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REVIEW: Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (Vita)

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Like a 1950s B-movie, the “Earth Defense Force” games show our greatest cities under siege by giant alien invaders. And like a 1990s video game, it’s your job to dispel them using every weapon in your arsenal, without getting drowned in things like plot and choices and character development.

The game’s history is revealing. “Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable” is a remake of a 2007 Xbox release, which was the North American premiere for a Japanese game franchise that began as part of a collection of “budget” games. This complicated path might help explain why “EDF Portable” just plain looks bad. And it definitely explains why the entire concept is cheesy and simplistic.

Yes, this is an ugly game. While the levels themselves are large, they’re mainly one skyscraper after another, with sparse detailing and no landmarks. For the first chunk of gameplay, you’ll fight nothing but giant identical ants. When the second enemy type appears – metallic spacecraft – it’s hardly a victory for graphic design. Weapon pick-up icons are, hilariously, flat 2-D sprites… which, in any other setting, might be done on purpose for a retro look. However, when set against the overbearing cheapness of “Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable,” it’s just another eye-roller. The most interesting thing the game does is let buildings fall to rumble when they take damage.

This is a stripped-down video game, freed from dramatic storytelling and bleeding edge visuals. Once the game begins, you starting shooting giant ants until there are none left. Then you head to the next level to take down even more giant ants. “EDF Portable” promises over fifty levels, which will tally up quite the kill count of giant ants, let me tell you. It’s mindless, but it’s not even entertainingly mindless. That was certainly the goal; this is supposed to be 1978’s “Space Invaders” writ large, where all that really matters is the action. Unfortunately, the action here is a chore. Running around shooting ants over and over again just is not as much fun as you’d think.

While most levels are intended to take only a few minutes – which is great for portable play – it is quite possible to drag them out for far longer than any human being should want to experience. Maybe one final enemy somehow got lost and you end up having to chase him all the way across town. Or maybe your choice of weaponry was ill-considered (you get to select two upgradeable weapons for each mission) and it’s too tough to make headway against the horde. Whatever the reason, this is not the kind of gameworld where you want to spend time in exploration. Is it worth millions of ants to get to a level where you pilot a tank and shoot down robot dinosaurs? I don’t think it is.

The real stinger for “Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable” is the $40 price tag. There is no possible way for this game to merit that cost. At $10, maybe then you have a reason to install this to your Vita for the occasional no-frills bug-blasting, but $39.99? Earth can fall.

“Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable” manages to take a cliche concept, hamper it with boring gameplay, and then showcase extreme chutzpah with a ridiculous price. You can do a lot better.

Image courtesy D3 Publisher. This review is based upon product provided by the publisher.