Imagine Earth Switch review: A clever and creative city builder

Build better or destroy it all - it's up to you
Serious Bros.

When I think “choices matter” in strategy games, the kind of scenario that usually comes to mind is one where you know the consequences ahead of time — starting a war with Gandhi in Civilization and losing diplomatic ties, for instance, or defunding emergency services in Cities Skylines 2 and suddenly needing to build more graveyards. Imagine Earth from Serious Bros., a 4X game ten years in the making, treats choices a bit differently. You have to think deeply about how your actions affect the entire planet, and the result is one of the most imaginative strategy games I’ve played – if you can look past the bugs.

Imagine Earth has a straightforward premise. Earth is in shambles, and you need to build new colonies somewhere else. That sounds simple, and you might even start with high ideals and dreams of building a better civilization. They won’t last. The pressure of expansion almost inevitably pushes you toward making decisions that harm the environment, a smart and subtle way to communicate several important messages without actually saying a word. 

Imagine Earth is, thankfully, uninterested in both sides-ing environmental concerns, but it still presents them in thoughtful ways. You don’t just make mistakes and walk away, self-satisfied, thinking “industry bad.” You understand the pressures, desires for short-term gain, and the slippery slope that starts with making one questionable choice and ends with a climate in shambles. It’s a clever and underused way to use the medium of video games to get a point across, and Serious Bros. handles it deftly.

An industry menu in Imagine Earth displaying a potential building material's pros and cons
Every choice matters in Imagine Earth / Serious Bros.

You aren’t the only little entrepreneur with dreams of constructing a better world, either. Imagine Earth is as much about business management as it is building a civilization, which means you’re contending with rival corporations and the potential of losing everything. You’ll plan hostile takeovers and industrial subterfuge as much as where to build your next residential zone, which adds a welcome extra layer of tension to decision making and makes destructive options seem that much more appealing.

It’s not all about gloom and doom, though. You can strive to build a civilization that thrives alongside the natural world and develop smart, sustainable ways to use resources efficiently. The lessons there are a bit less straightforward than the cautionary ones, admittedly. It’s easy to draw real-life parallels with concepts such as seeking profit, recklessly competing with rivals, and relying too much on cattle farming. Focusing the power of the planet into a temple to encourage natural balance? Not so much.

Not that the sci-fi elements detract from Imagine Earth – far from it. They add a welcome touch of whimsy and help give Imagine Earth a stronger identity. Tech trees and research nodes in strategy games get old pretty quickly. There’s only so many ways you can phrase flavor text for things like investing in science or coming up with new building methods, but Imagine Earth’s feel fresh and interesting.

An environmental panel in Imagine Earth
There's a lot to consider with every building, even the routine ones / Serious Bros.

From research to environmental ruin,  Imagine Earth has a lot to contend with at any moment, but it handles the almost overwhelming amount of information in smart ways. Rather than just throwing you in with a handful of tutorials and hoping for the best like other 4X games do, Imagine Earth’s campaign is a fully realized series of challenges that teach you, if not every nuance of how the game works, all of the most important ones. It’s absorbing and doesn’t just feel like a chore you have to finish to reach the good stuff, although a few bugs that make navigating the UI a challenge mar the enjoyment.

And there’s plenty more good stuff aside from the campaign. Imagine Earth has several modes outside the main story, including runs against brutally smart computer opponents and challenge modes that emphasize specific facets of the game’s strategy. These side modes often come across as half-baked or conciliatory offerings for solo players when the main focus is on multiplayer, but I enjoyed these in Imagine Earth just as much as the main campaign. They give you a chance to experiment with new ideas and stretch how you think about your strategies in ways you probably wouldn’t get with the core mode.

Imagine Earth’s console bugs are an annoying hurdle to get over, but they’re likely something Serious Bros. will patch out in the coming months. Underneath the little issues is a smart and thoughtful strategy game that makes good use of the medium as a teaching tool without making it feel like a gimmick.

Version tested: Nintendo Switch

Score: 8/10

Josh Broadwell