I am unsure if you can actually finish Atomicrops. The rogue-like elements to the playstyle suggest that maybe not, but I am unsure because I am struggling to get past the first year. To make matters worse, the year is split into 3 days per season, so I am literally having difficulties getting through twelve day and night cycles. The strains of “Git Gud” in the far distance aside, I think the difficulty right from the start is indicative of a larger problem that Atomicrops has. It really doesn’t explain itself very well.
Set in what I can only assume is a post-nuclear hell-scape, you are a humble farmer tasked with trying to eke out an existence and provide sustenance to a community of people. Each morning you will be sent out to the field to till, plant and water the soil to grow crops. Things move quickly in Atomicrops with a day cycle being a matter of minutes. Fortunately, your functions for farming are kept to the bare minimum, with a significant area of effect for all your actions. First, you will need to clear the soil of any weeds or debris, then till it, plant a seed and finally water it. It seems strange at first to be able to do all this from a reasonable distance away, but you will be thankful for it when the mutated creatures come to chomp on your crops. At this point, Atomicrops changes, for better or worse, from a Stardew Valley like farming simulator to a twin-stick shooter strongly reminiscent of games like Nuclear Throne.
I don’t like it. It’s not that I am against the combat exactly; to be perfectly honest I find it quite enjoyable, rather it is the rogue-like aspect that is causing me more frustration than anything else.
I like farming simulators a great deal. I like the satisfaction of the change that occurs over time, your crops growing and the landscape changing as you cultivate it to plant more and more. I enjoy the thrill of discovery at learning new things in the game. Atomicrops has this potential, in spades (no I am not sorry), and what is more it is wrapped up in some lovely humorous visuals. The fact that all of that is just wiped out when I die doesn’t fill me with any motivation to try again.
I kept thinking of Don’t Starve when I was playing. Although not a farming simulator, the brutal survival and rogue-like aspects are quite similar. However, in Don’t Starve it quickly provides you with information about how you can survive for longer – you’ll need to eat and drink water to recover any lost health. In Atomicrops if you do lose one of your limited lives, you will have to wait until the day and night cycle is over and you are returned to the safety of the community to replenish it. Providing, of course, you have the right currency to be able to purchase one.
Your “currencies” are what look like cashew nuts and roses. You are awarded cashew nuts based on the crops you have managed to successfully grow and harvest, roses are a little harder to come by. Cashew nuts can be used to purchase a number of things, from a bridge-building kit to expand your territory to a range of weapons or seeds. Roses are a little more difficult to come by. They are available in the world, but you will have to venture away from your garden into one of the other lands that surround it. There you’ll need to locate seeds, the rose being one of them. These areas outside your garden are full of enemies, and in order to find seeds as well as equipment and power-ups that will help you manage your garden better, you will need to engage in combat. Successfully do that and you will be able to claim whatever they were protecting and bring it back to your land. If you were lucky enough to find rose seeds you can plant them and hope that they will grow in time before you are transported back to the community.
The roses are a premium currency. After each turn, you are only able to replenish one life with one rose. Alternatively, save up some roses and you can start to woo some of the community inhabitants who in turn will provide you with some buffs and protections for whilst you are in your garden. It’s an amusing system, I just wish that roses and your health weren’t so inextricably linked, or that it was such a measly way of recovering any lost lives. More times than I care to remember I had to go back into the new day and night cycle down two or three lives as I hadn’t been fortunate enough to grow any roses the day before. As such, each run became less and less exciting and more and more frustrating as I lost a life from being hit by a stray projectile until all my lives were gone and I had to start over.
Frustration at the permadeath aspect aside, there is lots that I really like in Atomicrops. There is a lot of good humour in the systems. Some of the upgrades you can locate in the world make me chuckle. You can employ a cow that will help you water your crops, giving you more time to focus on keeping the enemies at bay. There’s a tractor you can deploy that will help you to keep weeds at bay and a range of pigeons that can give you an increased chance of a higher value seed, or increase the range of a rain cloud. I have even found a turret that I could plant that provided me with additional support during the night-time raids whenever an enemy got too close to my crops.
I have been frustrated by Atomicrops. I really want to like it, but I don’t. Rogue-likes are always an exercise in luck as much as they are skill, but something about the farming simulator, and lives being specifically tied to a very specific crop that you can only get by placing yourself in grave danger feels like a layer of difficulty and luck that goes a little too far. At least for me. Perhaps I am just being grumpy because I am finding surviving for longer than a few seasons incredibly tough and I am prepared to acknowledge that, as there’s plenty of other things in Atomicrops that I think are lots of fun. I just haven’t been able to enjoy them.
Fast-paced and frenetic
Filled with humour
Feels a little too difficult
Perma-death feels at odds with idea of growing things
Day and night goes a tad too quick