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The best time loop game of 2022 is a teen sci-fi gem

Grow up, fall in love

A person with blue and yellow hair holding cards. In the background illustrated shadows of other people are standing in a group. Image: Northway Games/Finji
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

The spaceship carrying your friends and family goes through the wormhole, and you black out — awakening days later on a new planet, far from Earth. You’re 10, and this is your new home. It’s time for you to make the most of it.

In I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, a narrative deck-builder RPG, you’ll come of age on an alien planet. The decisions you make as you grow up from ages 10 to 20 influence how the colony survives this new frontier. Luckily you have multiple shots at guiding the colony to a better life, as a Groundhog Day mechanic lets you play through over and over with the foresight of your past lives. The story is beautifully tender, and sometimes tragic. Getting to do it all over again is a precious thrill that makes Teenage Exocolonist unforgettable. How will you help this time around? Will the adults around you believe your strange premonitions? And in your next life, how will you do things differently?

Teenage Exocolonist has a dependable rhythm. You spend each month building skills — like “biology,” “reasoning,” or “toughness” — by doing activities and talking to friends and family. The colony’s base has a classroom where you can study humanities or engineering, or maybe you’d prefer to babysit or to sneak out and go on an expedition. Because there are exactly 13 months per year, you need to spend your time wisely. Each year ends with the “glow,” a month during which alien animals are driven to attack, and their advances only become more deadly each year. You must prepare.

Doing an “activity” prompts a simple but catchy card game. Cards are dealt from your character’s living deck, and you build a hand to achieve the best poker-like score: flushes, straights, and pairs give bonuses, and there are three “suit” colors (yellow, blue, or red). Depending on decisions you make at key story moments, you’ll receive new cards in your living deck. Sneaking out earlier in the month, for example, added a yellow card to my living deck themed to my small act of bravery. (Yellow cards are emotional traits, sciences are blue, and physical skills are red.)

A card game with a hand made of cards in yellow, blue, and red from the video game I Was a Teenage Exocolonist. The highlighted card is labelled “talent show champion.” Image: Northway Games/Finji

Luckily, losing the card game doesn’t spell failure. Nearly every challenge you take on, win or lose, will reward you with excellent storytelling and new cards. Playing as a nerdy but brave girl named Solana, I even got a card for being eaten by a monster. I wanted to defend my friends, so I jumped in, but I didn’t actually have the combat skills to fight the wild beast. In this way, the game offers multiple options to advance the story, like using perception skills to sneak past an adult when my persuasion stats were too weak for me to lie to their face. At age 10, the stakes for my choices were lower, but by age 17 political tensions had escalated in my colony, pushing me to make serious decisions about the survival of the native life of the alien planet and my people’s role in it all.

Forming relationships is also a core part of the game. As Solana, I rolled my eyes at my overprotective parents, but tended Floatcows with my dad nonetheless. I worked in geoponics with my botany-loving friend Cal, and I told him fun nature facts, getting cute blue Hopeye-themed cards for my deck. We became besties, even though he often disagreed with my girlfriend, Tangent. (Hooking up with Tang got me a fun “releasing endorphins” card.) In future playthroughs, I fell for sweet Tammy who baked me a cake every year on my birthday, and I got to know Marz, the outgoing friend who was always prepared with a plan.

A young boy lays on the soft ground, looking at the stars, in a screenshot from I Was a Teenage Exocolonist. The game gives you interaction options including sharing music, enjoying the night sky, or holding hands. Image: Northway Games/Finji

The game’s portrayal of intimacy is impressively nuanced, from hookups to dating. There is both amorous and platonic love. At a high enough friendship level, any of the characters around your age — regardless of gender — can be romanced, with some interested in polyamorous relationships. Darker storylines exist too, like one about a friend in an abusive relationship (which you can, and honestly should, break up). This spectrum of experience is core to Teenage Exocolonist. When you create your character, instead of dictating gender on a binary, a slider allows you to select a point on a spectrum — and a further menu lets you choose your pronouns with more specificity. Your character’s gender expression can be changed at any point in the game, and it doesn’t affect who you can romance.

Teenage Exocolonist rounds out to a moving, challenging coming-of-age story with genuine stakes and exceptional replayability. If you don’t like the way things went — and in early playthroughs, you probably won’t — there’s always your next life. There are more friends to be made, more crises to avert. With 30 potential endings, the options abound.

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was released on Aug. 25 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC via Steam using a download code provided by Northway Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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