There’s a lot to like about My Time At Portia. First released in 2019 for PC and consoles, its blend of comfy, crafting-centric life sim with a slice of adventure and a little dash of mystery made it an easy game to just lose yourself in for a while. But it’s also a game designed around a controller first and foremost, which comes with its share of challenges when it comes to porting to mobile—touchscreens are a very different beast, not inherently better or worse than a controller, but demanding a different approach to game control. Too often, a game that plays beautifully on console becomes a nightmare on a touchscreen, and vice versa.
The good news is that, for the most part, My Time At Portia sticks the landing. It’s not perfect, but it’s more than adequate at creating a smooth mobile experience out of a game with a lot of buttons, and one that can be quite fiddly, control-wise. That’s an accomplishment in itself, and it allows the game’s charms to really shine on the platform, where they could just as easily have gotten lost behind an awkward adaptation.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. My Time At Portia sees you travelling to a secluded island town, ready to start a new life as a craftsperson as you restore your grandfather’s old workshop to its former glory. Sound familiar? It’s a similar premise to Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and many other such games—deliberately so, because Portia scratches exactly the same life sim itch that those games do.
The difference is that, instead of the agricultural focus that a lot of similar games have, My Time at Portia is far more interested in craftsmanship. You venture out into the town’s surrounding wilderness and a few ancient ruins to gather materials, in order to craft tools, items that the townsfolk have requested, and—perhaps most importantly—new machines that open the door to new schematics. It’s an almost Minecraft-esque loop, but without the construction blocks and aspect of trying to redesign the land to your whims; in their place, there’s a town full of people to get to know and developments waiting for your skilled hands.
A limited amount of time in each day, finite stamina, and the time it takes your machines to process raw materials into useful components all add a layer of strategy to how you approach things. Between requests from Portia’s mayors and optional commissions to help pay the bills and raise your workshop’s profile, there’s plenty of demand on your skills, but you can only do so much in a day. On top of that, you’ve got relationships with locals to build, dungeons to explore, and treasures to find—it can be a lot, arguably too much, at times. Choosing where your priorities lie is important, but it’s also good to remember that there’s rarely any need for urgency. Optional quests sometimes have a time limit (and a minor penalty to your relationship with the recipient if you miss a deadline), but other than that, there’s not really any need to rush. There’s always something—a few somethings, more often than not—to work towards, but taking it easy is the best way to enjoy all that Portia has to offer.
There’s also a light action RPG-ish twist when it comes to exploring the more dangerous ruins. Combat isn’t especially deep or complex—you’ve got a basic three-hit combo, some rudimentary ranged weapons, and a dodge roll at your disposal, with dodging and counter-attacking telegraphed enemy attacks being the crux of each encounter—but it’s satisfying enough. As a complement to the main game, though, it works well: another source of materials that require a slightly different approach to gather.
The RPG side of things comes in the form of a levelling system, straightforward but functional skill trees, and stat bonuses from the way you decorate your home. It’s nothing that pushes any boundaries, but in what is a nice touch, it’s not limited to combat like you might expect—crafting and socialising elements have their own skill trees and benefit from stat upgrades, too.
It’s through both dungeons and crafting that the story of Portia unfolds. This seemingly idyllic town has plenty of secrets buried underneath it, quite literally—it’s built upon the ruins of a collapsed civilization, after all. Your delves into those ruins aren’t just for resources, but for pieces of the past that can help everyone understand what happened and avoid making the same mistakes. (It’s also a handy way to rediscover useful ancient technology.) At the same time, you’ve got an assortment of quirky locals to get acquainted with, love to fall into, and rivalries with other builders to work on. Everyone has their own story to tell, and it’s nice to see how those tales unfold. That said, there are few truly memorable characters to engage with; it feels like the focus was on quantity over quality, to the point that nobody really leaves the kind of mark you’d hope for in this sort of game.
All of this is as true in the mobile version as in any other, thanks to a solid port. Like I said at the start, My Time At Portia is a game designed primarily for controllers or mouse and keyboard: 3D movement, interacting with small objects on screen that often cluster together, and reaction-based combat are all things that work naturally with traditional control schemes, but aren’t as intuitively compatible with touchscreens. The common solution of using some form of on-screen controller-style inputs—like a virtual analog stick and an array of buttons that replicate those of a controller—doesn’t always work well.
This same approach forms the basis of My Time At Portia, but with a few crucial tweaks to make it more functional. The virtual analog stick in the corner of the screen doesn’t demand too much precision, and is responsive enough to adapt as long as you place your thumb in roughly the right part of the screen. It feels intuitive in a way that I almost never find virtual sticks to be, even when controlling the camera at the same time (another thing that’s become rudimentary on a controller, but is hard to get right on a touchscreen). The main button that lets you use the item you currently have selected—be it a tool for gathering, a weapon to attack with, or something else—is big and well-positioned enough to be reliably hit without looking at it, which makes a world of difference when this is the primary way of interacting with most of the game. Instead of having a whole lot of other buttons cluttering the screen, most other actions are context-sensitive, appearing only when needed, and in close proximity to that main one.
For almost every aspect of the game, this works smoothly, but the one place it falls short is in combat. Again, the action in Portia isn’t deep or complex, but it does rely a lot on reflexes and being able to reliably hit that dodge button at will. Without the physical feedback of actual buttons, that doesn’t always work, and it’s not uncommon to try to dodge in the heat of the action and find you’ve missed that part of the screen—by a small margin, but enough that means the input doesn’t register, and you stand there eating a hit that you should have been able to dodge. Combat isn’t so integral to My Time At Portia that this ruins the whole experience, and it’s never so difficult that this would be the difference between success and failure, but it’s a nuisance all the same.
On the other hand, the life sim nature of the game is a natural fit for a mobile game. My Time At Portia is great for playing in short bursts, with a gathering-crafting loop that’s both simple enough and deep enough to mean you can jump in for even just a couple of minutes, feel like you’ve achieved something worthwhile, and jump back out. And to help make this style of play work, Portia autosaves any time you switch focus to another app or put your screen into sleep mode—avoiding that too-common issue with mobile games where you tab away for a bit too long, the game resets in the background, and you lose a chunk of progress. This needs to be standard in all mobile games, honestly.
Preferences will vary, of course, but for me, the convenience of playing on mobile more than makes up for some minor control frustrations in combat. It’s nice to have a low-stress, satisfying life sim in your pocket, and doubly so when you don’t have to deal with all the annoyances of a free-to-play game in order to enjoy it. And, at NZD $11.99, the mobile version is very modestly priced compared to other platforms for what is an identical game that could quite justifiably have been priced the same.
If you want to play something that scratches that life sim itch while also breaking away from the Harvest Moon mold just a little bit, you can’t go too far wrong with My Time At Portia. It suffers here and there from the simple fact that it’s an adaptation of a game that wasn’t designed around touchscreens to begin with, but this is still a more than serviceable port of a very enjoyable game.
My Time At Portia
Developer: Pathea Games
Publisher: Pixmain (mobile), Team 17 (PC and console)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.