Sequels to comedy films are rarely as funny as their originals. An entertaining concept—like The Hangover’s group of friends trying to reconstruct a lost night, or the out-of-time spy and supervillain dynamic of Austin Powers—can get you through two hours, but add on a few more and it’s hard to find enough great jokes to fill the time. When the audience isn’t kept laughing, and when the punchlines become predictable, any weaknesses in the plot or acting become glaring.
Citizens Of Earth faces a similar problem. It’s packed with entertaining jokes about politics and role-playing game tropes and offers an endless supply of groan-worthy puns, but there are too many long stretches when that humor takes a backseat. Without the laughs, it turns into a slog.
A goofy riff on the 1994 Nintendo game EarthBound, Citizens Of Earth puts you in control of the planet’s vice president as he recruits citizens to do stuff for him. His primary qualifications for being the planet’s second-in-command seem to be having a great head of hair and a winning smile, as he’s too dumb to even realize that the people with pictures of him on picket signs are protesters and not supporters.
He is willing to work hard to win the approval of everyone he meets, and you’ll gather an extensive collection of followers by doing things for the people along the way. Those tasks are far from equal. Some are fun, like the psychologist who requires you to go through a Freudian dream-therapy session where your mother gives you advice on how to resolve your conflicts with your former opponent and boss, who is also your brother. Others involve doing enough exploring or fighting. But then there are awful ones like the hipster soda-jerk who requires you to play a button-mashing game of Red Light, Green Light.
Still, recruiting as many citizens as possible is well worth the effort. Developer Eden Industries has placed in their hands many game functions that might normally wind up in a settings menu, like the ability to change the difficulty and zoom in or out on the map. Recruiting characters like the baker or teacher lets you avoid making trips to their locations when you want to buy healing items or train your characters, the latter being especially important since new recruits tend to be well below the strength of your current team.
The characters also have a deep list of weird combat abilities. Your mom hugs a teammate to heal them or guilt trips bad guys to lower their defenses, while the team mascot can cheer you on to award extra experience points from a fight. Every ability you use in a fight either restores your team’s energy or consumes it, requiring you to constantly change your attacks. Character-specific equipment provides some clever trade-offs, like beefing up the conspiracy theorist’s stats while rendering him perpetually confused to the point where he might attack your own party.
The game isn’t a big fan of hand-holding, which is good when it delivers fun surprises. To get the conspiracy theorist out of jail, for example, you need to get evidence to prove he’s right. There’s no explanation of how to find that; you just have to be lucky enough to run into an animated coffee bean that drops an item called “Evidence.”
But the lack of clear direction is a lot less tolerable when you’re wandering around, trying to figure out where you need to be while getting jumped every few seconds. Maps are crawling with monsters that resurrect far too quickly, and too many monsters have abilities that needlessly extend fights. A crab with a traffic cone for a shell that likes messing with drivers is an adorable concept, and its ability to withdraw into its shell to protect itself makes sense and would be fine if it prevented damage from a single attack. But that ability makes it invulnerable for two whole rounds, during which time it will heal what wounds you were able to inflict before it retreated. That’s a mighty power that belongs in a big boss fight, not a squabble with a random monster you’ll have to fight a dozen times.
It’s not that these fights are hard. Citizens Of Earth is a forgiving game, allowing you to swap out citizens mid-fight for more aptly skilled allies with no penalty. Even if your whole party is killed, you return to the same spot at full health. But there’s almost no way to avoid fights in some of game’s more crowded settings. Your odds of successfully running away are staggeringly low, even when you just want to flee an encounter that’s clearly too hard. If you start exploring and enter an area your crew isn’t ready for, you have to take your pointless beating and move on once you’re back from the dead.
There are a lot of good jokes in Citizens Of Earth. The creators love lampooning their inspirations and were willing to run with ridiculous puns, like deer with phones on their heads that hit you with a “roaming charge.” But like so many comedy films that become series, there’s only so much good material. Eden Industries leaned on excessive fights the way movie writers too often lean on their own tired tropes, and the result leaves us waiting on the punchlines for too long.
Citizens Of Earth
Developer: Eden Industries
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita