The recent indie renaissance which the games industry is currently enjoying has led to many retro-inspired, modern takes on the tried and tested formulas of yore. Kickstarter, and various other crowd-funding platforms has opened the floodgates to such, offering the public the chance to be part of the phenomenon, whilst indulging their stubborn sense of nostalgia. Often it works. Games get made that otherwise wouldn’t have cracked the publisher’s door, and the public get the familiar satisfaction of what once was. Other times, however, it doesn’t work, as projects often fail to reach their funding goals.
Citizens of Earth is one of these games which promised would be backers a game in a similar vein to SNES classic Earthbound - a spiritual successor, if you will. For one reason or another, it failed to reach its target. Which makes it all the more surprising that on the heels of a failed Kickstarter project, a publisher should swoop in - Atlas, no less - and make this dream a reality. I think this is rather magical. Unfortunately for Citizens of Earth, the magic stops there.
Combat is reminiscent of Earthbound
Almost everything about Citizens of Earth is confusing. Players take control of the Vice President of the World who, after just one day in after winning the election, has taken vacation time and returns home. He lives with his mother, which I thought was a bit odd, and what appears to be the vast majority of his home town has staged a protest against his tenure.
After a few conversations with mother and brother, the VP ‘recruits’ them, whereafter every battle or tedious errand that follows is either delegated or in part helped along by their input. This is perhaps a satirical swipe, albeit vague, at the workings of the political spectrum, but all it serves to do is forge a barrier between the player and the already pretty unlikeable protagonist. What’s more, the town is full of recruitable fellows who each require some variation of search and retrieve quest in order to enlist their services, which again adds further to the confusion.
The natives are restless
A ‘conspiracist’, for example - and it’s worth noting here that each and every character conforms to some sort of stereotype, I.E this character dons grubby clothing, has pimples and is clearly supposed to portray a ‘geek’ type individual - is convinced that Moonbucks coffee has mind-controlling ingredients. If you’re able to help him prove this is the case, he’ll join your entourage. A quest update informs the player that they must “find evidence.” And that’s it, no further clues. In the end, the player must do battle with three randomly roaming angry coffee beans, collecting said ‘evidence’ upon victory. Realistically, these battles could be avoided for hours, should you not engage or come across the enemy beans.
All told there are 40 of these characters to discover, giving the game a real classic Nintendo Pokemon feel, but with such uninspiring characters and forced quests, it’s hard to feel anywhere near the same levels of excitement. Once recruited, some characters do offer handy perks such as fast travelling, but again the joys pale in insignificance compared to the labour that goes into getting them onside.
It’s stereotypes galore, Mr Conspiracy Guy!
For those fans of Earthbound, you’ll be pleased to know that the turn-based combat system is as close to a carbon copy as legalities would likely allow. That said, I don’t think it’d be a controversial suggestion that combat was never Earthbound’s strongest suit. Nonetheless, Citizens of Earth does splice in the odd nuance of its own, such as energy crystals used to power more aggressive attacks. Essentially, players must engage in weaker melee in order to fill said crystals, before being afforded the chance to wreck havoc with a powerful assault.
But for any good Citizens of Earth appears to do, it’s quickly undone by something entirely frustrating. Like, after successfully completing a battle, the VP and his team gain virtually zero invincibility time, meaning swarming enemies in close proximity - of which there are regularly many - can pounce before the player is given the chance to heal. This makes battles extremely tedious, made even worse by the unrealistic levelling system - enemies go from world-beaters to walkovers between just a couple of levels, and new enemies on new screens fight with the power of end-of-game bosses.
CITIZENS OF EARTH VERDICT
All of this almost feels like a shame because visually Citizens of Earth looks fantastic. It captures the pseudo-retro SNES aesthetic it works ever so hard to achieve, ever so well. Given the lacklustreous nature of the characters, the voice acting is also surprisingly intuitive. But overall there is just too much going on. This is a game which clearly values quantity over quality and is worse off for it, leaving you with the lasting impression that this was a team over zealously trying to make up for a failed crowd funding project. There may well be a half-decent game lurking beneath the facade of tired jokes and nods to RPG tropes and stereotypes, which Citizens of Earth then insists of portraying anyway, however it’s far too caught up in its own bravado to realise it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The fun, SNES aesthetics on show.
Boring search and retrieve quests to recruit characters