Atomicrops is a farming game and a bullet-hell shooter and a Roguelike. There’s a lot going on, it is intense, and while it might silly and cartoony this is a tough nut to crack.
It works like this. You are the farmer of a small plot of land where you need to grow crops to earn money and feed a town. During the day, you plant seeds, fertilise and water them, and at night you defend them, moving and shooting like a twin-stick shooter. If you make it through to morning, a helicopter picks you up to fly you back to town.
Every third day there’s a boss fight, after which you meet the mayor of the town and receive prizes depending on how many crops you grew and therefore people you fed. These prizes make you incrementally more powerful. Then it’s back to your farm for a new season to see if you can do it all over again.
You play for as long as your one life lasts. But the days are short and the difficulty rises quickly, so it’s unlikely you’ll last past summer or autumn to begin with. Then, you try again – that’s the loop. It’s a small and short loop, but it gradually grows as you learn more.
You’ll quickly discover, for instance, you need to go out raiding in nearby enemy lands. There, you find all manner of goodies, like much-needed seeds as well as more valuable things that boost your capabilities and chances of survival.
Things like animals, because it won’t take you long to realise farming is a chore – although, to be clear, Atomicrops is nothing like a simulation. We’re squarely in arcade territory here where one button does everything – digging, tilling, sowing, harvesting, fertilising – and watering occurs automatically. And you can shoot and do all this at the same time. And you get energised when you do a lot of farming, speeding everything further still. But still, farming involves a lot of legwork and hanging around, and animals do some of these chores for you.
Cows water your crops, chickens kill weeds and lay eggs, bees speed crop growth and pigs – wonderful pigs – till your soil and randomly expand your farmable area. As expanding otherwise involves pickaxes, which break after one-square of use, pigs are enormously useful. And there are horses you mount and gallop along on after running for a short while, which saves on travel time in a big way. But the biggest overall help comes from power-ups and you can’t hope to succeed the quickly scaling difficulty without them. Throw a boss on top of a nighttime enemy invasion and it will seem like your whole screen is filled with enemies and death.
But if you have, say, a power-up which crushes weeds underfoot, and an ability that slows enemy bullets and speeds you up when weeds are killed, then the tables begin to turn. All you need do is run around on the weeds to begin slowing time like Neo in the Matrix and the impossible starts to feel possible.
This is but a glimpse of power-ups. There are bubble shields for watering plants, worm armour, personal thunderclouds and many more which boost your farming capabilities, and they all pile on top of each other so that late game you feel like a kind of farming god. And when you’re producing mega-crops with your mountains of fertiliser, you’ll make a ton of money to spend in town. Yes you can buy seeds and pickaxes and rope bridges (to get to even tougher enemy areas) but what you’ll primarily be concerned with are guns.
Guns only last a day but are a massive improvement over what you first carry – there’s even a squirrel launcher which I am particularly fond of – and you can upgrade them so that they’re firing many more projectiles for much more damage in time for the all important boss battle.
You can also spend roses in town. They’re a valuable currency. You can trade them for power-ups and better relationship status with townspeople, and even go as far as marrying them, which bestows a powerful buff and makes them your sidekick.
Throw tractors into this already heady mix, a kind of rechargeable super-weapon with powerful temporary effect, and spells, which do useful labour-saving things like filling all your empty farm slots with seeds, or making a rain cloud to water everything, and you begin to appreciate the many tools you will have at your disposal. But using them altogether at the right time while in the heat of battle is another thing.
With repeated play comes understanding and skill, and you’ll begin to develop an instinct for when to roam and when to farm, and what to look for when you’re out there. You’ll start picking power-ups which combine well together (you’re often given a choice) and shape yourself into something resembling a character build. And you’ll begin to realise things like roses can be planted together to make a bigger super-rose that produces a bigger yield. Small lessons that have you learning bit by bit.
That’s how these one-life, one-shot games work, and as you get further and further, new things unlock like extra characters and a choice of permanent buffs applied every time you play, such as needing to do fewer tasks in order to get energised, which will combine very nicely with some power-ups. You will also begin to unlock increasingly hard years to play the game on, upping the challenge from the off. And in this way, gradually, you will master the game.
I’m glad the launch version has tweaked the balance slightly in favour of the player, giving you a bit more health and replenishing it more readily, because I was banging my head against Atomicrops a bit in the version before. And it was only really that which made me hesitate in recommending it to you. But now, upon release and with some fine tuning, it sings. And a very jaunty song it is too.