Ah, to live the simple life. To kick back on the porch, watching the animals roam and crops come into season. That’s the dream, isn’t it? To farm, marry, and… kill?
Whoa, hold your apocalyptic horses, cowboy – this ain’t no Stardrew Valley. And despite its farming simulator marketing pitch, Atomicrops is an action-packed roguelike more focused on pushing up daisies than watering them. But if that’s your bag, this metamorphic mashup could have you buzzing harder than one of its mutated bumble bees.
Just like in Stardew Valley, Moonlighter, and countless other examples, Atomicrops begins with inheritance. Unfortunately, the nuclear apocalypse occurs after this twist of good fortune, and although your farm survives, providing you with the means to support a struggling community of townspeople, the world has become infested with radioactive critters seeking your valuable bounty. Truthfully, this is all you’re going to get in terms of story. There are milestones that can be reached within each run that allow some progression, and relationships can develop – you can, for example, marry a grasshopper which is undeniably amazing – but don’t expect anything on the scale of Stardew. Atomicrops is light on the life-sim elements, and that’s a missed opportunity.
Each game consists of 5 seasons, with each season consisting of 3 days in which you must work as best you can to grow and harvest as many crops as possible. At the start of the day, you’ll have just 2 minutes to head out into the wilderness to acquire seeds, kill enemies, and grab any upgrades you can, such as well-armed scarecrows or helpful animal friends. You’ve then got to get back, till your soil, plant your seeds, and water them to fully grown, fabulously animated atomic crops, and harvest them. Once your two minutes are up, you’ll face three waves of increasingly difficult enemies followed by a spectacular boss. If you survive until morning, you’ll be airlifted back to town to cash in your harvest, allowing you to buy weapon upgrades, refill health, fix in-game bridges for exploration, and develop your emotional interests before heading back onto the field of screams once more.
If this all sounds like it’s too much for you, then it probably is. Atomicrops is a punishing perma-death roguelike that scales pretty highly on the ‘WTF’ factor. Although never strictly unfair, health is hard to come by and extremely easy to lose, resulting in frustrating runs that are over all too quickly. If you do enjoy it, you’ll be doing so because of a determination to do better and a desire to experience a nauseatingly beautiful pixel-art world that could have been lifted directly from an off-the-wall 90s cartoon, where a sinister darkness always lurks under the surface.
There are some fundamental issues with the Switch version of the game that can’t be ignored. Firstly, some performance issues mean fairly consistent dips in framerate, and a controller scheme clearly designed to provide a twin-stick shooter experience rather than a farming sim means that targeting specific crops is devilishly difficult, resulting in a less focused, less satisfying foray into agricultural adventure.
For those that enjoy a real challenge, the frantic nature of Atomicrops may be exactly what you’re looking for. It looks and sounds like a gorgeous 90s fever dream, and the twin-stick combat is precise enough to support your exploration of this interesting blend of genres – I just wish both elements had been watered equally.
Atomicrops is a challenging twin-stick shooter with light sim elements presented in beautiful, bizarre pixel-art package. Lacklustre farming controls and frame-rate drops prevent the label of greatness, but at £13.49, it’s well-priced and definitely worth your time.