With roughly ten hours of gameplay under my belt, I believed beyond a reasonable doubt that I could tackle ATOMINE’s final boss. I’d learned almost every attack pattern, and outfitted my virus-destroying computer program with all the right tools for the job. However, I have a bad habit of overestimating myself and took a sound beating from the spider-like creature. Just like that, an hour’s worth of progress was lost as I was sent back to the beginning of the game. This is the type of gameplay mechanic that ATOMINE utilizes so well, a brutally difficult combat system that rewards twitchy gameplay and quick thinking. A staple of the twin stick shooter genre, fast-paced responsive combat is something that this overlooked indie title excels at and helps it stand out from the drudgery of similar paced indie titles.
One of the defining features of ATOMINE is its gameplay design. This rogue-lite twin stick shooter focuses on having the player perfect their play style with each run, while also unlocking new power ups to use in successive games. You aren’t expected to beat the game on your first try, but rather learn from your mistakes and improve your skills as you slowly push ahead. This also acts as a drawback, as progress can be slow and frustrating. The game’s lack of checkpoints or save files means that the player has to beat its sixteen levels in one go and losing such hard earned progress can be controller-shatteringly frustrating.
It doesn’t help that the game has a pretty simplistic leveling system that tries to make the difficulty more bearable the stronger you get. However, this only adds to the frustration of death, as a player could be up to level six and lose every beneficial power-up they’ve acquired. This also creates a sense of finality to where, once the player has finished the game, they’ll probably have no desire to play through it again. With a game that locks most of its defining features like multiple character designs and numerous power ups behind random unlocks, this seemed like a serious setback.
Apart from the frantic combat, the only other thing that ATOMINE has going for it are its aesthetics. Both the music and art design are stellar, as each helps to fully immerse the player in the game’s core ideas of playing a computer program in the near future. Procedurally generated levels also help to better sell the setting, as the game world feels more like a hostile server rather than a collection of loosely connected rooms.
The gridded and minimalist nature of the environmental design is a perfect fit for the ATOMINE’s aesthetic and was one of the selling points for me when looking at the game. Both the effects of the player’s weapons and the chaos that ensues during a hectic firefight are satisfying in the same way as watching an intricate display of dominoes fall over. That is to say, the grand nature of dispatching your enemies in ATOMINE give the player a sense of accomplishment, especially after watching a plethora of green experience cubes spill out of the opponent’s eviscerated forms.
ATOMINE walks the fine line between being a truly memorable twin stick shooter, and a complete dud. The absence of a story, while not uncharacteristic of the genre, is a bit of a letdown, and there’s nothing for the player to really be invested in. While combat and the visual elements are fun and fluid, the game’s lack of substance coupled with an unsatisfying rogue-lite element makes the game a chore to enjoy. As a time waster, ATOMINE works wonderfully, but for someone looking for a memorable experience or a fun score chasing shooter, their better set with titles like Nex Machina or even HELLDIVERS. Given the right amount of time and dedication, ATOMINE could be a truly great game, but at the moment it falls far behind the standards set by other classic titles in the genre.