While Sony's otherwise excellent new portable gaming system wasn't quite the big hit the company thought it would be in 2012, there were a number of great games released for it last year that made it a more than worthy purchase. 2013 is getting off to a solid start for the handheld thanks to D3Publisher's recently launched Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable, a greatly enhanced "port" of the Xbox 360 game and the first new EDF game by original Japanese developer Sandlot to hit a Sony platform since the stellar Earth Defense Force 2 Portable on the PSP about two years ago. EDF 2017P offers up seven new stages, four new enemy types, new Vita-exclusive weapons, online wi-fi co-op and versus mode play for two to four players. That $40 price point may seem high for a download-only game, but trust me, you'll get that money's worth thanks to dozens (and potentially hundreds) of hours of outrageously challenging gameplay in solo mode and a fun online component where you can meet up and blast bugs with like-minded EDF recruits.
Fans of the Xbox 360 game who happen to own a Vita will see that better gear drops are common faster than in the original game (you can now get Bonus weapons as standard drops which were normally gained from completing some difficulty levels) and things have been rebalanced a bit for new users to ease them into the EDf experience. For many new to the EDF world, the inclusion of Pale Wing from EDF 2 will be the biggest draw. Unlocked by completing the game with Storm 1 on any difficulty (I'd start at Easy, just to get the bonus weapon for clearing the map and to beef up armor for the next play through on the default Normal setting), PW has a jet pack that allows her more mobility and a completely different set of weapons that change how you'll play the tougher maps.
While the game seems simple initially, each difficulty level increases the challenge geometrically, making this a pure "gamers game" experience on Hardest and Inferno modes. Sure, you can go online and hook up with fellow EDF troopers to take down those pesky super-hard stages, but for the EDF Elite, there's nothing like soloing the entire game as either character. In fact, the game offers up Trophies for doing so, meaning those Platinum hounds out there will be put to the test with one of the most challenging games they'll ever play. EDF doesn't hold your hand at all and in fact, some of it;s quirks make it maddening at times. Spider webs go through some walls, giant robots sling arced laser shots at you from a mile away and when your get half your armor chomped off by a slow as hell bright red ant (one of the new enemies), you'll be learning respect for your alien enemies the hard way.
Visually, while not king of the Vita games, EDF 2017P looks great most of the time (save for some pop-in in the wider outdoor vistas) and sounds great all of the time thanks to a stirring score straight out of a few 50's and 60's sci-fi flicks. There are only a handful of maps here, but the game places you in them during assorted times of day (and sometimes in varying degrees of destruction) and lets you have at as you like. Rockets and missiles blast down buildings, bugs and 'bots, laying waste to property values throughout the Japanese setting, but amusingly enough, those building will be back up in a following stage. The game plays it straight as far as the doom and gloom story goes (we're invaded by aliens intent on our total destruction and they pretty much succeed by the final mission), but the campy dialog and fact that yes, you just sent a pack of big gold ants sailing into the sky with a rocket blast keeps the tone pretty light. Well, except when you get to the harder maps or difficulty levels and see the game wants you to WORK to see that ending again.
Overall, EDF 2017P might not be the most polished game out there for the Vita, but for the price, it offers up the best replay value of any game on the platform hands-down. Is it worth buying a Vita for? Maybe - provided you want to also play some of the other excellent games for it such as Gravity Rush, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, Retro City Rampage, Dokuro, Pinball Arcade, and a bunch of others ranging from casual to classic as well as current "AAA" releases and don't mind paying a premium for some of them. We're in the "Penny Dreadful" era of cheap or free mobile and device games sucking interest away from dedicated handhelds like the Vita and 3DS, but games such as this are the ones that will draw in the core gamers and keep them as long as there's interest in buying into games where you know you're paying for and getting something you'll always go back to because it's such an insane amount of pure FUN.
Developer: SANDLOT Publisher: D3Publisher of America # of Players: 1 (online: 2 - 4) ESRB Rating: T (Teen) Official Site MSRP: $39.99 (PSN download only)