I’ve never felt that a game hates me quite as much as Atomicrops.
Combining twin-stick shooting with farming, Atomicrops sees you tend to a small patch of growing fruits and veggies. It’s no normal farm though, and each night it’s under attack by increasingly fiendish crop-hungry foes. So while you’re sowing seeds and watering your crops, you also need to shoot enemies. It ain’t easy.
It’s so difficult, in fact, that I’ve been unable to see past the first few days of the game. Atomicrops is a Rogue-like, you see. So should you succumb to a shower of enemy projectiles, it’s truly game over. Back to the beginning you go. You need to be moderately successful before you earn even a single permanent upgrade, so, for the most part, any sense of achievement you’ve earned on your farm so far is snuffed out. Stomped all over. The game laughs at you, tells you tough shit, and leers at you ’til you try again.
The core gameplay loop of Atomicrops is incredibly addictive. Starting off with just a handful of seeds, you’ll need to explore nearby areas and defeat enemy camps to find more. As you explore, you’ll also find upgrades for your farm, and power-up skills to help you along the way. There are cows that can water your crops, and pigs that can dig up soil for you. You’ll also find pick-axes that let you expand your farm plot, which starts out at just nine squares in size. After just a couple of in-game days, you’ll already see your little farm start to flourish.
You can’t always be off adventuring, though. Even with farm animals to help you out, you need to be around to sow your seeds, collect your crops and protect them when night comes. Crops and plants equal currency in Atomicrops, and if you want any chance of succeeding, you’ll need plenty of it. At the end of every day in-game, you’ll be helicoptered to town, where your profits can be exchanged for new weaponry, seeds and other goodies. Roses – which you’ll grow on your farm alongside other plants – are a currency all of their own. These can be used to buy health refills as well as to ‘romance’ villagers in town. By giving them roses, they’ll offer you various helpful tools. Give them enough, and you can eventually marry them, having them help you out on your farm. Though I wouldn’t know; I’ve never got that far.
The game’s surprisingly deep, with mechanics you’re just expected to figure out for yourself. Plant four matching seeds in a 2×2 square for instance, and apply enough fertiliser, and your seeds will mutate into a mega-crop, rewarding you with more money once it’s sold. It’s hard to take time to organise your seeds though. Initially, you don’t have much space to play with. And even in the daytime, before the real enemies come out to play, you still have to deal with pesky foes firing projectiles at you. Spend too much time dallying over what seeds to put where, and you’ll likely find yourself in the firing line.
That’s Atomicrops‘ biggest problem: it’s relentless to a fault. The day/night cycle is very quick; each day lasts only a few minutes, which doesn’t give you a great deal of time to plant your seeds. Come night time, if you’ve still got crops growing, you can’t leave them unattended. And if your weapon isn’t good enough, prepare to say goodbye to some of them; it can be hard to keep enemies at bay, especially after the first few days in-game.
Finding new upgrades for your farm feels like a win, but it’s short-lived. Even when you feel like you’re succeeding, you’re only ever one small mistake away from defeat. You start out with six hearts in the game, and refills are hard to come by. Very occasionally, enemies drop them, but it’s rare. And you’ll need roses to be able to buy refills back in town – and even then, you’re limited to one a day. Even when you’re being as careful as possible, it’s very easy to be caught off-guard by a rogue projectile. Bam: game over. All your hard work down the drain.
I get it; a permanent game over is the whole point of a Rogue-like. But Atomicrops feels harsher than most. If there was some meaningful progression between games right from the start, it might be a little easier to stomach; but when it’s literally back to square one every time, it becomes a real drag. As much as I’d like to see my Atomicrops farm thrive, after a couple of dozen or so defeats, it’s hard to muster the motivation to jump back in. It’s all going to end in tears anyway; I might as well save myself the heartbreak.
Atomicrops is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC