Released last week with little fanfare, World Brothers is a spin-off of the big-shooting Earth Defence Force series in which players collect cute voxel-built warriors based on cultures from around the world. Only a few of these blocky caricatures are horrible.
Known for its tongue-and-cheek humour and low-budget vibe, the Earth Defence Force series proper doesn’t take itself very seriously. As you mow down hundreds of alien creatures that look suspiciously like Earth insects, you’re treated to cheesy dialogue from fellow soldiers, commanders, and news reports.
Earth Defence Force: World Brothers throws any illusion of seriousness out the window. Your commanders and communications officers regularly break the fourth wall, blatantly referencing game mechanics. “Oh, this must be one of those no-win battles where you have to survive until the creature leaves,” they say. Though the main goal of the EDF forces is to confront alien motherships in order to restore the literally shattered planet, one set of missions has you hunting for ingredients to make miso soup. Another involves helping a man in a bear suit find honey.
Instead of playing a single character as in previous games, World Brothers has you switching between a team of four different Earth defenders on-the-fly. At any given time in a mission you can hit the d-pad to swap to another member of your team. If you need to cover long distances, swap to a flying character. If you need more firepower, switch to a character with a chain gun or missile launcher. Each of the game’s dozens of characters has their own special power, activated once they’ve done enough damage to alien ants and spiders, so there are several good reasons for swapping them out as you play.
The swapping feature also makes the game a bit easier than older entries. At any given time you can hit a button to have your characters regroup at your currently active soldier. If your team gets swarmed, swap to a flying character and zoom to safety, mashing the regroup button to bring non-flyers along for the ride. Unlike in EDF proper, It’s almost impossible to be overwhelmed in this game, with freedom always a character swap away.
The characters you collect while playing are the stars of World Brothers, for better or worse. While many of them are nameless soldiers from past games, most of them are brothers and sisters representing countries from around the world. Some of them, like Australia’s Koala Brother, are harmless little nods to that country’s cultural identity.
Others, like Peru’s Inca Brother, reference ancient cultures. Rome has an ancient Roman soldier. France has an armoured knight.
And a couple make me pretty uncomfortable. Notably Mexico’s Amigo Brother, a poncho-and-sombrero-wearing character who always complains about being tired and having a headache/hangover. His special attack is throwing tequila bombs. It’s not great.
The big-bellied Haka Brother from New Zealand feels a little weird as well, especially when you activate his special power, a Haka routine complete with tribal drumming that inspires the rest of your party.
There’s a thin line between caricature and stereotype. Most of the time World Brothers stays on the better side, but now and then it makes me wince. Something to keep in mind if you plan to play.
Otherwise, Earth Defence Force: World Brothers is mostly cute and harmless. Between troop tactics and a ridiculous amount of auto-aim, making your way through these voxel alien hordes is a silly walk through the park. Join up with friends via online multiplayer or split-screen couch coop and it’s even sillier and easier. Smacking down alien invasions is a breeze when everything is made of tiny cubes.