bright, and Dark Lord, and they run the gamut from 20th-century soldiers to fantasy warriors. Completing the first few levels of the campaign unlocks all four, but additional heroes can be purchased with real money. The premium heroes tout familiar names such as G.I. Joe and He-Man, but the micro-transaction approach takes away from the core experience. The game could use more than four default heroes, but not everyone is willing to purchase a special edition of the game or spend $5 on individual heroes. Thus, many players are restricted to just a few heroes, which goes against the spirit of childhood nostalgia. I certainly had more than four toys as a kid.
There's a bit more variety once the battles actually begin, as players use all kinds of turrets and guns to prevent enemies from invading their respective toy boxes. The principles of tower defense apply—build defenses, upgrade and repair structures, and decimate a bunch of enemies along the way. The enemies come in waves, so players have time to prepare for each new threat. If you see ground units next up, build more turrets. If you see planes ready to join the fight, build more anti-aircraft guns. Rinse and repeat. The inherent repetition makes it difficult to complete multiple missions in a row, as tedium quickly sets in and detracts from the campaign. Fortunately the game circumvents some of that with the option for direct control.
At any time in the game, players can select a turret or gun and take direct control of it. Not only does the option add a dynamic element to the gameplay, it also increases the likelihood of victory. Defeating enemies directly builds up a multiplier and fills a special meter. Once the meter reaches a certain level, players can summon their hero and wreak havoc on the battlefield. That means it's time for Kaiser Wilhelm, Phantom, Star Bright, or Dark Lord to take matters into their own hands. The heroes are far more powerful than your average unit, and thus they can destroy dozens of ground units or even armored ones with the help of powerful secondary weapons. They only remain on the battlefield for a limited amount of time, so players must use heroes wisely.
Playing as the hero is far more fun than playing as a turret, but the former only happens a few times in a single battle. Thus, much of the campaign plays out the same way on a mission-to-mission basis. The game also includes options for online multiplayer and local co-op multiplayer, which serve as mildly entertaining diversions from the main campaign. A weekly war is also featured in the game, which stands out as a smart inclusion as it creates incentive to come back to the game every so often. The weekly wars provide players with multiple missions over the course of a few in-game days and objectives must be completed to progress. Each weekly war features its own theme and set of rewards, so it benefits players to complete them.
The variety in game modes doesn't quite make up for the lack of heroes, but Toy Soldiers: War Chest provides some quality entertainment for tower defense aficionados. Even those who typically avoid the genre might appreciate the ability to control turrets and heroes. The flaws of the genre still exist, as missions can often move at a glacial pace and reinforce the repetition of the mechanics. It prevents Toy Soldiers: War Chest from being an easy recommendation beyond mere curiosity or nostalgia, but at least I can shoot dragons with laser guns.