I Was a Teenage Exocolonist Review: Angst New World
Every so often, you finish one of those games. You know the kind I’m talking about — the ones that make you feel like staring wistfully out a window, your mind heavy with all that has happened. The ones where you feel like you’ve lived many lifetimes over the course of the game. The ones that are hard to start again, but hard to put down as well, so you keep the main screen open while thinking of all the possibilities or go through the extras to milk a little more time out of the title. The ones that leave you exhausted, contemplative, and even humbled — but otherwise grateful for the experience.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was that kind of emotional journey — that spiritual experience — making it hard to put down and even harder to start this review. Developed by Northway Games and published by Finji (Night in the Woods, Chicory: A Colorful Tale), I Was a Teenage Exocolonist asks players to “spend your teenage years on an alien planet in this narrative RPG with card-based battles; explore, grow up, and fall in love.” With a scintillating story, an interesting deck-building mechanic, and a slew of different endings set on a beautiful, yet dangerous new world, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist explores space, ancient civilizations, and adolescence.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist has players taking on the role of one of the children born onboard the Stratosphere, the Earth’s first colony ship, destined to become one of the founding members of the planet Vertumna’s first colony. After a brief character customization segment that allows players to choose their gender and phenotype (both on a spectrum of 5 with male on one end and female on the other end with non-binary in between — to be changed at any time), their name, and an “augment,” players begin their pre-colony life with their loving parents, their gaggle of friends, and the countless other colonists aboard the Stratosphere.
Of course, you’re the main character. You’re different. Special, even. This is exemplified by your uncanny ability to occasionally see into the future, either through dreams or through extreme déjà vu. Although it doesn’t make sense to you at first (and trying to explain it to others often has unwanted consequences), you learn to live with it. It’s like a second augment or a superpower, really. And who knows, maybe it’ll come more in handy in another life. But for now, you’re 10 years old, taking your first steps off the spaceship you were born in and into a brand new world where no human — let alone child — has ever gone before.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is overwhelmingly a narrative-driven visual novel where choices matter, but it’s also a deck-builder and survival game that actually allows your character to wander around on screen in your colony and surrounding biomes. Players will need to spend 13 months spread across 5 dramatically distinct seasons roaming around the colony, talking to friends and family, choosing activities to focus on, and gaining valuable skills. Players can increase their relationship status with their friends by giving them gifts and choosing mutually-enjoyed activities, as well as “passing” checks that will benefit both parties. After choosing an activity for the month, an event happens, a choice will need to be made, and the month (turn) ends. After 13 months, a year is up, the main character turns a year older, and the cycle renews. Can you create a picture-perfect utopia on this brand new world?
As previously mentioned, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is a survival game, meaning that there will be plenty of instances where things take a turn for the worse. While this can mean making some terrible choices (like charging headfirst into danger), this usually means the 13th month — Glow — went from a time of gorgeous healing to a tumultuous bloodbath. At the beginning of the game, it’s hard to envision what a literal child could do to defend the colony from things that go bump in the night, but as time (and lifetimes) go on, it’s clear that you just might be the key to the survival of your entire kind after all.
The way I Was a Teenage Exocolonist allows players to participate in these choices is thought a sort of deck-building, which is less deck-building and more a card game. Decisions made throughout the game — either through discussions, exploration, or otherwise — will yield cards of varying color, numerical value, and/or effects, which incrementally grow the players’ decks. Once confronted with a challenge or activity, players will be able to use these cards to reach one simple goal: hit a specific number. At first, it’s a bit tricky due to low value cards, but as time goes on, a stronger deck will mean clearing challenges is a literal breeze.
When it comes to the storyline, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist absolutely shines. It’s a game that utterly sucks you in right from the get-go, a beautiful world with descriptive yet succint writing to emphasize its features and inhabitants. Just when you start to get comfortable, the colony experiences a hardship that feels impossible to bounce back from, be it a famine, an attack, an accident, or something else entirely. There was one night that I legitimately could not put the game down until I completed it, staying up until the sun was well into the sky to finally receive one of dozens of endings (and therefore relief).
Despite my bleary-eyed state, that ending wasn’t enough for me. With everything that I had learned, I knew I could try again and use the knowledge I accumulated from my first run to save my friends and family — literally. Remember what I said about that future-sight ability? Turns out it’s less a future-sight thing and more an ability to peek inside alternate universes. In some, you were able to prevent danger at every turn; others… well, others weren’t so fortunate. But I was going to try my damndest to make sure my second run was as perfect as it could be — even if it took another sleepless night to make it happen.
I really have so few complaints for I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, a visual novel set in a far-flung world dealing with mature themes seen through the eyes of a maturing adolescent. Each character grows in every way — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and, yes, physically — over the years, their dreams and desires sometimes taking them in the opposite direction of the main character or the colony as a whole. And as far as the dating simulator part is concerned, I genuinely enjoyed how “imperfect” their relationships could be; the second ending I got was bittersweet, but it wouldn’t have made sense any other way. I grew to love these characters for who they were as people, and I wanted the best endings for them — even if that meant they were no longer present in my life in the same way they had been.
As for those few complaints, they mostly pertain to the UI. It was a little confusing to maneuver around and get the information I needed when I needed it, and so much of said information isn’t very forthcoming. I think this has more to do with the Switch version instead of the PC version — in fact, had I played this on my PC, I could see this earning a perfect score. So if the UI is a sticking point for you, definitely consider playing this one on PC; however, if the Switch is the only thing you have, please just play it that way. As the famous saying goes, it’s better to play I Was a Teenage Exocolonist on the Switch then to not have played it at all.
Games like I Was a Teenage Exocolonist are few and far between. The aesthetics are stunning, featuring eye-popping colors and gorgeous music. The story is intense, keeping you on the edge of your seat for hours on end. And the replayability factor is massive, with at least two playthroughs required for optimal understanding of the world and its inhabitants. I fell in love with every last character, their strengths and flaws often making them endearing — or, in the very least, human. If you want to live a multitude of lifetimes exploring a whole new world each and every time, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist invites you to become part of theirs.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS4, PS5, PC, Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Finji; Developer: Northway Games; Players: 1; Released: August 25, 2022; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of I Was a Teenage Exocolonist provided by the developer.