If there's one thing we know about Citizens of Earth, it's that someone at developer Eden Industries is a big fan of classic SNES RPG, Earthbound (or Mother as its known in Japan). In fact Citizens of Earth could be considered one massive homage to the classic SNES role playing game. The visuals, world, party formation, battle system and even the ability to fight the police all evoke memories of the (somewhat bizarre) 1990's classic. But does this make Citizens of Earth a must play title, or just a pale imitation? Well the truth is that it actually lies somewhere in-between.
In Citizens of Earth, you take the role of the Vice President of the World or 'VP' for short. Having just won the election you're back in your home town for some much needed rest and relaxation. However, as is often the way, the celebrations don't last too long, as before you know it, you find yourself drawn into a mystery that could lead to the downfall of the entire human race! Who said being the VP was easy? With a world to save, it's up to you to explore a very colourful and crazy world, filled with equally colourful and crazy denizens.
The first thing you'll notice about Citizens of Earth is that this is a game that doesn't take itself seriously. There's a strong emphasis on fun and goofy humour here (both visually in character design and even in the game's upbeat soundtrack), with a dash of political and satirical humour thrown in for good measure. For instance, you'll find yourself visiting locations like Moonbucks (an obvious parody of Costa coffee).
Full voice acting goes a long way in helping to deliver this humour. Comedic phrases and puns had us chuckling and left us playing with a smile. The characters and enemies you encounter are equally kooky. Right from the get go you'll face off against rival political leaders, sentient inanimate objects and all manner of odd wildlife; like glass bears filled with honey or 'cat'cuses (a cat cactus). It's literally insane and the game knows it.
You won't be alone in the fight however. The 'Citizens' of Citizens of Earth are the unadoring public you'll meet along the way on your quest to vanquish evil. Playing an extremely important role, the proles actually become your cannon fodder during battles, doing all the hard work for you, while the VP watches from the wings - he's far too important to get his own hands dirty of course. With an array of weird and wonderful citizens going to battle to lay the smack down on your behalf - whether its the local cat-lady, really weird school mascot or your wheel-chair bound super-fan - this is a game that just keeps getting weirder.
All in all there are around 40 diverse & comical characters that you can recruit to fight by your side. Each fights in vastly different ways, aided by signature attacks that match their persona. For example, your Brother is a all out brawler using brotherly-wrestling based physical attacks, while a character like the Baker can use fire based attacks, or even bake tasty treats to heal your party members. Every citizen also has a special ability they can use outside of battle to give you the edge on your competition. The school mascot can change to difficulty of battles while the school teacher lets non party characters gain experience for in-game bucks.
The selection of characters on offer certainly encourages exploration, as you'll have to find each citizen in the over-world before you can recruit them to your cause. However, it's not quite as simple as it sounds, as recruiting each citizen requires a you to undertake a side quest - something as simple as breaking them out of jail by collecting evidence, or tracking down and defeating the lost 'spirit' of a character in battle.
Each quest is pretty varied and will have you travelling far and wide. However this is also where the game gets a little frustrating, as both main and side mission instructions can often be extremely vague, giving you no real indication of just what you need to do and where you should be going. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if navigation were simpler, but unfortunately you'll find that the world map is just as vague - so much so, it can be hard to even figure out where you are on the map. It's all very confusing and can turn a simple hour long play session into one which lasts several hours.
Thankfully, there is a saving grace - unlike other traditional role playing games, there are no random encounters - instead, all your enemies can be seen while navigating the over-world. This means that if you're smart/have fast enough reactions, battles can be completely avoided. Enemies will even start to avoid you should you complete the area's main mission. Great if you want to avoid fighting against low level enemies.
As we mentioned previously the battle system has practically been lifted straight from Earthbound. A traditional a turn based battle system with the camera behind your heroes, its not a deep system by any means, using similar status effects and the standard rock, paper, scissors style damage multiplier system that many other RPGs use. However, one of the most original things here is Citizens of Earth's 'Energy' system. Using standard attacks will let you build up energy orbs, which in turn allow you to use stronger and more varied special attacks. Making battles more thoughtful affairs than just hammering A until everything's dead, it's a really nice touch that adds an extra layer of strategy.
However, the game does get bogged down by a few issues. Long loading times, a myriad of odd bugs and the occasional game crash all add up to break your immersion. Loading times are a consistent problem, appearing between every area and even when entering/exiting buildings. Luckily, bugs and game crashes are much less prevalent, but players still sometimes disappear in battle completely, menu options become inactive or the game freezes on a black screen, requiring us to hard reset the console in order to progress (although this may just be a Wii U issue). This is where the game's auto-save feature comes in handy, as you can usually reload from right before the issue occurred.
In all, Citizens of Earth manages to be a fun and quirky offering from Eden Industries, and a pretty unique game in what has been a year of meagre offerings on the Wii U so far. If you're a fan of the Earthbound series, or like a classic RPG, you're bound to get a kick out of the references and familiar gameplay experience, while appreciating the new ideas and mechanics the game brings to the table. However, if you haven't played Earthbound then give Citizens of Earth a miss - instead go to the Wii U eShop, purchase Earthbound and enjoy. Then come back and play Citizens of Earth when they patch out the bugs.