I’m a big fan of life sim games. I think I must’ve played Growing Up for 50 hours or more! So when I heard about I Was A Teenage Exocolonist, a game with choices, character creation, and deep story, I couldn’t resist. And I gotta say, I was very satisfied with the experience. Take a life sim, toss in some card puzzles for challenges, and add some time travel mechanics just for kicks, and you get this intensely enjoyable and immensely immersive experience that I still can’t put down. Just be warned, if you’re the type to get absorbed by stories, this one will play with your emotions.
Story – Where No Man, Woman, or Enby Has Gone Before
In I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, you take on the role of a ten year old pioneer who’s just arrived on your new planet, Vertumna. You’re part of the first ship, the Stratospheric, to cross a wormhole at the edge of Earth’s solar system and establish a colony. The plot reveals itself piece by piece as you decide how to spend each month, and it’s super easy to miss out on story elements. In fact, you’re more or less required to play the game multiple times if you want to understand what’s going on.
The characters are great and it’s very easy to get absorbed in the story. I found myself forming quick bonds with them and was legitimately invested in their goals, dreams, and well being. I felt connected with the characters, and that may actually be a point against it if you’re a bit sensitive, because while the story is fantastical, it doesn’t hold its punches when it’s time to get dark. The game wielded my emotional connection as a weapon almost right out of the gate. This game doesn’t shy away from heavy, mature topics. Fortunately, the title screen gives a complete list of potential content warnings and some are well deserved.
Despite that, the plot is very engaging, and I really enjoyed customization options. It was quite refreshing how queer-friendly the entire game is.
Gameplay – More Fun Than a Photophonor Recital
I was a Teenage Exocolonist is broken into three basic areas: the card battle system, the decision trees, and the time travel mechanic that lets you remember certain events from previous playthroughs.
Card Battles for Fun and Profit
Most of the game play centers around challenges that occur regularly around the colony. Whether you’re deciding to study robotics, performing a magic show, or fighting a strange alien, you’ll be tasked with playing a card game to accomplish it. The game developers call this a card battle system, and it certainly does have elements of one, but it might be more accurate to call it a card puzzle.
With every event you experience in the game you gain a memory. Each of those memories is a card with a certain value and sometimes special attributes. You start with 0s and 1s, like “First steps” and “Wondering,” and as you go along, you’ll encounter new memories and thus, new cards, like “Up to your knees in mud” or “Testing on humans,” that have significantly greater values. It plays something like Poker, with pairs, flushes, and straights determining bonuses to your score. Red cards come from physical memories, like playing sportsball, yellow ones from social events like babysitting or studying humanities, and blue cards from mental events like organizing the colony’s depot. Use these cards in conjunction with bonus gear cards that augment your deck and collectible cards that are one-time use power-ups, and try to meet or beat the score for the challenge.
I found these card “battles” fun, even independent of I Was a Teenage Exocolonist’s story. It’s rewarding to draw a random collection of cards and think of a way to lay them out successfully. Nothing feels better than getting a Hard-level challenge, staring at your cards in disbelief, but then miraculously laying out a combo to snatch that last minute victory.
It wouldn’t be a life sim if you didn’t make decisions, and the decisions in I was a Teenage Exocolonist run the gamut from mediocre to world altering. The choices matter. They can be simple binary choices, do you say “hi” to Dys or tell him to go away? But often you’ll open up new options based on your stats. When you go to school or help tend the gardens, you gain points to skills like toughness, perception, creativity, combat, and so on. These open up conversation options with certain friends and new paths in crucial events.
I found out quickly that you need to pay attention to your friends as each one is unique. What makes Anemone happy might annoy Tangent (yes, these are their names.) Still, if you do pay attention and don’t click haphazardly, you should be okay. Choose carefully, though, because the decisions you make can end up meaning the difference between life and death. For you and others.
Those decisions don’t just involve what you say, but also what you do. When you choose your character’s activity for the month, you’re also directing the course of the plot. Can’t really overheard gossip in the garden if you’re spending time at the depot. This forces you to think critically about your time, and I enjoyed that, even if it did grow a little nerve-wracking as the story went on.
Here We Go Again!
Each game starts and ends with your own death. Well… near death, anyway. It’s a cycle. Once you finish a playthrough by reaching age 20, you’re greeted with an ending that summarizes the rest of your life. And then it all starts again.
But this is no “New Game +.” You don’t carry over any items or talents, just the vague memories of what happened in previous plays. Did your best friend die a senseless death last time? You might just remember that next time and be able to choose new options to prevent it. This was immensely satisfying. I spent the entirety of one play through making mental notes on what to pay attention to so I could figure out where to be and what to do to change them.
I think I would’ve appreciated the ability to bring some cards with you into your next game as they’re supposed to represent memories anyway, but I think it still works pretty well.
Audio & Graphics
The artwork in I was a Teenage Exocolonist is gorgeous. It’s a 2D, Indie-style game, meaning you’re not exactly taxing your graphics card. Still, the graphics are delightful. You move about on map, going to the various locations in the colony and beyond, all beautifully illustrated. The characters are all unique, and the the colors are vibrant. It really gives the feel of an alien world. But the real show-stealers are the event pictures. I found myself pausing just to admire the artwork.
There’s no voice over, which is a bit of a shame. Given the sheer possibility of events you can encounter, however, it’s easy to understand how complicated (and likely expensive) such an endeavor would’ve been. Still, the soundtrack is pleasant and compliments the action, though I do get caught off guard occasionally when it goes silent to emphasize the isolation of being light years away from Earth or moving through the colony in the dark.