You don't play Earth Defence Force 2017 Portable for the story. One glance at a screenshot will likely tell you all you need to know. If it doesn't, then you could try to read the poorly translated mission descriptions, or listen to the equally poorly acted bulletins from the woman who reports the news and the men who are somehow in charge of the combat. If you – understandably – can't face either of those, then you could probably glean all of the major plot points from what in this game pass for cut scenes, i.e. moments in the missions themselves in which the camera is wrenched suddenly from your control to track a giant spaceship across the sky, leaving you unable to point your gun or run in the right direction and thus vulnerable to attack. Whichever method you choose, EDF is undemanding on your intellect: giant bug-shaped aliens arrive on Earth, someone makes a pre-emptive bet on their intentions and dubs them Ravagers, and they proceed to live up to that name by laying waste to the major cities of the world.
As an unnamed man with the ability to twist unnaturally at the waist and jump uncommonly high, you start the game in a Japanese city with such a flat and nondescript appearance it's almost more convincing to believe that you're inside a toy set, and that the giant bug-shaped aliens speeding down the streets towards you are just regular-sized ants. After all, the buildings they clamber over crumple like cardboard at a blast from a rocket launcher, and the inane radio chatter from your NPC teammates sounds like the kind of over-the-top banter you'd expect to hear from a child playing make believe: “Why don't you go back home to space?” “Die, die, die!”
Fortunately, you can turn down the voice volume (separately, if you happen to love repetitive music) or alternatively ensure your teammates are caught in the crossfire, and watch them fly through the air like little toy soldiers. But the real targets, of course, are the Ravagers and their thousands of arachnid and robot friends that they are polite enough to unleash on you a few (dozen) at a time. Those with any kind of insectophobia should stay clear. While these bugs spit orange acid and bleed green, and are sometimes able to walk through walls, their multitude of legs and the way they swarm make them one of the most realistic things on offer. This is where the game is the purest fun: mowing down overwhelming numbers of oversized ants and spiders with your weapon of choice.
If you do get tired of squashing bugs, the game occasionally throws a boss-type creature your way. Although these are generally just bigger bugs, or the occasional “Dino-mech” (which is exactly what it sounds like), they do provide some variety, which begins to feel needed once you've worked through a substantial chunk of the sixty levels. Those toy-town city levels might be expansive – when you've cleared one edge of the map it can take five minutes to trek to the other (a comparative age, given that some levels can be completed in seconds) – but they make up most of the game and soon grow dull. You'll begin to yearn for those levels that take place on a flat beach or in misty (presumably due to limited draw distance) hills, or even those that see you descend underground to clear out an alien nest.
Different environments just about provide an element of strategy to the otherwise brute force nature of the game, too. If you're going to be exploring the narrow tunnels of a giant ant burrow, then you probably want to opt for a subtler weapon than a rocket launcher. Luckily, making progress through the game automatically ensures you'll have a large arsenal from which to choose, though you'll have to make sure you pick up the delightfully retro-styled 2D weapon tokens aliens drop when they die – along with permanent armour boosts and temporary health refills – before you've killed the last and the level ends. You also find better weapons when you play at a higher level, which is added encouragement to replay the game if you fail to be motivated by the five empty medal slots – one for each difficulty level – on each mission screen.
But perhaps the best reason to fight your way through sixty levels of varying novelty and enjoyment and to then go through the whole ten or so hours again is the prize you unlock at the end of your first play through. Once you've completed the game as a member of the elite Storm 1 contingent of the Earth Defence Force, you unlock a second playable character: a woman with blonde hair, a short skirt, and a jet pack. The Pale Wing Special Forces apparently don't exist in the world of EDF 2017, and the rest of the characters in the game certainly act as though you're still that male member of Storm 1, but playing as one makes the game significantly more enjoyable. No longer must you jog through the streets on foot; instead, you can soar over the tops of buildings at speed. And she has her own set of energy-based weapons that encourage a different kind of strategy and will appeal to the fervent collector.
Sixty missions to conquer on five difficulty levels with two completely different characters adds up to potentially more than one hundred hours of game bundled in this portable package. But would you want to stick with it that long? With little in the way of plot, and repetitive foes and level design, this is a game that can hardly claim to have depth. But in the end, that comparison to a child's game of make believe is surprisingly apt: with all of those niggling grown-up worries out of the way, stripped to its bare essentials, this game is pure, nonsensical fun.
Defending the earth from oversized insects is as ridiculously fun as it sounds.