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My Time at Portia Review — Embracing the Daily Grind



My Time at Portia

Sea change is a popular concept in Australia. Tired of stressful, fast-paced city life, retirees flood to small coastal towns in droves, looking to slow down and appreciate the smaller things. My Time at Portia similarly offers safe harbour from the brutally hard side of gaming. No twitch reflexes, permadeath, or 12-year-olds screaming expletives are to be found here, just a peaceful life of crafting, mining, farming, and making friends. After a year in Early Access, My Time at Portia‘s full release is a sprawling life simulation with endless activities to indulge in, but little in the way of innovation.

My Time in Portia is the fourth game from Chinese independent studio Pathea, following smaller titles Planet Explorers, Protoform, and Drains. The game begins with the player-created protagonist hopping on a boat to the city-state of Portia, ready to build a new life for themselves. They have inherited a run-down workshop from their father, and the townspeople of Portia quickly put the new builder to work. A bridge needs to be constructed for local tourist attraction Amber Island, and the player character is just the person for the job. Rival workshop owner Higgins is upset about being overlooked for this job and strives to defeat the player by producing the best workshop in town.

The bread and butter of My Time at Portia’s gameplay is commissions: crafting projects requested by the townspeople. Once the player has proven their grasp of the basics by crafting a stone axe and pickaxe, commissions can be accepted from a notice board in the Commerce Guild. Plot-important commissions (such as the bridge or designing a transport system for the town) do not have a time limit and can be completed at one’s leisure. The townspeople are a bit more impatient and require items to be crafted and delivered within a few days. At the end of each in-game month, the workshops are ranked and awarded prizes for performance. Completing commissions raises the player’s workshop ranking, enabling them to take on more complicated projects.

Nearly everything in the world of Portia can be crafted, from basic household items to a massive water filtration system. The player starts with a simple worktable and assembly area, enabling them to craft crude stone and wood items. Small items can be quickly combined on the worktable, with bigger projects needing to be created piece by piece in the assembly area. Alongside the workshop, the protagonist’s father left behind a book full of diagrams for grinders, forges, cutters, and other crafting machinery. Better machines can process rarer materials to create better tools, creating a pleasing gameplay loop of continually improving equipment. As the game goes on, further diagrams for new projects can be obtained from missions for the townspeople or researching ancient data discs at the research lab.

All this crafting requires a lot of resources, which can be acquired in various ways. The town of Portia is surrounded by open fields filled with trees to chop down, stones to quarry, and unsuspecting llamas to harvest for meat and fur. Abandoned ruins open into voxel-style dungeons for mining, with ancient relics hidden deep in the earth. Combat-oriented hazardous ruins feature waves of unique enemies, traps to avoid, and treasure chests filled with rare materials. Boss fights at the end of each dungeon truly test combat skill, with Skyrim-like feasting on food in the pause menu often required to survive.  

Every action costs stamina, and a few swings of the axe are enough to exhaust a new character. Fortunately, almost every action also gives the protagonist experience points, and levelling up grants increased health and stamina along with a point to spend in the extensive skill tree. Skill points can be funneled into three broad categories of fighting, gathering, and social abilities. The fighting branch generally increases damage output; gathering reduces stamina costs when using tools; and social will improve the rate of befriending the people in town. The character’s statistics can also be boosted by decorating their home, with couches and tables giving boosts to stamina and health. Duplicate items also stack bonuses, so an early game house might look like a hoarder’s lair given the piles of couches everywhere.

Despite My Time at Portia’s resemblance to Harvest Moon, farming feels more like an afterthought than a key component of the game. Crops are planted in small boxes rather than fields, and, while they benefit from fertiliser, they do not need to be watered and will survive with no attention during the growing process. Livestock can be purchased from a nearby farm, but, if the player’s workshop lacks a proper coop or barn, the animals can be stored in a chest without issue. The animal-based materials can be obtained more efficiently by slaying monsters in the fields, leaving animal-keeping more about cuteness than practicality.

My Time at Portia has a staggering cast of 55 townspeople to interact with, 29 of whom can be romanced. Friendship can be built up with the characters by chatting each day, giving presents, playing rock-paper-scissors, or sparring with them. Each townsperson has unique likes and dislikes, resulting in favoured presents earning more friendship than generic ones. Once a character’s friendship has reached ‘buddy’ level, they can be taken on weekly play date. These dates involve minigames to impress the friend, such as going to dinner, drawing in the sand, or playing on a seesaw. After a confession of love, romantic activities, including soaking in the hot spring and stargazing, become available. Either gender can be romanced, and both marriage and divorce are possible. While the number of characters is impressive on paper, in practice, such a large cast is intimidating to befriend. With so many characters sharing the limited writing resources, each person only gets one or two story missions and as a result end up with rather bland personalities. A smaller cast with more detailed lives would have gone a long way.

My Time at Portia‘s cel-shaded graphics are a thing of beauty, as the pastel colours and painterly aesthetic perfectly evoke the peaceful atmosphere of the land. The weather changes constantly, with rainy and overcast days altering the pallet of the world. Music is simple but cheerful, with a different tune for each season. The voice acting is distinctly cheesy, ranging from the female protagonist’s overly bouncy preschool television voice to Minister Lee’s barely audible mumbling. As of the release update, voices can be turned off if desired, but the campness of the acting adds a certain charm.   

The real area My Time at Portia struggles with is finding its niche. Since the first Harvest Moon invented the life simulation genre back in 1996, many different games have put their spin on the idea. Animal Crossing slowed down the pace to real time and emphasised house decorating. Recettear pulled the focus of the genre into owning and maintaining an item shop. Rune Factory added a fantasy setting with a strong focus on story. Meanwhile, My Time at Portia has a very strong gameplay loop, but lacks a distinct identity. With such a large time commitment required for this style of game, a focus on one well-defined element (rather than being a jack of all trades) would help the game stand out from the pack.

My Time at Portia is a peaceful, beautiful life simulation that offers a calming experience, but little that pushes the boundaries of its genre. Simulation fans will find plenty to enjoy in this large, detailed world, but little to surprise them.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit


Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average



Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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