Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable never gets deeper than shooting and looting, but it succeeds because it does it so well.

The Good

  • Simple and fun arcade shooter gameplay with lots of huge monsters and explosions
  • New unlockable Pale Wing character offers significantly different gameplay
  • Five difficulty modes offer plenty of replay value
  • Four-player cooperative mode makes wanton destruction even more fun.

The Bad

  • Simplicity and repetition of core shooting gameplay grow tiresome in long sittings
  • Too pricey at $40.

Earth Defense Force 2017 has a lot of bugs. They rear their ugly heads just seconds after you select one of the five difficulty settings, and they hound you with increasing intensity as you progress through 60 levels. It’s a good thing, then, that they’re not the technical sort. Much as in Earth Defense Force 2017′s original release in 2007, these are bugs of the Japanese monster movie variety, the kind that scamper up tall buildings and inspire campy lines in a nation’s top generals. You spend hours and hours blasting them and the robots and spaceships that follow with bullets, missiles, and the occasional laser, and once the dust clears, you rush in to pick up increasingly beastly weapons amid the rubble of a wounded Earth. Even now, the game retains some of the problems that made it such a flawed classic in 2007, but the portability of the Vita elevates its simple, addictive thrills to new heights.

They might not look like much, but they’re sure fun to shoot.

They might not look like much, but they’re sure fun to shoot.

There’s a story of an interstellar invasion in 2017 buried under that rubble, but even in its best moments it makes cheesy sci-fi movies like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman sound as though they were penned by Nabokov. It’s best when it’s situational, spurred by the arrival of new monstrosities. Soldiers cry out, apparently astonished by the sight of a small enemy saucer even though the Rhode Island-size mothership has been hovering overhead the entire time. A newscaster shrieks as the aliens interrupt her broadcast. In the earliest moments that same newscaster announces that the government has decided to call the cranky visitors the “ravagers,” even though it’s not clear yet if their intentions are hostile or peaceful. Beyond that, though, the repeated yelps of unlucky non-player character comrades assume a regrettable monotony, although the cries of “Exterminate them!” deliver some amusement once you realize that many of the antagonists are giant ants and spiders.

And exterminate them you will. Earth Defense Force 2017 exists merely to celebrate the primal pleasures of looting, triggering explosions, and annihilating alien hordes, and therefore it wastes no time toying with stealth missions or similar undertakings that may have provided some variety. To its credit, it does this job well. You can take two weapons into battle, ranging from predictable assault rifles to non-rechargeable laser guns that cut through stacked colonies of alien ants like butter. Missiles and rocket launchers level entire buildings, whether high-rise offices or soaring skyscrapers reminiscent of Toronto’s CN Tower. Fittingly (considering the whole bug thing), Earth Defense Force 2017 thrives on lobbing swarms of ravagers at you, easing you into the fray with scattered enemies and then making you contend with onslaughts that would look at home in a clip from Starship Troopers. It even keeps you in the thick of it, since wading in among the slaughter is often the only way to pick up the scores of health, armor, and weapon upgrades that drop from your defeated enemies.

Pale Wing and the invaders don't always see eye to eye.

Pale Wing and the invaders don’t always see eye to eye.

All this was true of the 2007 release as well, but the Vita release of 2017 Vita brings with it some welcome surprises. For one, an online multiplayer component that supports up to four players fills the spot of the original’s split-screen cooperative mode, and the resulting camaraderie captures the impression of intense battles better than the original. The morsel-size missions, regarded as a slight drawback in the original, also complement the Vita’s portability by allowing quick bouts of bug slaughter while on the move. The big attraction, however, is the ability to unlock the Pale Wing soldier first seen in 2005′s Global Defense Force, whose use of a jetpack in place of the standard jump lends a welcome verticality that manages to imbue the normally ground-based gameplay with an entirely different feel. It’s a shame, perhaps, that you have to play through all 60 levels to unlock her, but she plays differently enough to keep the gameplay fun on a second playthrough.

That’s important, because that’s when the unrelenting sameness of Earth Defense Force 2017 starts to weigh heavily on the experience. It’s not a pretty game, for one, and its “remastered” graphics mark only a marginal improvement over the original’s visuals. Here, too, you find a lack of visual variety. Aside from minor differences like sunsets and the general layout, every level contains dull urban landscapes that many online teams level into oblivion within minutes anyway. The cast of enemies is frightfully limited, and boss-like encounters usually feature little more than recolored and resized versions of the normal variety of enemies. Other issues mar the experience, such as the way tanks and other vehicles move so ponderously that they encourage remaining on foot. The menus (which you can also use with a finicky touch interface) are cumbersome and outdated. The frame rate still drops when too many bugs crowd the screen at once, although it’s nowhere near as troublesome as it was in the original release.

Advanced alien technology is no match for the indomitable human spirit!

Advanced alien technology is no match for the indomitable human spirit!

And yet, for all that, EDF 2017 manages to remain good, stupid fun for hours as long as it’s not taken in one sitting. The way that stronger weapons drop only on higher difficulties encourages multiple playthroughs of the same levels for better loot, and the basics of shooting and movement take only a few seconds to master with the intuitive control scheme. It’s a pity, then, that it’s so pricey. Forty dollars is a lot to spend for such simplistic and repetitive gameplay, but its position as one of the few shooters on the Vita goes a long way toward making up for this considerable shortcoming. Couple that consideration with its highly enjoyable multiplayer component and its inclusion of a fun new playable character, and Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable emerges as a clear superior to its faulty but beloved predecessor.

By Leif Johnson