“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.”
-Orson Scott Card,
Super Earth Defense Force, stylized as E.D.F., is a scrolling aircraft shooter adapted for play from the arcade to the SNES. While the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was undoubtedly the champion of the 16-bit era in sales with its massive library, incredible selection of RPGs and platformers, advanced graphics and iconic franchises, there was at least one area where it under-performed in comparison to its rival, the Sega Genesis. The SNES had fewer notable shooters. Jaleco’s E.D.F. was a noble attempt to satisfy this hole in the SNES library and even though critics complained about its pedestrian feel and unoriginality, and it was unsuccessful compared to other titles on the system, it is really a pretty decent explosion-fest.
E.D.F. is evocative of the Raiden series except that it has left to right horizontally-scrolling levels rather than the top-down vertical appeal of the arguably more popular arcade series. Another difference in E.D.F. is would-be pilots are prompted to choose their weapon class at the start of each stage. This is opposed to the more common system of collecting power ups to change your weapon during the battle toward the boss. There are eight weapons to choose from in E.D.F.: Vulcan, Explode, Laser, S. Laser, Atomic, Photon, Homing and Grenade. I’ll give you one guess at which weapon everyone chooses every single time. Yes, Homing.
It isn’t the strongest or the fastest of the armaments but, well, it frickin’ homes in on enemies, allowing you to focus on dodging attacks rather than lining up shots. Style of play has nothing to do with the matter. Homing makes the game feel somewhat unbalanced as the stages and enemies practically punish you without it. Enemies can fly in behind you or above you and it’s almost impossible to hit them with most of the other armaments. You’ll have a harder time if you foolishly consider choosing any weapon besides Homing.
However, there’s another unique aspect of the E.D.F.’s weapon system. Without power ups to switch weapons or upgrade them mid-stage, the developers came up with an idea that feels more at home in typical RPGs rather than shooters.
Killing enemies rewards a player with points akin to experience that will charge up your weapon’s power bar until it reaches a new level. This prompts the player to focus on doing as much damage as possible opposed to just trying to avoid enemies. With each level-upgrade, the weapon gets stronger, faster, bigger, and so on. The weapon-level remains after continues, lending the game a sense of accomplishment, or loss if you get a game over and are forced to build up your weapon-level all over again. It makes E.D.F. feel more organic, more alive, than the average shooter. You even get a pair of drones (a la R-Type) that follow your main craft and can be triggered into different attack formations. Their behavior upgrades as well when you reach a level up and this adds a little more flavor to the game.
E.D.F. also differs in that it has no extra lives. Instead, it presents a shield system for your aircraft. When you get hit, you lose a shield. Once you run out of shields then you’re forced to use a continue to keep going. This innovation keeps the action flowing without demanding that you return to the beginning of each level every time you take a single hit, like in other comparable shooters.
Though some moments in the game can seem dull, once the action picks up you’ll inevitably feel a few moments of panic when the screen is suddenly filled with enemies and projectiles. Bosses in particular, many of which have interesting designs and attack patterns, can unleash a hailstorm of bullets, leaving you only a tiny frame of pixels to escape through. Because of this, E.D.F.’s impact on a gamer can feel alternatively boring and then suddenly frantic, demanding intense concentration in one moment and then lapses of day-dreaminess watching the passing backgrounds in the next.
The 8-Bit Review
E.D.F. is heavily detailed 16-bit goodness. The boss sprites especially are complex, resembling vast and deadly mechs. The backgrounds utilize perspective as you jet by which lends the visuals a sense of depth. However tiled patterns are easily apparent and this ruins some of the experience. Perhaps most importantly, you can actually see the enemy projectiles, unlike other shooters where the little killy things practically blend into the environment. E.D.F. isn’t the best looking shooter or the most visually spectacular game on the Super Nintendo. Not by a long shot. But it does employ some great sprites and technical tricks (the layered clouds in stage 1, the approaching satellite in stage 4, and the dizzying Mode 7 rotating planet in stage 5) which puts its graphics slightly above standard.
E.D.F.’s soundtrack is a good specimen of the Super Nintendo’s action titles, all slap bass and ridiculous drums. Most of it is catchy rather than grating and it functions well alongside the bright explosions and sci-fi settings. Also, there’s a satisfying sound when your attacks strike enemies: loud, powerful thuds that let you know you’re doing as much damage as possible. Win.
The fact that seven out of eight of the weapons in E.D.F. are made obsolete by the presence of Homing means that there’s a lot to this game but it simply will not be enjoyed. Also, while the graphics are pretty, E.D.F. has a really bad lag problem. Pretty much every boss can throw enough projectiles out on the screen to slow the action to a crawl. Sure, it’s a boon for escaping unscathed, but it’s also cheap.
Super easy controls on Super Earth Defense Force. Hey, especially with… Homing! Besides that, there’s not much else to catch on to. Bosses and enemy formations have their assault patterns but most of them are intuitive enough to dodge on a whim without having to learn the patterns first.
Around stage 4 the difficulty level increases dramatically, making the first few levels seem like petty tutorials on the gameplay. Unlike other shooters, E.D.F. lacks static obstacles (pillars, scaffolding, mountains, asteroids, etc.) in all but the last level, meaning there’s little to do but shoot and evade, and normally that’s pretty easy. It will take some concentration to make it through the final stages, and its hopeless without… Homing.
Even with eight different weapons, alternating drone-ship behaviors, two difficulty modes, and three varying speed systems, there isn’t much reason to come back to E.D.F. until after you can say, while looking at your collection, “Hey, what game is this?” The difficulty modes don’t change much and once again, you’re only going to be picking one of eight weapons.
This game has got enough bells and whistles to differentiate it from other classic shooters and it wound up on a system without too many entries in that genre, but it still ends up feeling a little generic and somewhat dull.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
Super Earth Defense Force, despite its flaws and dull moments, is still an enjoyable game with its pick-up-and-play controls. It needs little explanation. Actually I was surprised to learn that it has a storyline. I guess it’s included in the manual, which I never owned since I bought the cartridge second-hand. You can tell that some of the backgrounds are supposed to suggest a kind of narrative but that’s really peripheral. You’re not here for a moving oratory on the philosophy of the soul writ by Shakespeare. You’re here because you wanna blow crap up, in a spaceship, with homing missiles. Why are you blowing this particular crap up? …Get out.
Aggregated Score: 5.8
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