Although the era of SNES adventure games largely passed me by, I've poured a ton of hours into Pokemon, along with a number of GameCube era adventure RPGs. So, the spirit of what Citizens of Earth tries to capture isn't completely lost on me. While the adventure is certainly creative and wacky, it meanders a bit too much to earn a second term in office.
As the Vice President of the World, you're having a rough first day. You awake to find protesters outside your house, everyone seems to have gone violently mad, and you later find out that there's a full-on alien invasion happening. Like any good politician, you step up to the leadership role by making everyone else do the work for you. Starting with your family, you head out into the world and gather together an army of constituents comprised of all walks of life, including a Teacher, a Homeless Guy, and your Mom. There are 40 characters in total, each with unique traits and special abilities that match their caricature. For example, your Mom verbally scolds enemies and lowers their defenses.
Together, you battle against imaginative foes like the Bubblebee (a bee inside a bubble) and Telefawn (a deer with a phone handset on its antlers). The world is a mess, and only the VP and his group of dedicated citizens can save the day.
On the Campaign Trail
I'm generally a fan of retro-style games, and a big part of Citizens of Earth has a certain appeal that's part political satire and part old-school adventure. Its cartoon graphics, MIDI music background, and humor keeps things light. The game's biggest charm is in how self-aware it can sometimes be. For example, one person remarks on how strange and creepy it is that you would just march into his home with a bunch of people and start poking around. There's even a mustached Italian Plumber for you to recruit.
Combat, similar to games like Pokemon, involves taking turns to select moves and then watching them play out. The VP can select up to three followers, and together, they explore a world filled with random encounters. Characters that in the party level up and unlock new, more powerful, abilities. If your team make-up is ill prepared for the enemies you face, there is an option to select a new team of citizens and restart the fight, which is one of my favorite features of the game. Although there is a great selection of characters available, allowing for a myriad of combinations, I can't say I felt particularly attached to any of them.
Apart from avoiding wandering characters as though they have leprosy, and solving an area's problem so that the threats are removed from the streets, there's no way to avoid combat. There's always a low chance of escape, even when your team clearly outclasses whatever you're fighting, so a lot of time is spent bashing on enemies you might otherwise want to ignore. The player has the ability to send his team in to ambush enemies from behind and finish them off in one shot, but the aim isn't always accurate and the move doesn't always work the way it should.
About a third of the game is spent recruiting allies, which requires doing special favors for them. Some are straightforward, like performing a task or beating a mini-game; some are vague, like figuring out how to put on a muscular pose to impress the Weightlifter; some are irritatingly random, like running into the Weather Reporter in the rain. The game's charm starts to wear a little thin in the latter categories, especially since you clearly need specific talents to progress through the story, which ties into the game's bigger issue.
Citizens of Earth features a nice sized world to explore with a lot to do. My main problem with it is that there isn't always a lot of guidance to navigate it. Maps aren't always available, and when they are, there's no way to switch across different ones to see where you want to go, or view the world as a whole. The only way to bring up a map of an area is to be in an area. So, when it gets annoying when a character says, "meet me in Appleton," and you have no way of finding out where it is until you happen upon it.
Key locations aren't marked on the map, and oftentimes don't have signs. For example, the gym, the soda shop, and hotels are located in plain non-descript buildings that you have to happen upon and remember. While there are a number of creative and fun ways to get around quickly, most notably by walking through a dream or digitally through the Internet, they can drop you off in strange places that you might not be ready for. The Internet requires a lot of guesswork, since sections are blacked, and some paths lead to infinite loops.
The problem is most apparent in places like the Hedge Maze, where you have to navigate without a map and end up in places almost by accident. A huge part of the game is spent wandering around in circles, trying to figure out what to do next - which I suppose is an authentic part of the retro SNES experience, but not one that I appreciate after walking around aimlessly for hours at a time. Ramps aren't always clear, so it can be easy to get stuck in an area. Furthermore, Citizen talents that involve shopping for items can only be activated when you return to the person's store, which takes away some of the fun in acquiring them.
Leading the World
Although Citizens of Earth has its fun moments, I can't say that any part had me rolling in laughter. Its cast of characters may be cute and entertaining for a while, but relying on stereotypes and characters makes them forgettable. As a consequence, the entire game ends up being forgettable. The game's retro-style charm and humor wears out after hours of aimless walking, coupled with a fast-travel system that might lead a remote, unhelpful, location.
Citizens of Earth feels like a game that's meant to be played with a walkthrough guide nearby, which is also reminiscent of a classic RPG-adventure experience, but not one that is necessarily enjoyable all the time. That being said, Citizens of Earth does provide an fun retro experience. It just has trouble keeping things interesting during the long trip around the world.
This review is based on a PC Steam code provided by the publisher. Citizens of Earth is available digitally for PC, PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo Wii U, and 3DS for $14.99. The game is rated E 10+.
Citizens of Earth
- Cute retro style
- Large selection of characters
- Nice sense of humor
- A lot of time spent wandering aimlessly
- Generally forgettable characters and story
- Key locations aren't marked
Steven Wong posted a new article, Citizens of Earth Review: Citizens United
I think I am gonna get this.