During this unprecedented time in history, of lockdowns and travel restrictions, many people have found solace in the wonderful world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This port of the mobile game, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, was released on the 20th of March. The latest instalment of the long running franchise has been a beacon of hope from those suffering with cabin fever. It follows the same perfected and predictable formula of exploration and commerce as your custom resident inhabits a distant island, terraforming it as you see fit. This game is, in my opinion, the definition of escapism that people need right now. Its repetitive grind mechanics and childish gameplay are a great way of wasting what little life we have on this planet. However, I don’t have a Switch to play it on! The recent Nintendo console has passed me by as my disposable income was drastically restricted due to the birth of my first child (I’m not blaming the kid just saying). What I do have however is a couple of years of Game Pass and a lot of time to fill during nap times so I found a similar, if not better, replacement to Tom Nook & co.
The exceptional My Time at Portia had piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw a brief gameplay video by someone on Youtube. It looked like a much more detailed and better-produced version of Stardew Valley, a game that I had sunk 100+ hours into. It was only recently that I found myself with enough time to dive in and see if it was as good as I imagined and now I’m hooked. So, at the risk of being burnt at the stake, here are some of the reasons why My Time at Portia is better than Animal Crossing and why I’m not bitter that the price of a Switch has skyrocketed since the outbreak.
Graphics – As we all know graphic fidelity is the true sign of a good game, no game won Game of the Year with anything less than realistic graphics that make your PC overheat. In My Time at Portia, you can smoothly rotate the camera in glorious 360° and soak up the environmental storytelling. Is that crack in the wall from some long ago battle? Who knows, but it sure does make you think. All Animal Crossing has is pixel designed animals that convey no emotions at all. I guess if you are into cute art styles and well-rounded characters that show the fun tone that you would expect from remote island living, then yes, Animal Crossing has ‘’good graphics’’ but seriously compare the two in the below image. I think we all know which one has more “sass” with a capital S.
Customisation – Tell me, can you upgrade your house in Animal Crossing? Can you design your own character from scratch to impose your own personality onto them? Can you collect, craft and place items in your home? I’m really asking these questions, as I previously mentioned I don’t have a switch, so I don’t know. What I do know is the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes In Portia. You can gather the needed materials and build almost anything that you can imagine. Three different kinds of chairs? Yes please. You can craft clothes and upgrade your weapons. This drives you to explore the vast map to seek new treasures in the Hazardis Ruins or experiment with growing different types of plants to see what you can use them for. The only way that it could be any better is if you could design your own prints that could be used as wallpaper or designs for t-shirts; but I think games are a long way off of those innovations.
Combat – The most conflict you get in Animal Crossing is being chased by spiders or bees, however in My Time at Portia a large part of the gameplay is based around combat with the dangerous monsters that occupy the surrounding areas. Ruins act like dungeons where players can fight through multiple levels to gain valuable loot to be used in their crafting menus. I’ll be the first to admit that the combat is far from complex, to be honest it quickly devolves into you hacking away at an enemy health bar, only stopping to heal yourself when needed. At least there is combat to break up the routine of planting and chopping. A very unique and fun thing that you can do is spar with some of the residents in Portia to increase your relationship with them, rightly though you can’t spar with the bear character, we’ve all seen the Revenant right?
Interactions – A big part of where My Time at Portia shines is in the interactions with the other people living in Portia. You have friends, love interests and even rivals as the story progresses. To gain their favour you can give people gifts, much like Stardew or real life, and people appreciate these gifts more on their birthdays. There are also social events scheduled throughout the four seasons where you can participate in mini-games to increase your standing in the community. Once you increase your social level with another resident you can gain perks from them based around their job in the town. For example, being friends with the mayor reduces the cost of purchasing land to build on, which admittedly sounds a little dodgy to me; but a deal’s a deal. Eventually you can develop your relationship to the point of marriage and have children, again like real life. Then your spouse obeys your strict commands to add value to your property, again like real life.
Crafting – A massive part of the game is crafting and creating. The main story is based around you being a builder and contributing to society; rather than some rich kid on a private island destroying the local flora. People from the town will either approach you in the street asking for help or post commissions in the local town hall asking for specific items to help them with their day to day lives. There are also bigger projects to work on that expand the map and develop the storyline. Some might say that this is just busy work, as you need to smelt materials, to then craft components, to then make an item, to then place it in your great construction; but that’s the life of a builder in Portia. Crafting time is based in hours but an hour in Portia is a minute in the real world so when you’re waiting for your industrial cutter to make some brass pipes you can spend 10 minutes fishing, in the game not in real life. This adds an almost frantic time keeping aspect to the game as you try to manage all the projects you have running to be the most efficient workshop you can be.
The end Game – Unlike the unstructured chaos of Animal Crossing there is an actual story in My Time at Portia and an end-point. The fun doesn’t stop there though. You have a museum that needs filling, people to make friends with and furniture to craft to make your house a home. In Animal Crossing you also have those things but you can’t unlock any achievements so honestly, what the point? I know that Animal Crossing has promised events, most recently the egg hunt, to keep people’s interest going but as they are released in real-time I’m going to assume that they all suck until I get my hands on a Switch!
Do you agree with my comments? Of course you do, I was logical and convincing, but if you somehow disagree then please let me know in the comments below. Until then stay safe and play some games like me!