Review: Citizens of Earth

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John Nance Garner, the fiery Texas Democrat who served under FDR, is the guy famously credited for referring to the office of the vice president as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” In Citizens of Earth, Eden Industries’ turn-based, RPG/spitball homage to the classic ‘90s-era NES title Earthbound, being veep is a slightly more attractive proposition—both because you’re actually vice president of the whole world and, far more importantly, you’re given the power to make everyone else do all the unpleasant stuff for you.

Our, um, hero’s the classic clueless politico, the guy who sleeps in his three-piece suit, never has a gel-slicked hair out of place in his pompadour, but still lives at his mother’s house. A potential alien invasion and a host of other wacky threats — including, in a nice and amusingly ironic touch, a dark and nefarious coffee corporation — spur his boombastic ass into action.

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Luckily, the veep’s not stuck saving the world alone. Citizens flies its Earthbound satire-flag proudly: To recruit any of the game’s 40 possible citizens to your cause — and some of them, like the helicopter pilot, are absolutely critical to reaching far-flung locales and advancing the story — you’ll need to complete their specific missions first. These potential additions to your three-person party are literally everywhere, and it doesn’t take any time at all to find your mission log more overloaded than Beyonce’s Twitter feed. Some of those missions rely a little too much on just bumbling around until a solution reveals itself. In several cases, you’re asked to locate and visit a specific place and/or acquire a specific thing, without being given more than rudimentary directions or instructions. This veep doesn’t need political handlers, but he sure as hell could use a HUD and a better map.

Bumping into any of the copious enemies sliding around Citizens of Earth’s cartoony world — they might be human, they might be coffee beans — leads to turn-based combat, where your citizen-minions — maybe the muscle-bound bodybuilder, maybe the crazy-ass cat lady or the conspiracy theorist — await your instructions while you shout fatuous and encouraging platitudes from the safety of the sidelines. On the plus side, you’ve got a great view of the Pokemon-like proceedings, where instead of moves like cut and thunder punch, your squad’s serving up character-specific things like “Guilt Trip,” “Binary Code,” and “Withering Remark.” Exploring the array of comical attacks, buffs and health-recovery moves is often hilarious, and switching out your citizens to maintain optimal matchups is strategic and rewarding.

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Which is a good thing, because you’re going to be exploring and swapping citizens a lot. When I say enemies are copious, I mean seriously copious. The number of enemies floating around the screen just waiting to take you on often makes world navigation feel a little like you’ve just received the opening kickoff and you’re expected to weave through the Seattle Seahawks special teams squad to get to point B. Did I mention that enemies reset every time you leave and re-enter a building or area? The ability to insta-kill certain types of enemies once you’ve levelled way past them is a nice offset, but it’s also finicky. We all know politics can be a grind, but it shouldn’t have to be this much of a grind.

Even when the combat becomes a little tiresome and the wayfinding a little irritating, Citizens of Earth still has enough going in the humor and gameplay departments to make it worth soldiering on to see what happens next. As retro-RPGs go, it won’t win many vice-presidential primaries, but it sure nails the concept of modern political theater.

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Pros:
+ Script’s attempts at satire and humor mostly hit the target
+ Wide range of recruitable characters with seriously oddball moves
+ Retro look is appealing

Cons:
– Map is often hard to navigate, making certain key side quests and missions difficult to access/complete
– Copious amounts of enemies mean trudging through lots of repetitive combat

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC, PS Vita, 3DS, and Wii U
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Eden Industries
Release Date: 1/20/2015
Genre: Turn-based RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.