The Flat-Earthers Were (Almost) Right

HIGH The final battle with #SPACEDEVIL

LOW Spending hours failing to upgrade my vampire.

WTF The Canadian Bear-Man questline.

After a series of sequels, the Earth Defense Force series has its formula locked in. Giant ants, giant spiders, giant robots — toss in a few new monsters for every new game, remember to include a remake of the famous “Brute Force” level, and then push it out the door. Even Iron Rain, the ‘Westernized’ title developed by Yukes, rather than series stalwarts Sandlot, didn’t change much beyond making capitalism the story’s villain. With a built-in fanbase and a gameplay loop that people love, it was time for EDF to take a chance and do something crazy.

EDF: World Brothers is that crazy.

Despite a new graphical style where realistic character models are replaced my Minecraft-style voxel figures, the structure of Earth Defense Force: World Brothers is identical to every other entry in the series — aliens are attacking the earth, and it’s up to a group of ragtag soldiers from around the world to beat them back.

It’s still a third person shooter where the camera is placed directly above and behind the playable character for maximum peripheral visibility. The story is still broken down into few dozen discrete missions where the player equips a team and sends them out to destroy a certain amount of enemies until they’re cleared to come home. There’s only one real change this time, and that’s just how silly everything has become.

It’s not just the voxel art that establishes World Brothers as the most kid-friendly game in the franchise — the tone has been completely transformed. While people might have balked at the wobbly robots or questionable voice acting, every EDF game is a dead-serious story about humans staving off extinction by battling against overwhelming odds. World Brothers, on the other hand, is the story of the Space Devil gathering up all of the motherships from previous iterations and using them to split the earth — which in this game is rendered as a cube — into six flat planes. Why has the Space Devil done this? Does it really matter? The point here is that a threat has appeared, and it’s up to a diverse cast of soldiers to deal with it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that World Brothers leans heavily into the diversity angle. Instead of generic soldier classes, the game offers distinct characters, all of them either drawn from previous EDF entries or themed around the country they’re from. Brazil offers a samba dancer dressed for Carnivale, Japan has a ninja and a cat-themed maid, Norway offers a viking, and so forth. Everything is broad stereotypes and national costumes, and the most surprising thing is that, other than the Mexican who introduces himself by saying he’s too hung over to talk, the devs manage to stay just this side of offensive generalization.

In addition to providing an enormous roster of characters — dozens of different types, each with three color variations that also have different stats — the character-focused gameplay is how the developers have revamped weapon unlocking. Gone are the days of searching for weapon crates or researching new items. Instead, each map has 3-5 fallen soldiers that need to be rescued. When they are, the character is either unlocked for use, or if the player already has them, levels them up. Each new character has a chance to bring with them a new weapon, and each level they earn gives them access to a new weapon type.

Special abilities are key to winning, and what differentiates World Brothers from the rest of the series. Replacing the old system where the player kills monsters until they can summon an airstrike or vehicle, now each character has a unique power capable of wiping out enemies, healing troops, or massively increasing the team’s power. Even when playing solo, the player can choose to bring up to four characters to each mission and can freely swap between them at any moment. With this change, support characters are suddenly valuable in single player EDF in a way they never have been before.

While each new wrinkle to the tried-and-true formula is a delight, it does have one major drawback — the grindiness is turned up to 11. Every EDF expects people to replay levels over and over again to unlock weapons and gain armor, but World Brothers is worse than most in this respect because upgrading is only possible by rescuing teammates, and there’s a hard limit of 5 per mission. This means that the truly high-end weapons and powerful characters are going to be available only to those who are truly devoted to the gameplay loop.

Even if World Brothers were just a quickie distraction meant to tide fans over until the post-apocalyptic madness of EDF6 it would still be worth a look. It manages to be so much more than that, though — the huge cast, constantly surprising powers, humorous writing and huge numbers of classic enemies and heroes all combine to turn this into a celebration of the franchise. Earth Defense Force: World Brothers is a love letter to one of the craziest videogame series ever, and its simplified look and gameplay ironically make this unbelievably niche title one of the best jumping-on points the series has ever offered.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Yukes and published by D3 Publisher. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5, and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 80 hours of play were devoted to the singleplayer mode, and the game was completed. 10 hours were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB and features Violence, Blood and Mild Language. I can’t imagine any parent objecting to this too strenuously. Only robots and insects are killed, and it’s almost completely bloodless. This is the cutest, safest epic-action game ever, and a perfect place for kids to learn about the genre.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without audio and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled and all vital information is provided visually. Subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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