Earth Defense Force 2017, portable or otherwise, doesn’t look very good most of the time. It doesn’t even sound very good (“Hey, Joe, stop coding for a sec and read this dialogue into the mic.”). It’s simple and dopey to a fault. Except when I’m comparing the stats of the shotgun I just unlocked to the six other shotguns I’m never going to use. Then it’s an exercise in grind-based loot collecting every bit as pointlessly compelling as Borderlands 2, where I also compare the stats of guns I’m never going to use in an eternal quest for the odd rare gun I might use. It’s based on playing levels you’ve already played at harder difficulty levels to find guns that will make it easier to play levels you’ve already played at even harder difficulty levels. If you don’t want to replay levels, many of which are indistinguishable from each other anyway, you’re in the wrong shooter. Sometimes all you get are a few more points of health. You went from 512 hit points to 517 hit points.

I could build a strong case in a court of law that Earth Defense Force 2017 is made from the stuff of bad games. There’s not a judge alive who would rule against me. “Sustained!” he’d announce, slamming his gavel down. “The one-star review stands!”

After the jump, then why is it one of the two best shooters on the Vita?

The moment-to-moment of Earth Defense Force has a mostly facile Serious Sam sensibility: shoot wildly at a bunch of stuff that runs up at you, often while you run backwards. It’s so facile it can’t even be arsed to give you a reload button. Just fire until the clip is empty and you’ll reload automatically. Seriously, don’t sweat it. Okay, if you must reload, just shoot the rest of your bullets into the air or whatever. I mean, really, if you’re going to be that fussy, there are plenty of games with guns that let you reload whenever you want, some of them even on the Vita.

However, unlike Serious Sam, you only get two guns at a time. Some of these guns are more unique than others. There’s a turret. There are healing guns. There are grenades. Ha, like you’re going to actually carry grenades, and then switch to them, and then throw them. Right. Do you also put points into charisma when you play D&D? There’s a mess of stuff that you might never try, which is fine, since about 90% of these things are useless for anything other than noticing they’re new. “Oh, I found something that I didn’t have,” is the extent of many of these guns. It’s like unlocking concept art that you never even look at.

But the bottom line is that you’re going to be making choices. It takes a lot of balancing and tuning to give you ten meaningful guns, all equally viable, Halo style. But there’s also value in gradually rolling out a few hundred collectible guns and letting you discover which ones are worth using. That’s pretty much the extent of Earth Defense Force’s longterm viability. And I admit I’m a sucker for it.

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is a port of a five year old game and it shows. Even five years ago, it looked like a five year old game. It sacrifices any sort of finesse in favor of lots of big enemies, such as bugs scuttling awkwardly over the right angles of skyscrapers and towering robots stomping down barely adorned city streets. This is the stuff of a Japanese giant creature feature, adapted to the conventions of braindead shootering, complete with impossibly bad dialog and awful special effects. It’s a major disappointment on a full-sized next-gen system. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Vita’s 5-inch screen. It turns out production values aren’t such an eyesore when they’re shrunk down. An ugly game on a 5-inch screen isn’t as ugly as an ugly game on a 50-inch screen. Lo and behold, EDF 2017 Portable has a certain bite-sized charm.

What’s more, the quick and easy multiplayer for up to four players is a real asset, particularly with friends taking advantage of the Vita’s voice chat support. Suddenly a brainless two-gun game turns into a loadout challenge for players attempting difficulty levels a notch too high, deciding who’s going to hang back with the sniper rifle and healing drone. Mind the explosives. This braindead game has friendly fire.

My concern was Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable would be redundant to anyone playing Unit 13, a very very good Vita-exclusive shooter with its own gratifying grind and varied firepower, and a meticulous scoring system to sustain them. But they’re ultimately such different types of shooters, with such different paces and sensibilities, that any Vita would be richer for having both.

3 stars
Vita