The Earth Defense Force franchise has had its ups and downs, though I generally think the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. While the mainline series pretty much sticks to the formula fans have come to know and love, for better and for worse, the spin-off entries attempt to shake things up a bit without making significant changes to the core experience. Earth Defense Force: World Brothers, for example, boldly asks the question, “What would happen if we distilled the game down to its very essence and then made everything out of voxels?” From where I’m seated, this sounds like a very poor idea. Thankfully, I’m a person who doesn’t mind eating their words, as World Brothers provides a wealth of content for fans of the EDF, new and old. Think of it as the Minecraft Dungeons of the long-running series.
As you can tell from the graphics, World Brothers takes place in an alternate version of the EDF universe. Here’s the setup: Despite the squad’s best efforts to save the planet from invading aliens and their pet insects, yet another sinister threat has its targets set on Earth — and it plans to completely obliterate mankind, as usual. The enormous entity’s first order of business: blow apart the planet and send wave after wave of ants and spiders upon the survivors. Before you can boldly proclaim “EDF!” to the person seated directly next to you, the Earth Defense Force is back in action and ready to blow these invaders into adorable voxel-shaped chunks. This time around, however, you’ll have some help from EDF’s heavily armed brothers and sisters from around the world. Or, you know, what’s left of it.
Instead of playing as one particular member of the EDF team, you’ll swap back and forth between a squadron of four heroes, each of whom comes equipped with their own starting weapon and special attack. So, instead of swapping between weapons as one EDF member, you’ll bounce around between different soldiers, wing divers, ninjas, cultural stereotypes, and whoever else you have suited up for your mission. As a long-time Earth Defense Force fanatic, it takes a while before swapping between heroes becomes second nature. At first, I didn’t care much for the idea, but after a few missions, I started to put together a team that suited my playstyle, and all of those moving pieces fell into place. Escaping a pack of ravenous voxel spiders by switching to a wing diver armed with a sniper rifle never ceased to get old.
Putting together a team takes a little time, especially if you want to level up a particular EDF member. Each time you play a level, regardless of the difficulty setting, you’ll have an opportunity to rescue three downed heroes. This is essentially how you earn new characters for upcoming missions and level up the old ones you’re currently using. If you rescue a new hero, they’re added to your stable of war-ready combatants; if you save a hero you’ve rescued in the past, that character will gain a level. You won’t have to grind for armor and weapons the same way you did in previous EDF games, but you’ll still need to grind for characters if there’s one in particular you’d like to level up. It adds a nice layer of replayability, but if you hate grinding, it’s essentially the same thing. Still, I enjoyed tracking down the heroes before the swarms of insects make the rescue missions difficult. Plus, I’m a sucker for gacha mechanics that don’t require real money.
Of course, World Brothers’ biggest change is its graphical presentation. Instead of the usual janky environments, creatures, and carnage, this Earth Defense Force spin-off opts for a voxel aesthetic. I’m not particularly fond of voxels, but for the most part, it seems to work well for World Brothers. The game’s tongue-in-cheek humor, which often breaks the fourth wall by shamelessly referencing other Earth Defense Force games, seems suited to this colorful and goofy style. It’s still the janky EDF you’ve come to know and love, but it exists under a candy-coated veneer that breathes some new life into an admittedly tired formula. Your mileage will vary, of course, but don’t sleep on this one just because you typically despise voxels. I’m right there with you, believe me, but it somehow works here.
As much as love Earth Defense Force and the type of experience it provides, the franchise certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’ve played previous entries and hoped that World Brothers would drastically shake things up a bit, then you should probably sit this one out. As mentioned, this is pure EDF from start to finish — you point, shoot, clear a level, play with your loadout, and do it all over again. And while the voxel graphics definitely help make World Brothers the best-looking entry to date, it’s still clumsy and janky all the way through. By this point, the developers and fans have made peace with this fact and seem to openly embrace it. I don’t know if there’s much gray area when it comes to this series.
Earth Defense Force: World Brothers will probably work best as a “gateway drug” into the rest of the EDF universe. It’s cute, it’s charming, and it’s ridiculously easy to pick up and play — whether that’s all by your lonesome or via multiplayer. The game has all the hallmarks of the series, right down to some really odd humor (the fate of Japanese tofu was a surprisingly interesting aside) and the repetitive nature of the gameplay itself. I’ve played through several of the games over the past few years, and World Brothers is by far the most approachable. And if that means more people will finally discover the sublime joy of the EDF franchise, then I’m certainly all for it.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review code was provided by D3 Publisher.