Toy Soldiers, developed by Signal Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios, is somewhat difficult to describe. Primarily rooted in the tower defense genre, Toy Soldiers tasks players with defending their toy box from wave after wave of enemy units that would otherwise capture it.
The soldiers are, of course, all based on toy depictions of real soldiers; that is, they're made of plastic and lead, often with visible wind-up devices or other hints as to their artificial nature. This all takes place on a beautifully constructed diorama, sitting on a tabletop in someone's den someplace, no doubt with a rather accomodating wife shaking her head somewhere in the background.
The battlefield is pre-constructed for the player ahead of each of the campaign's scenarios, with a set layout of areas in which players can construct weapons emplacements or erect barbed wire to slow the enemy. The player's goal, then, is to use this fixed layout and the weapons available to prevent the regular waves of enemies from overwhelming them.
At any point, the player can also elect to jump in and take direct control of an emplacement, rather than let the AI do its thing. This not only results in better scores but a human's ability to choose when to fire (rather than "when something is in range") can be much more effective.
It's not all defense either - on some maps the player will have tanks and planes available, which they can take direct control over (if they don't, the vehicles will do nothing - there is no AI to control them) and use to bring the battle to the enemy. The vehicles make for a great strategic twist to the otherwise defensive tactics, letting you take on distant enemy emplacements or weaken waves of enemies before your defensive weapons mop up the leftovers. Getting yourself to a point where you can obliterate enemies in their own base as they spawn is a satisfying way to underline your own strategic prowess!
Destroying enemy units earns the player money which is then used to deploy, fix and upgrade emplacements. Choosing what to place where, when to upgrade what and when it makes more sense to sell a unit and replace it with another is the crux of the gameplay. Sometimes it makes sense to sell that massively upgraded anti-tank weapon and deploy a pair of cheap anti-infantry guns - just remember the wave of tanks coming up next!
The queue of what is being deployed by your enemy is visible at the top of the screen, showing what's in play and the next couple of waves after that. Once a wave is ready, there will often be a countdown before it's deployed - if you're ready for it, you can press X and call it in early, resulting in good bonuses if you win.
The controls are rock solid, with shortcuts to your most common actions (control, repair, sell or upgrade) on the d-pad and an effective camera system that lets you whip around and see what's going on. Sometimes the camera can feel a bit constrained in where it will let you look but for the most part it's a solid package which lets you get on with the important stuff and forget about the mechanics of it all. At no point did we find ourselves wishing for a mouse!
The visual package is fantastic, with a wicked retro feel and well-realized visual implementations of the various units. If anything, it could use a little more of a "toy" feel in the animations and shaders, but it's a charming game and a solid package - easily in the upper echelons of what you'd expect to see in a downloadable title.
Most importantly, it's a LOT of fun to play - the pace of play is bang on, with something to do all the time. You can jump in and take direct control of a unit if you like, with a cool "minigame" feel to each of them, or step back and survey the battlefield and see where your unit placement could do with some tweaking. The information you need to make decisions is all at hand, with smart context-sensitive detail turning up when you highlight a unit etc. Strategically it's solid, with good distinctions between difficulty levels that level all types of player enjoy themselves.
Toy Soldiers is an essential purchase for any Tower Defense fan or anyone who just likes good games. It has that "Crimson Skies" feel, eloquently executing a combination of presentation and gameplay that outweighs the sum of its parts. It's a shining example of what is possible on the platform and for 1200 points (about $20) it's an absolute steal.