Atomicrops was not what I thought it would be before going in. And that’s a good thing. I was expecting a farming sim with separate combat mechanics that would reward you with items to use in your farm; think Moonlighter with farming and you have it. This was not what I got. Instead Atomicrops delivers a brutal bullet-hell rogue-like with every design choice intentionally included as part of the overall package. While there are some issues, Atomicrops’ utter uniqueness has won me over.
It all starts out with a pretty basic tutorial, showing you how to till land, expand, grow seeds, and defend from monsters. That’s about it. The fact that this doesn’t tell you fully about the little intricacies Atomicrops offers works very well in its favour. You have to explore and figure it out, something that can be daunting in a game with challenge. The basic formula focuses on growing crops to make cashews (a great pun) that work as your currency.
This currency can be spent on numerous things which can be used to upgrade your farm, further your exploration, buy seeds or get powerful weapons. Those weapons only last a day or two depending on your character so offer an immediate yet short-lasting upgrade. This, in essence, is what makes Atomicrops’ base loop work well. You are constantly given that risk/reward system. Do you buy a gun to last another day or buy a turret to help defend your farm? Should you buy a turret or more seeds to make more cashews?
This risk/reward system also takes over the central gameplay. Atomicrops is split into four main seasons and a final boss per year. Each season consists of three days – in turn each of these consists of a day and night. At night time, enemies come to raid your farm in waves, so you have to defend it. Either that or you decide to not grow any crops at night and let them wander around. It can be a tough decision deciding to use seeds at night in case they get destroyed before you can collect them. This all plays out across a central plot of usable land that can be tilled – then crops can grow as you water them regularly. And then more land can be made available through the use of pickaxes. Pickaxes are destroyed upon use so must be bought or found regularly to upgrade the space of your farm.
The best way of doing this is by exploring the surrounding area, foregoing growing your crops in order to gain extra resources. This can be done by killing enemies who are found surrounding crates, pigeons and various different things. Once you kill all of the enemies in an area, the chest or hostage gives you something in return – the harder the enemies are, the better the loot, so you can risk losing your entire run for one good item that could help you beat the game. Within an hour or two, I had figured out which days were best to utilise for exploration purposes and which were best to farm, and which items worked best for my character. This is what makes the game so addicting. Atomicrops makes you think about the items you pick up and use, as one missed opportunity could mess up an entire run.
The same works for Atomicrops’ rose system. Here you can grow roses in your plot, before spending them to increase relationships, from stranger all the way up to marriage. This works, much like anything else in Atomicrops, as a simple stat or item difference, often teaching you to treat your relationships as ammunition. This is made even stranger by the polyamory system that allows you to marry multiple people, all working as companions; a much needed bonus to the rather hard structure of the game.
Atomicrops, like the world it’s in, is unforgiving and cruel, but ultimately it is very rewarding. Its gameplay feels like a mix of the combat of Enter the Gungeon, the control scheme of Binding of Isaac, and tower-defense elements of Plants Vs Zombies. It all starts slow like a standard twin-stick shooter, but eventually evolves to full blown bullet-hell. Unfortunately, its movement system sometimes feels at odds with the bullet-hell nature, never feeling properly precise and refusing to offer a lenient dodge mechanic.
Unfortunately, it seems that just as Atomicrops gets going, it ends. After your first year, you can play through for further ones, but none of your upgrades or relationships stay. It’s sort of like playing a game again on a hard difficulty after finishing, rather than playing on New Game+.
Atomicrops on Xbox One has a certain charm and its unique selling point is abundantly clear, but it could benefit from a few quality of life improvements and a derivation from the base gameplay. Despite this, if you are a fan of rogue-likes, bullet-hells or any of the games mentioned above, this feels like an easy recommendation.