Earth Defense Force 2017 defied conventional wisdom. When it was debuted as a $40 Xbox 360 title in 2007 it looked like a game released in 1999, played as if wasn't properly tested, and pretended online multiplayer didn't exist. A cursory glance revealed traditional budget-priced title willingly accepting its condemnation to bargain bins everywhere. Here's the thing; in spite of itself and everything else Earth Defense Force 2017 is actually really fun to play. The development team at Sandlot, perhaps by accident, created a legitimate cult classic. Five years later and it's the PlayStation Vita's first release of 2013 as Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable.
If you're new to Earth Defense Force, here's a detailed run down: through fifty three (sixty in this edition) repeatable missions you're tasked with annihilating giant ants, spiders, UFO's, gunships, and laser-shooting robots hell bent on destroying the planet. Sometimes, when gunned down, an enemy will drop loot. Loot consists of health, armor, or weapons. Armor is cumulative and builds by each pickup throughout the entire game while weapons are random drops that add to your equipment arsenal. Increasing difficulty increases the likelihood of acquiring bigger and better weapons, making Earth Defense Force 2017 not unlike a traditional loot grind. The idea is to kill a bunch of things to get better weapons to help you kill a bunch of harder-to-kill things with better weapons to…do you see where this is going? It's effective, and the slight mystery (you don't know what weapons you got until the mission is complete) creates a decent hook.
Soldiers of the Earth Defense Force are afforded certain perks. They've given the option to pilot helicopters with no discernible method of control, but are free to bail out and fall back to Earth with zero penalty. They can blow up the smallest house to the tallest skyscraper with a single missile. If they're on top of said skyscraper and accidentally aim down and blow it up, they can ride it to the ground as it falls. Unless otherwise noted, any gun carried by a member of the Earth Defense Force has infinite ammunition – though you can only take two weapons with you at a time. The game never actually tells you much of this, by the way, leaving the player to discover it by accident or never.
Certain talents of the EDF might function as a feature, but there are plenty of areas where Earth Defense Force 2017 is (and is still) kind of busted. If loot falls on a mountain or other curved structure not conducive to climbing, you can't get it. Only a certain amount of loot can exist on the screen, so if you don’t pick it up the game won’t generate more. It also has a penchant for taking control of the camera and focusing on some giant thing in the sky, allowing you to get shot and have zero chance of aiming your weapons in the process. You need to completely clear out the map to pass missions, and sometimes that's nigh impossible when gunships are flying in the air completely unaware of your existence - necessitating you spend the next fifteen to twenty minutes firing rockets in the air and hoping to god one of them finally connects. Earth Defense Force 2017 is packed with these infuriating instances, and any player is sure to encounter them repeatedly.
In spite of these issues, even six years down the line, Earth Defense Force 2017 still remains fun. When it debuted it used the Xbox 360's raw power to churn out dozens and dozens of enemies on screen simultaneously. Firing a rocket into a pocket of giant ants and robots and watching them fly off hundreds of feet in every direction remains satisfying. Crawling through underground trenches and tossing grenades in a murder hole filled with terrifying spiders (and sometimes other EDF troops) and observing the ensuing chaos is equally thrilling. The loot grind, the feeling when you finally win a mission on Hard and get use your new god gun(s) to obliterate the next ten Normal missions is still satisfying. To top it off, the game could conceivably last forever. I finished out Normal with ten hours and change on the clock and, accounting for other difficulties and my incomplete weapon cache, I had only finished 11% of the game.
And that's Earth Defense Force 2017. It's an enigma of time and a bastion of big dumb fun. The Vita interpretation had the opportunity to correct the original's flaws, but that's kind of dark territory. When it comes it Earth Defense Force 2017 it's hard to tell what's a flaw and what's a feature, which I suppose is why the crew at Sandlot kept changes to a minimum. The most obvious addition is a true infrastructure mode, complete with the option to four-way any mission in the game. When I tried this it worked quite well, as did the canned text you could doll out to your buddies. Alone or with friends, what made Earth Defense Force 2017 work, for better or worse, is still intact.
While it deliberately doesn't correct much, Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable tosses a few bonuses on top. Seven missions are injected into the campaign queue, though it's hard to say they add anything substantial. Most are either nest-busting or traditional wave-based missions, and the new enemy introduced (a glowing ant) isn't that interesting. Of greater note is the addition of Palewing from Earth Defense Force 2. She shares a complete separate weapon cache and armor rating from your standard solider, and, with the ability to fly and glide at a moment's notice, is fundamentally different and really fun to use. My only issue with Palewing is that I had to beat the game in order to unlock her. Having already played Earth Defense Force 2017 to death and back I would have much rather had the option to select her from the start rather than burn ten hours of my time for the privilege.
The Palewing conundrum is connected to a larger issue with Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable; its $40 price tag. The game probably $40 because that's the price the publisher feels is necessary to turn a profit on a niche game, but the problem is there's no circumstance where Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is actually worth $40 on the Vita. Persona 4 Golden, for example, earned that its $40 asking price by significantly adding to and improving one of the best games ever made. The extra missions are throwaway and Palewing, as cool as she is, doesn't have the same effect on Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable. It creates a really tough proposition and makes Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable tough to recommend to any audience.