On paper, Earth Defense Force: World Brothers is a potentially great idea. It’s a celebration of the last two decades of this zany alien shooting action franchise, set in a voxel graphics Unreal Engine 4-powered world that keeps all the city destroying chaos of the series intact. It has 100 characters and dozens of enemies from across every previous game, including the Sandlot-developed core series installments and the offshoots by Yuke’s and Vicious Cycle. The graphical style change and simplified mechanics also make this the perfect debut entry for the Nintendo Switch’s more basic hardware, in addition to the usual PC and PlayStation platforms the game launched on last week.
Unfortunately, about half of the titular World Brothers are nothing more than uncomfortable racial stereotypes, presented without any kind of transformation, commentary, or genuine effort. These representatives of dozens of different world nations come off as trite jokes at best, and horrific racist garbage at worst.
It’s a terrible shame, because this Yuke’s-developed game is otherwise one of the best examples of the long-running franchise. Yuke’s was also responsible for Iron Rain, a more serious and mechanics-laden take on the series that came out a couple of years ago, so this isn’t their first stab at Earth Defense Force. The core gameplay has been streamlined to a finely-honed point. You’ll take on 60 missions (with another small pack of levels coming later as DLC) and shoot your way through thousands of different alien enemies, from large ants to giant spaceships and robots.
Instead of gathering new weapon unlocks as you go, you’ll gather new characters strewn about each battlefield. Collecting a new character adds them to your customizable team of heroes, and collecting a duplicate levels that character up. You’ll also level up the armor for the four characters currently active on your team each time you finish a stage. You can switch instantly between these characters, chaining their special moves, weapon attacks, and mobility powers together in awesome action gameplay that’s arguably more fun than any previous entry in the series.
The story, writing, and characterizations are where it all comes crashing down. Although the character drops are slightly randomized, somewhere in the first or second level you’ll almost certainly collect the “Amigo Brother,” and he’s the perfect example of the sad racism the whole game drips with. He’s from Mexico, and clad in a bright poncho and sombrero, with a guitar on his back. He speaks in a mix of English and Spanish, and every time he throws out his unique firebomb item he shouts “Tequila!” In his dialogue, he routinely complains about feeling lazy and having a headache from his constant hangover. It’s gross and couldn’t be more of an ugly stereotype if it tried.
Almost every character that’s not from a previous EDF game gets this sad treatment. There’s an anime cat girl lady who just shouts various broken English catch phrases. There’s a Chinese woman who is obsessed with money and wants to re-establish the Silk Road. There’s an American cowboy who badly pronounces the words he learns from all non-English languages. And there’s a Ninja who constantly shouts the word “Ninja”, and can’t say one sentence without mentioning how much he needs to defend his honor.
All of this dreck is all the more disappointing because the rest of the writing is actually great. The game is packed full of fun fourth-wall-breaking commentary about game design and the history of the series, and the classic EDF characters all have lines poking fun at their respective games. The non-country-themed World Brothers also get some good lines, and run the range from Pirates to Twitch Streamers to Space Explorers.
I have no idea why half the characters in this game are lazy, awful, outdated stereotypes that don’t really mesh with the rest of the game’s lighthearted style. I guess that they were trying to be funny, but it so badly misses the mark that it always made me cringe. While it’s true that every country is treated “equally” (the Canada character is a man with a thick accent in a bear costume who loves honey), in the real world the countries represented are far from being on equal footing, and that isn’t represented in the game.
This game had the chance to craft a diverse group of unique characters that went beyond stereotypes, but it’s written in the most cringe-inducing and offensive way possible. It seems like the localization team went out of their way to at least cast people from the right parts of the world for the English dub…but I really wish they had been handed real characters to play instead of awful stereotypes disguised as “jokes.”
The music doesn’t fare any better, and it has the same baffling incongruity as the character roster. In some levels, you’ll hear exciting newly created takes on classic EDF tunes. In others you’ll hear the most generically racist music, along with the frequent prominent inclusion of the infamous “Asian riff” that’s not actually Asian at all and is in fact a terrible Western caricature.
This is all soul-crushing because again, this is one of the most fun and visually-thrilling games in the entire series. The action shooting gameplay is perfectly handled, with each weapon playing differently and having unique advantages. Because the weapons are now tied to character unlocks and there aren’t as many as in the other titles, it seems like more work was done to make each one feel like it had an actual place in the game. In the other entries, early guns were just weaker versions of the later guns that you actually wanted to use, but here, early weapons can be viable even in the final stages. And the melee characters are some of the most powerful I’ve seen outside of the character action genre.
Graphically, the game also excels. I played the Switch version, and although it seems to run at a sub 720p resolution for much of its runtime, the framerate stays locked even during hectic moments of battle. Enemies swarm the screen, numbering in the dozens, and the voxel world is highly reactive to explosions and gunfire, with the real-time damage the series is known for fully intact. It’s tons of fun to watch little particle bits fly off of enemies as you fight them. There’s only a stutter here or there on Nintendo’s machine when the engine needs to quickly load in a new asset (usually a sound it hasn’t yet played), but if performance is so good here I imagine it’s even better on PC and PS4/5.
The game’s sixty stages are short, and the plot itself is solid when it isn’t meandering into offensive territory. A mysterious new dark force has gathered the enemies from all the previous EDF games together, and they’ve successfully blown Voxel Earth into a bunch of smaller floating cube worlds. Your mission is to traverse these worlds and fight the aliens back, then use EDF’s tech to reassemble the world. You’ll also fight six different motherships along the way. But sometimes the story veers into weird territory. It has three levels about Miso soup where the cowboy can’t pronounce the word Miso correctly. It has an extended sequence where you help Bear Guy get Honey. It has another extended sequence where you help Cat Girl build a Cat Café. And while the dialogue tries to bring in some real-world educational content during these diversions, they last far too long and take you away from the core mission of fighting the aliens.
These side story sequences aren’t quite as cringe-inducing or awful as the character designs and music, and indeed hint at an alternate world where this storyline was used for good instead of as fuel for the presentation of racist stereotypes.
Each stage contains an intense several minutes of combat, with less of the weird variety that earlier entries have, and there’s about eight hours of game here on the normal difficulty without the DLC. When you finish it the first time, you’ll still likely have plenty of characters to collect, and you could try a harder difficulty. Or buy some DLC. In addition to that new mission pack coming soon, there’s also a pile of bonus characters from other games put out by D3 Publisher.
But again, this is a beautiful fun video game at its heart that’s coated in racist disgusting garbage for no real reason. I’ve been a tremendous fan of this series for the last fifteen years, and I’ve played extensive amounts of every other entry. This one is one of the most fun to play…but then it kept hitting me in the face with stupid offensive garbage that didn’t really contain anything about the story or the theme other than “I guess this is how people are in these world nations?” It’s such a weird time to make fun of random countries, right as we’re still dealing with the end of a pandemic that hit everyone hard.
This game has nothing smart to say, and I suppose that’s fine in a vacuum given the goofy nature of this franchise. But it also gains nothing from being filled to the brim with questionable stereotypes. It takes a fun underlying premise and genuine celebration of the history of one of gaming’s most enjoyable low budget action games, and taints it to the point where it was already hideously dated and gross the second it was conceived, let alone released. This kind of crap used to show up in games all the time, but it’s a rarity these days, and has no place in this series or in any game really.
What a wasted opportunity. This game could have made fun of the stereotypes then jettisoned them in favor of a truly uplifting and unifying story where world nations work together for the common good. Instead, it’s just a pile of stereotypes presented awkwardly with no commentary at all. Every time I started to enjoy the genuinely great gameplay and visuals, I’d get hit with racist writing, music, or character designs.
I wish this gameplay and visual concept had arrived in a game that didn’t include racist depictions of dozens of world nations. But that didn’t happen. Instead, EDF World Brothers is a cute-looking game that might lure in parents of Switch-owning children, only to show those children some lovely ethnic stereotypes. This carefully crafted EDF entry was ruined by racism for no good reason. I don’t know why this thing exists. I loathe it as both an EDF fan and a human with a thoughtful mind.
Avoid this at all costs. D3 and Yuke’s have both made dozens of other games that aren’t just blatantly racist. I don’t know why they decided this fun cute EDF anniversary title was the right time to prominently display outdated ghastly depictions of the world. It stops one step short of full-on slurs or blackface, but it should have never even hopped on that train in the first place.
Originally published at https://www.worldbolding.com on June 4, 2021.