Earth Defense Force games have traditionally been M-rated affairs, if only because the giant insect and frog enemies spray lots of goopy blood when shot. Earth Defense Force: World Brothers, the new spin-off game from Yuke’s and D3 Publisher, is a more family-friendly entry that trades in low-budget but realistic visuals for colorful and blocky voxel graphics. World Brothers still has lots for EDF fans to love, though, including 4-player online co-op and copious humor and fan service. It’s also the first EDF game on Nintendo Switch, in addition to PlayStation and Steam.
Storytelling has never been a high point for this series, though the older games certainly embodied a lovable B-movie charm in their mid-mission voiceovers. EDF 5’s storytelling took a dive thanks to a new translation team and significantly inferior writing and voice acting. World Brothers’ narrative is largely a return to form, spinning a fresh tale of how the enemy factions from previous EDFs have come together under a new leader called Dark Tyrant. The combined enemy forces attack Voxel Earth, blasting it to pieces. It falls on players to rebuild the EDF and Voxel Earth, one mission at a time.
The World Brothers story advances through a combination of voiceovers (now with full subtitles!) and occasional pre- and post-mission cinematics. The writing is much snappier than EDF 5’s, with clever meta references to previous EDFs and the absurdness of gaming tropes. This time, the story often focuses on new team members for several missions, allowing players to get to know specific characters like Kotaro the Ninja Brother, Vogel 7 the ditzy Wing Diver, and Barrett 1, a Fencer who lost his team in a robot attack. The added personality of these characters is endearing, though I could still do without Bruno, a bear costume-clad goof from Canada. Bruno sucks.
Characters are a big part of what makes World Brothers different from past EDFs. Before, one of the primary goals during a mission was to collect as many weapon and armor pickups as possible, thus strengthening your team and its arsenal. Weapon and armor drops don’t exist in World Brothers, for better or worse. Instead, most missions have 2-5 rescuable teammates strewn throughout the map. Rescuable characters are randomized, and there are a whopping 186 of them to find (excluding DLC characters). That number includes colored variants of 62 different playable base-game characters, but it’s still a massive increase over the four playable classes of most mainline EDFs.
The huge assortment of characters consists of all classes from previous EDF games, including portable games and even the Insect Armageddon and Iron Rain spinoffs! Yes, that means you can play as a Prowl Rider, capable of summoning a giant ant mount, alongside Rangers, Fencers, and Wing Divers from specific EDFs. It’s a fan’s dream come true. Air Raiders get the short end of the stick in World Brothers, though, as they can’t summon their usual vehicles. Tanks and mechs appear only on specific maps here, and their steering is a bit wonky.
In addition to returning EDF soldiers, World Brothers features numerous original characters who are themed after their countries of origin. England has Knight Brothers, the USA has Cowboy Brothers, Japan has Ninja Brothers, Korea has Livestream Sisters, and so on. Many of these qualify as stereotypes – the sombrero-wearing Amigo brother who throws tequila bombs being a prime example. World Brothers was developed in Japan - not the most culturally sensitive place. Still, the aim here seems to have been lighthearted inclusivity rather than mean-spirited parody.
Gameplay actually feels a lot like a mainline EDF, more so than the previous spinoff from Yuke’s, Iron Rain. Each character brings two unique moves, starting with Left Trigger-bound abilities like flight, rolling, cloud riding, bomb-throwing, etc. These can be performed at-will and have a cooldown. SP moves are new special abilities that must be charged up by killing enemies or picking up the yellow boxes they sometimes drop. These special moves can unleash devastating blasts, summon turrets, heal the team, and much more. SP moves are also accompanied by a brief cinematic that appears even during co-op games, interrupting the flow of gameplay just a bit.
To show off its enormous cast, World Brothers adds a totally new feature for EDF games: teams. Whether in solo or co-op, each player now selects up to four characters to bring along on during missions. You can swap between the four units at will by pressing the corresponding direction on the D-Pad. The rest of the team follows the active character during battle, fighting independently but doing significantly less damage. Weapon reloading times are a bit longer than usual, but you can swap to a different soldier while the reload finishes. If team members get downed, just switch to another member and rescue them. Team construction allows players to build a team that hits various strengths rather than having to pick just one class at a time, and up to six teams can be saved for quick access.
The upgrade system differs a lot from previous EDFs, though it still includes a major randomized component. Since there are no armor pickups, characters now gain armor simply by completing missions. Unlike EDF 5, the characters who don’t come along on a mission here don’t gain armor. This has the unfortunate effect of discouraging the use of new characters at higher difficulties. New characters will start with lower quantities of health than the ones who have seen active use, though players can always stop and grind for armor.
Finding duplicates of characters will level them up. This doesn’t strengthen soldiers, but it does allow them to use different types of weapons. A fully leveled character can use any weapon in the game, which really allows for creative freedom in team construction. Weapons of varying levels are simply found by rescuing characters during missions, after which they can be wielded by anyone who can use that class of weapon. The new equippable accessories are found the same way and provide passive buffs such as faster reloading, higher jumping, and more.
While the new mechanics and bevy of playable characters in World Brothers will surely please EDF fans, the same can’t be said for the new blocky voxel graphics. Voxels were probably chosen both to appeal to younger players and allow the game to port easily to Switch (the Switch version really does look great, even in handheld mode). The simplistic graphic style also facilitates the huge number of characters and allows for improved building destruction. EDF always allows players to destroy buildings, but this is the first one that lets you blow pieces off a building and then go inside it. This destructibility means that most buildings take more shots to destroy than usual, but powerful melee characters can still tear through edifices like paper.
The base World Brothers game includes 60 missions, with another 11 missions soon available in the premium Additional Mission Pack DLC. Each mission can be played on three difficulty levels by default. The traditional Hardest and Inferno difficulties are also unlockable by fully clearing the game (not just the final mission) on specific difficulties. The Additional Mission Pack promises a sixth, ultra-tough difficulty for players who have cleared Inferno.
As with all EDFs, co-op is where World Brothers truly shines. The entire game supports 4-player co-op, but multiplayer options differ between each platform. Switch, PlayStation, and Steam all support 4-player online co-op (cross-platform play is not supported). The PlayStation version is the only one with 2-player split-screen co-op, whereas the Switch version supports wireless LAN play (each player needs a Switch and a copy of the game). Considering that EDF 4.1 and EDF 5 both support split-screen on Steam, the loss of Steam split-screen this time is a shame.
Platform disparities aside, one cool addition to the co-op experience is that the game names an MVP after each mission. EDFs have never shared player performance before, so it’s nice that skilled players can finally be recognized. I’d love to see EDF 6 build on this idea and add individual stats for kills, revives, destruction, and item collection, much like the stats that Warhammer: Vermintide 2 displays after missions.
Mission completion is shared between solo and co-op, just like in Earth Defense Force 2. That’s a treat because the traditional weapon and armor limits still apply to online mode. Players will need to complete 80 percent of all missions and difficulties to unlock the ability to turn off those limits, but at least offline play contributes to that goal here. Completing missions on higher difficulties does not grant completion for lower difficulties – a regrettable step back from EDF 5. Still, hitting 80 percent completion should be significantly faster and more doable than reaching 70 percent in the much larger and stricter EDF5.
The robust voiceless communication system featured in past EDFs returns here. Within the lobby, pressing the D-Pad brings up a large variety of communication options. During missions, pressing the chat button once brings up a chat wheel with several quick messages. Pressing it twice will access the full chat system. Not only can players use this system to celebrate or ask for help, they can even order NPCs to sing three different songs! The only downside to the chat system is that, unlike in past games, chat messages here aren’t accompanied by a sound effect in lobbies, so players won’t always know that someone is chatting.
The Steam version of World Brothers suffers from matchmaking and online connectivity issues at launch, perhaps because it’s the only version that wasn’t released in Japan months ahead of the English release. Lobbies and matchmaking are patterned after those of EDF 5, but only lobbies from the user’s specific Steam download region seem to be viewable. You can still play with players from other regions by directly inviting them or by providing them with the room name to search for, thankfully. However, such workarounds shouldn’t be necessary on a global release like this. In-progress lobbies aren’t joinable here either, further complicating the matchmaking process. My party and I also encountered numerous instances of players getting dropped at the start or end of a mission, making it hard to even keep a team together at times. Hopefully, these issues will be ironed out soon.
Earth Defense Force: World Brothers is not the first EDF spinoff game, but it is the first one to truly feel like Earth Defense Force in the gameplay department. Beneath the colorful cuteness lies a third-person cooperative shooting experience filled with fresh ideas, humor, and fanservice. World Brothers isn’t quite robust or polished enough to top EDF 5 in quality, but it comes close enough to qualify as a must-play anyway. Don’t let the blocky graphics keep you from joining up and saving Voxel Earth from Dark Tyrant!
The Co-Op Experience: This game supports up to 4-player online co-op, with each player joining the battle using their own team.
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