Developer: Sandlot / Publisher: D3 Publisher of America / Played on: PS Vita [Digital Release Only] / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Teen [Animated Blood, Mild Language, Violence]
Those interested in Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable fall into one of two groups. Either they missed out on the game the first time around and have endured enthusiastic rantings from the game’s fans ever since, or they played the game the first time it was released in America and are wondering if Portable is substantive enough to warrant a replay.
Those in the first group should jump on Portable immediately. Not only does it recreate the original game, but the addition of online multiplayer is fundamental to certifying this recommendation. The second camp, however, will find this re-release lacking. The new playable character and weapons are interesting enough, but don’t nearly justify the game’s doubling in price despite releasing almost six years ago.
But this is still EDF, and you’re in for a magical experience if you haven’t played it yet. As someone who treasures the segment of my 360 hard drive containing my 100% save, I can promise you that EDF2017 Portable still holds the essence of what makes the game so special. It should, after all… it’s the same game.
In EDF2017, you fight the “ravagers,” a race of invading aliens that conveniently take the shape of every B-movie trope in cinematic history. You shoot hordes of acid-flinging ants, oversized spiders that toss sheets of caustic silk, and to top it off, city-sized cyborg lizards with axe blades welded to their tails. All the while you unlock absurd weapons like a rocket launcher that shoots rockets moving slower than you can run, meaning that if you shoot while running forward you will instantly kill yourself. Nobody said saving the Earth would be easy.
Add to that a dash of so-bad-they’re-good physics and you have game scenarios where you bury a missile into a clump of ants only to see their dead, rigid bodies bounce around a Japanese cityscape like pinballs. Rigid, robotic animation and basic level geometry give the game a face only a mother could love, but it turns out this game has quite a few mothers. It hits the magic razor-thin window between quality and crap called camp with a gameplay experience to match.
However, diminishing returns will erode the experience of returning players, especially if you’re interested in a fresh experience. WiFi co-op is available from the get-go, which is Portable’s greatest virtue. Though the menu systems are fittingly barebones, you can easily set up a match and play with friends.
I especially appreciate that the game allows you to set caps on weapon strength. It would be easy for a more traveled player to drop in with a group of newbies and annihilate the experience with the world-ending lasers and nuclear blasts you eventually unlock, but you can cap weapon levels in the lobby to ensure a level-appropriate experience. The chat system is charming in an archaic way as well. A lengthy tree of voice commands allows you to state your encouragement, apologies, and strategies through overly formal phrases. Most importantly, you can shout “E-D-F! E-D-F!” at will.
The greatest annoyance to returning players is that you have to clear the game with Echo 1 (the default foot soldier) before you can unlock Pale Wing (the mechanized, jetpack-wearing female that has been ported over from more recent EDF releases). I don’t understand the reasoning behind this–new players would be equally satisfied playing as either as they’d both be new. Why force the returning fans to play through a game they’ve already completed just to reach new content?
The ultimate tragedy is that Pale Wing is really fun to use. Her mobility and fragility enforce a different play style, not to mention her arsenal of weaponry is different from Echo 1’s. Couple that with the fact that Portable separates out level completion between the two characters and grabbing that triple-digit completion is twice the undertaking. From this aspect, 2017 Portable can reasonably justify its price, but only through a mountain of grind.
Even so, EDF2017 has a particular magic that defies logic. If you’ve played the original to death, you may simply want an excuse to play the game again despite the disappointing renovations in Portable. Hell, I’m in that camp myself, so I won’t talk you out of it. Just make sure you have some friends lined up for co-op ahead of time.
And if you haven’t played it yet? Boy, do I envy the unique gaming experience that awaits you.