At the start, Atomicrops sees you taking over a farm and learning how to cultivate vegetables - an all too familiar scenario I thought, as my mind wandered casually back to the literal hundreds of hours I've ploughed into Stardew Valley. However, this time you're taking over a farm moments before an atomic disaster. At first, I hoped that it would be "the new Stardew", however, Atomicrops is very much its own beast (and it's a rather interesting beast at that).
There isn't much in the way of storytelling in this experience - in fact, it has much more of an arcade vibe. The idea is pretty simple: you must grow food, harvest it, and use that to make money (rose petals) to spend in town. At night you have to defend your crops from some nasty little critters, for examples rabbits. Well, they look like rabbits, but they've got bombs and guns, and there are these annoying worms, too. Rather than being a harvest sim, it's more of a roguelike shooter that utilises twin sticks to move about and shoot, and where you have to keep going with just one life. When you're over, it's over, and upon dying, you start again from scratch. It's an addictive gameplay loop, even if the start of the game is quite gruelling.
The day-night cycles are pretty short, with the majority of planting in the day and combat coming at night. At the end of the day, you head into town via helicopter to spend your hard-earned rose petals. Then, every few days, there are boss fights. Before long you work out that you have to start exploring areas outside of your farm and out in the wastelands to find power-ups such as one that slows enemy bullets, as well as animals that will help you on your farm, for example, pigs that will help by digging the soil ready for you to plant your veg. In fact, this is how the game gets less difficult over time, and you can survive longer on your one life.
So, I mentioned the difficulty earlier. Atomicrops was pretty tough at times, especially at the start. I found myself dying over and over and restarting again and again. And while it was addictive, it did make the first few hours a little frustrating. It feels almost shameful to attack a game for being too hard, and in fact, it did get easier the more I learnt the ropes and longer I played thanks to the power-ups, but the fact remains that it was too hard to get into.
Being tricky doesn't necessarily make it bad, but likewise, it doesn't make it good either. When you've found yourself playing for a while and you suddenly get caught by a huge wave of enemies followed by a boss, and you die, it can feel pretty disheartening. It didn't feel unfair, which is key, but it did feel like the challenge could have been dialled down a little.
The overall look of the game had this cutesy retro vibe, and I really enjoyed the art. The town where you spend your money is filled with talking animals from whom you can buy things and it seemed like it would be quite child-friendly on the surface, although that might be a no-no based on the challenge it offers. The sound effects also have a very arcady vibe that jived with the visuals.
If we had to compare it to anything, it would be a mini-game that lives inside Stardew Valley. It's clear that Bird Bath Games was inspired by Concerned Ape's indie classic, but rather than focus on the harvesting aspect, the developer seems to have used the concept of 'Journey of the Prairie King' as a starting block. If you've not played it, this mini-game can be found on an arcade machine in the local tavern; it's a twin-stick shooter where you fight off hordes of enemies, with a boss fight every now and then.
As a result of the action focus, it feels like the farming part of Atomicrops was the side note, and that's our biggest takeaway. If you're looking for something that has a huge farming vibe, it's worth noting that this will probably not satisfy that need. On the other hand, if you're looking for an arcade twin-stick shooter and loved Stardew's mini-game, then look no further.
Sadly, at times it was all just a little bit too frustrating, especially when I was getting started. The fact that the day and night cycles were short kept the game at a great and frantic pace, but for some the whole experience might feel a little too hollow - the lack of story, the fact that there's no real emphasis on farming, and the permadeath meant I never felt like I was making any significant progress.
That said, the fact you grow as a player and become wiser from your experiences did add an interesting and engaging element. Before long it became second nature in terms of when to farm and when to explore. Atomicrops is recommended to players who like a challenge and enjoy roguelikes and/or arcade shooters. If, on the other hand, you're after a farming game, you might want to look elsewhere.
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