I Was a Teenage Exocolonist (2022)
Developer: Northway Games
Being back home from holidays has given me a lot of time to relax at home and play games on my couch again. And oof, I have been deep in a gaming hole with this game like I haven't been in a long time. Only a few hours into playing I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, I couldn't put the controller down. Despite this Finji-published game having released way back in August, I had somehow missed any news about it until recently. I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is a deckbuilder life sim about a teenager growing up in human colony in a faraway planet and making choices about themselves, their romance, their career, and even the fate of the colony. I Was a Teenage Exocolonist has an incredible amount of branching narratives, with memorable characters and a story so captivating that you'll want to play it multiple times.
When you start your journey on I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, you're a child passenger on the Stratospheric, Earth's first colony ship. You don't get a character creator - there is a specific character you play as. However, you get to decide some important things about this character - their name, their pronouns, and their gender presentation. Sure, there's only 3 sets of pronouns and 3 different options of gender presentation you can choose between, but that's still pretty decent compared to other games. Also, it's especially cool how you could change those two qualities any time during your character's story and the dialogue and/or your character's look will change accordingly. You also get to choose your character's "genetic enhancement", which apparently all children born on the Stratospheric are assigned, as well your best friend from among the other 6 kids. The Stratospheric reaches its a destination, a wormhole at the edge of the solar system, and makes a crash landing on a planet that the humans decide to call Vertumna. As a 10-year-old on a new exocolony, your story will be about the next 10 years of your life on this planet. You'll choose what you want to do each new month: go to class, play sports, help your parents out in the greenhouses, or just relax if you want. The tasks you do, as well as the relationships your make, will determine your character's life and skills. The colony will face many challenges and you can choose what you will do, as a teenager, to help the colony.
I found myself really loving the art style of this game the more I played it. The overworld, where you move about the colony and the outside to explore and talk to people, has some really interesting environment art that looks appropriately alien-like and unusual. The characters in this overworld are simplified and chibi-like, and don't change much even as time progresses. However, it's the art that's used in dialogue and story portions that really shines. The character art is incredible, and despite being still images there's so much variation in the art that you get when you uncover different parts of the story. Occasionally, you get a special story bit that grants you a gorgeous full-screen painting of what's happening, and you can collect these in the game's menu. The soundtrack for I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is also full of bangers and stands alone outside the game. It's actually a collection of songs by different artists, many well-known from other indie game projects, such as A Shell in the Pit and scntfc. The main theme of this game was endlessly stuck in my head for the days I was playing the game, as it always plays on the title screen and well, it just goes so hard. Like the rest of the soundtrack, it has an electronic futuristic feel to it but also feels very emotional and evocative.
I Was a Teenage Excolonist has an dynamic cast of characters, from your age-group peers to the adults in the colony. Out of the main characters that you can increase your friendship with, there were some who I loved and some who I had more complicated feelings about. However, I can say that all of them felt like real teenagers, growing up and changing due to the circumstances of their life. Some were my friends as kids but we drifted apart when they started to change, and vice-versa. It's honestly hard to decide who to romance, not only because there's a lot of great characters but because they all have flaws that come up at different times in their years. I was sort of going back and forth, until things changed in year 14 and I met Rex. Rex is a perfect example of how this game had such fun, interesting character design - I love his outfits and style. The teenage version of me who used to draw wolf ears and a tail on humans would've absolutely been obsessed with this character, so I had to go that route. Although not everything that you learn about the colony's "philosophy" makes sense as an ideal to live by, this futuristic society has a lot excellent ideologies that makes you wish it was a real in our world. Everyone's gender identity is treated with respect and isn't questioned, children are raised by an entire community rather than by a single set of parents, most everyone has a vegan diet, and there's no real "currency" needed to function in society (well, that was the plan at least).
There's so much to talk about in this game, but I should probably make sure to bring up the main gameplay mechanic. Pretty much every task you do or every challenge you take can increase your skills points, and the amount you gain is determined by a card game, where you'll use cards of three different colors (assigned to types of skills) and different point values. These cards are actually given to you during the story parts, so making choices often determines what cards you'll be given. During these card games, your goal is to reach a certain amount of points, and you'll do so by playing the cards in strategic ways, making pairs and straights to build up more points. Generally, unless you turn on "hard mode", most of of these card games were too difficult. You can occasionally come upon a challenge that you weren't quite prepared for and the point requirement is too high to reach, so you'll just have to give up. The game is very flexible about how it can be played, though, and you can even choose to turn off the card challenges if you'd like to speed through faster.
At some point I was so obsessed with I Was a Teenage Exocolonist that I was having dreams about it. I almost never play games twice, even when I know there's different outcomes, but I did play through the full story twice (and started a third game briefly), so that's really saying something. At first I found myself almost frustrated with the overwhelming amount of paths I could take, but my during my second playthrough I was able to move much faster since I knew what I wanted to change this time around. Just a warning - if you're someone who needs to complete everything in a game, you may end up playing through the whole story many times. I do wish that the game had been a little more intuitive about telling you what to do to achieve a certain outcome, so that I wouldn't have had to look up multiple things on a guide during my second playthrough.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was probably one of my favorite games of 2022, and it's unlike anything else I've played. I don't tend to play a lot of deckbuilders, but this one felt like a good introduction to genre. I highly recommend this game, I feel that it's one that pretty much anyone could get into. The difficulty can be adjusted to fit your needs, and although the multiple paths can be overwhelming, the story will resonate with you regardless of how you choose to play.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is available on PC, Switch, PS4, and PS5
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Last Played: 1/24/2023
Playtime: 31 hrs