You know what makes a good game great? When you can’t stop playing it. There are so many things to consider in what is ideal for a gaming experience, but the inability to put it down – not because of some incessant mechanic, but because it’s so addicting – is a hallmark for something wonderful. Roguelite games always get me this way, but it then needs to have plenty of meat to back up what is essentially the secret sauce. Enter the Gungeon, even though I recognize it’s greatness, never fully hooks me in the way that something like Binding of Isaac or 20XX can do. So when I tell you that I’ve spent every free moment in the last couple of days focused on a single game, it’s a stamp of quality unto itself. And the fact that it’s not even a game genre that I classically enjoy is even stranger, but dumping the right ingredients into the mix turns everything delicious. I am, naturally, talking about Atomicrops, the post-apocalyptic farming simulator, and I am in love with this game.
The tutorial for Atomicrops also does a decent job of letting you know what the story is and what’s happened. There’s been some kind of nuclear event that has left the world mutated, desolate and hopeless. Be that as it may, as people(?) try to reassemble their lives and make new outposts/towns, the need for food has, sadly, not magically been removed. This is where you, the farmer, come in. Agriculture is the backbone of civilization, and that’s never been more true than when civilization is trying to be rebuilt from the ground up. Your task is simple: weather the seasons, plant and harvest as best you can, and bring enough food, seeds and supplies back to the fine people of your small town to live for another year. Along the way, why not try and create some kind of normalcy in your life? After all, that mutated rabbit girl on the east side of town is acting mighty friendly, and wouldn’t it be grand to find love in this new wasteland? No? Well, the option is there, Jack, so don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Atomicrops mixes three important elements together in fine detail: farm simulator, time management delegator, and twin stick, roguelite shooter. Each season on the farm lasts approximately three days, with each day being divided into day and night. By day you can tend to your crops, explore the different biomes that exist around you, and try to scrounge up some additional crops and supplies that are currently being hoarded by the mutated wildlife that now controls a lot of the world. When night time comes, it’s important to hightail it back to your farm and protect your crops, because that’s when the worms, swarms and other hungry hordes come out, and they can and will destroy any and all crops that are in the middle of growing or, worse yet, have already bloomed and you haven’t harvested yet. It’s got a real Plants Vs. Zombies feel to it, but there is an important caveat: you don’t HAVE to defend the crops. Hell man, you don’t have to do anything except survive to the next day, and that’s something that I really, truly enjoy about this game.
You see, for so many of the simulation games (particularly ones with a focus on roleplaying in a farming/crafting setting), it’s next to impossible to progress within the game unless you’re willing to sit down and really dedicate time to expanding your crops, rotating locations, putting in the time to till and water and fertilize and all that jazz, and it can be incredibly mundane and time consuming: I don’t find it relaxing or engaging like so many people do. With Atomicrops, you can seriously go a full year without planting a damn thing as long as you’re doing a full on exploration approach. Farmers will NEED to get away from their primary planting grounds in order to forage for additional supplies and items: you simply won’t survive past spring with just the potato seeds that the game gives you at the start. Once you get out into the wilderness, you can find so much to assist you in your farm and, honestly, completely make your farm redundant. You can find fully grown berries and fruit that will appease your basic income setting (everything you harvest is worth a certain amount, and you gotta buy SOME things), but you can also find passive upgrades to your overall stats, spells that will directly affect your crops, actual farming equipment that also works as massive damage machines, and farm animals that can do certain jobs (watering, tilling, weed pulling) without you. Once you get a decent herd of helpers, the only thing YOU need to do is actually harvest the plants, and I’m not totally certain that there won’t be an animal like that in the future due in part to Bird Bath Games having already done a lot of updates and patches in the time that it’s been in beta.
That’s what sells it to me: Atomicrops is a rougelite shooter disguised as a farming sim, and having experience in the former is way more valuable than the latter. Enemies all have distinctive attack patterns, from charging at you to single shots to massive bullet curtains that can move in on you in a hot second. The enemy design is delightful, showcasing some truly strange and wonderful interpretations of what could happen after the human population nukes itself and animals have to adapt in the aftermath. Crabs with toxic waste barrels for shells, insane rabbit humanoids that have mastered different firearms, and the bosses, holy jeez the bosses. The bosses are where the game goes from a simple run-and-gun situation to some truly slick, stressful navigation of bullets, bodies and bushes. The bosses are there to kill you, true, but they’re also really looking forward to ruining your harvest, either through eating them, burning them, freezing them or smashing them to pieces. They have different forms and different attack patterns that evolve and change as they grow more desperate a la Cuphead, and the reward for them is decent but mostly a nice “you survived” kind of feeling. It’s possible to simply wait them out till morning if you’re fast enough, but you risk losing your whole farm and also feeling like a loser in the process.
The variables of Atomicrops keeps the replay important and interesting as well. You have so many different kinds of crops to grow, and they all present with different and unique advantages, though roses (the currency of love) are always top of my list. You can woo a couple of different suitors at a time, though I recommend investing wholly in one relationship and then possibly working on a second spouse if that’s your thing. You never know if your jaunt into the different areas will turn up more seeds, new helpers or the elusive golden pupae, which will lead you to a truly great assist item. While I feel some of the powerups are more OP than others (Weed Whacker + Vinagarette = no more planting ever), it’s all up to chance, and I love that feeling. I love that weapons are freaking important, but never seem to last more than one day, constantly having you gamble on whether you’re good enough to succeed with just your base gun or if you’re ready to drop a pretty penny on the Flying Squirrel, which you need to drop basically every cent into to make it worthwhile. I keep coming back to this game time after time because, sure, it’s got farming in it, but it’s also the most excitement in randomly generated playfield that I’ve experienced in a long time. If I can be excited to feed a sunflower as much desiccated flesh as I possibly can, then something has gone very right in the gaming world.
The game isn’t completely perfect, and it’s equal parts port and nature of the game. Atomicrops can often overload the screen with bullets and mobs due to the bullet-hell style combat that erupts, plus the monstrosity of the bosses can be taxing. These two factors combined can bog down the game during crucial moments, resulting in you taking hits in a world where heals are either few and far between or else especially expensive. There was a long time before I finally lived through the summer, mostly due in part to my poor Switch starting to scream when Sol Crusher changed to its second form and starting submerging my screen in bomb circles, bullet waves and the constant influx of Blunderbunnies. I would highly, highly recommend doing the boss fights in docked mode up on the big screen to both give your Switch a bit of a power boost and to give yourself a better lay of the land.
The second complaint I have is about the core concept of Atomicrops, so feel free to roll your eyes and skip over this part. Basically, everything in Atomicrops is about upward movement, and you need to ascend FAR before you can finally hook into anything. You don’t want to try and skip to the head of the class by unlocking the other areas before you clear the first ones, because you’ll be way too weak to deal with the freaking rabbits that are driving shielded tanks (get behind them to do damage). The Cornucopias are the unique currency for unlocking permanent upgrades, but running into one of the Ant Builders who provide the upgrades takes a lot of time and strength, and the upgrades get exponentially more expensive. Once you get far on a run and start to look towards the end of a year, you feel the pressure building dramatically to stay alive, to dodge the bullets, harvest the crops, impress the mayor and collect the best items that you can for rewards for being a decent farmer in these insane times. You develop the bridges to reach to the widest, furthest areas, you have all these awesome animal helpers and so many mega trees, you get married once or twice, and now the pressure is on: will you live through to the next year? I suppose it’s the same concept as being in a game like Stardew Valley, but I doubt that the friendly farmers there were ever terrified that they would be beaten to death by moles if they were too involved in trying to feed fertilizer to their sunflowers. It’s secretly quite fun, but I really felt like it took a lot to finally get some permanent upgrades, and I hated always rolling back to zero.
Atomicrops is my surprise game of the year, bar none, and I think 2020 is a year already full of gaming surprises with more on the way. I can’t believe how much time I’ve already sunk into this vessel, and I’m giddy about investing more. Atomicrops will be a permanent fixture on my Switch, not only because I’m enjoying playing it, but I’m excited to see what, if anything, might come in the future. Much like Children of Morta, A Robot Named Fight and Death Road to Canada, this is a game that bears repeating because there’s nothing repetitive about it. It’s a brand new nuclear day every time, and who knows what the future will bring? I plan to unlock all of those achievements in the garden, because I feel like that’ll reveal even more goodies for me to enjoy. Bird Bath Games should be incredibly proud: they’ve grown a monsterpiece.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Get the latest game reviews, news, features, and more straight to your inbox
Thank you for subscribing to Bonus Stage.
Something went wrong.
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
I am the farmer of justice! The harvester of the crop of life! Sing, brothers and sisters, SING!