All that’s missing is the actual rubber suits and papier-mâché.
Some games involve a tight, cohesive fabric, each thread consisting of characters in intricate relationships with one another, sometimes even across enemy lines. The depth of design, both physical and emotional, with realistic dialogue and reasons for love or distrust, these games are the epitome of why game critics and journalists will insist the word “art” be used to define such an interactive experience, beyond which you may find in film or even detailed text form. Such games capture the hearts and minds of generations who may look to their protagonists as successfully embodying and promoting the mythical “hero’s journey.”
Sometimes, in contrast, there’s a giant monster stomping around a cardboard city blowing shit up. And hey, both have their place. Sometimes you just need to break some Lego buildings or kick over a cardboard box with drawn-on “windows." And Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space can fit that bill with a shower of purple blood and sparkly plasma fire.
For monster movie enthusiasts, the Earth Defense Force series has been a godsend, and for pretty good reason. It’s sort of an “id” game on a psychological level: There’s very little story to get in the way, instead relying entirely on the satisfaction of blowing away the massive floods of insects, flying saucers, walking saucers, and the occasional Godzilla monster. There isn’t a “story” to follow, only the implication that losing is not an option… except that you’ll retreat a lot, since some of the later missions are extremely difficult even on the “Normal” difficulty setting. Basically, fight ‘em off or the bugs will destroy the world. But hey, here’s some firepower to handle it!
There are plenty of weapons to choose from across the three selectable classes: Infantry, Pale Wing, and Air Raider. The Infantry is straightforward: Here’s a bunch of guns, now shoot everything that wiggles. The other two are more complicated—the Pale Wing is a jet-packed flyer with lower defense but has the ability to move around the map quickly and in three dimensions, while the Air Raider is a tactical soldier who can shoot sticky grenades and place turrets (or even call in an air strike). Each has their specialties, but they all packed to the brim with weapon choices as you progress through the game. To collect everything you’ll need to play every mission with all three classes (and then likely again, there’s just so much and in so many difficulty settings), so you’ll get plenty of time to grow used to their quirks and style, but it’s easy to jump into a single class and rock out with your finger on the trigger.
There aren’t many different stages to explore, but they’re fairly huge—a city filled with buildings (both during the day and night), a canyon, an underground next complete with destroyed subway tunnel. Every structure in the city can be brought crashing to the ground, and the anthill is built to be a 3D battleground where everything can either fly or climb on every wall or walkway, and the rest are largely flat and open. Sometimes there are hives that show up and need to be shot down, and that helps make sense of a new rush of enemy blood; otherwise, it’s like every other arcade game ever: “Look at the horizon, is that OH NO THERE’S MORE OF THEM!” It works for me, but it is a bit cheap. Basically, everything still looks by and large from the PS2 this originally launched on, with some minor, smoothing adjustments.
As I was a kid who grew up in a house with a perpetual ant problem, these bugs (especially the ants) give me the creepy-crawlies when so many flood the screen at once. Collision detection appears just off enough to miss plenty of shots when you’re certainly aimed at the body of the thing you’re firing at (I know my aim can be off when shooting wildly, but it’s not this bad). I’m partial to the Pale Wing set-up, and that class has a large plasma blaster that’s basically an impending ball of glitter explosion, and I missed my staged shots far more often than I should have. But when there are so many rushing you at once, it becomes more likely that using a big weapon will kill you instead of anything around you. But damn, if it isn’t satisfying.
Earth Defense Force 2 is, plain and simple, an arcade experience, which is why every mission is essentially the same thing: destruction. It’s not going to provide the depth of character like a good book or a good RPG (hell, even Call of Duty has more "character" to it); you’re a soldier with the task to shoot lots and lots of stuff. Sure, there are a lot of gun variations, with different visual effects—I like shooting raw electricity, and lasers, and giant balls of light that make a good “boom”—but the core of the game is as simple as arcade games were back in the 1980s, just with a pixilated facelift for the 21st century.
It controls well (the Pale Wing being so mobile, it’s a good thing), and while it can be hard sometimes to use a gun to hit the broadside of a barn, watching buildings and alien baddies disappear in a fiery cloud is always good fun. It’s not the type of game to be sat down with and played for hours on end, but for a mission or two at a time with a cache of futuristic bangsticks, it’s an easy way to pass time in a long line or a waiting room. Load it up, rub your thumb over the quarter in your pocket, and remember the good ol’ days.