Summer In Mara (REVIEW)

Developed and Published by CHIBIG, S.L.U.

It isn’t very easy to write a review about Summer In Mara. The reason isn’t because of the graphics, the game is an artistic marvel. It isn’t the story, so many pieces, so many characters drawing you in making you want to know more. Controls…while I did have some issues that isn’t what stood out the most for me while playing Summer In Mara. In order to understand my feelings on this game, and why I think you should buy a copy, let me describe my first few minutes of play.

We are introduced to the character of Yaya Haku on her boat. She suddenly comes upon a vessel on fire at sea. Finding a child in a basket, she scoops up the baby and sails away. The next moment I was in control of that child, Koa, seated on a roof.

That’s the moment. In my hours of playing this game that is the absolute worst thing that I experienced. There are some prank calls, and a few jokes, but for the entirety of my adventure with Koa, whether on her island or sailing nothing bad happened. Now imagine not being ready for that. So in the first few moments of controlling Koa, while adventuring on the island you’re wondering…is it safe? So the fault lies not with Summer In Mara, the fault lies in me. Have I become so anxious for conflict I forgot video games were supposed to be fun?

Story – Koa

Koa lives on her island in Mara, the sea connecting several islands. She has come to live with her grandmother, Yaya Haku. We are introduced to Koa’s life and the history of Mara through dialogue sequences. As each conversation unfold I feel like I’m watching a great cartoon. After performing some simple tasks, which get the player adjusted to the mechanics and the game, Yaya departs the island. While she awaits Yaya’s return that Koa meets the character of Napopo, who first appears as a light in the waters. Determined to make her new friend happy, Koa sets sail on the seas of Mara.

Arriving on the shores of Qualis, Koa goes about introductions and inquiring. A woman living in the lighthouse named Saimi knows some things about Yaya. She encounters a variety of bizarre characters, diverse in origin and species with a task or problem Koa is able to assist with.

Bright Sunshiny Days

I could just let Johnny Nash describe the beauty of the graphics, the design of Summer of Koa. After the initial obstacle, I wondered when things would turn sinister or the tone would darken again. It is always sunny, except those moments when it isn’t, the crops do need rain afterall. As the story of Koa progresses you travel from one beautiful island to the next.

Any fan of the art style and design of Wind Waker will feel right at home with this title. As you sail the sea rushes past your boat in jets of bright blue water. Even at night Koa is not completely in the dark, her path always illuminated by soft glows of fireflies. In my hours of play I never encountered a menacing terrain. Instead there were beautiful sandy beaches, sprawling grassy hills and even mountains that just looked like a quick hike to the top.

It isn’t in just the environment that Summer in Mara dazzles. The cast of creatures that inhabit Mara aren’t just cookie cutter characters. The studio took time and made each one unique. Even amongst characters that are of the same species or family there are small slight differences so you can tell each one apart. Also, while in some games you may encounter a character and they look one way but the dialogue sequences they make them look better that’s not the case here. These characters look the same in dialogue or out and in both instances they are rendered picture perfect. I felt like I was watching Nick Jr or Noggin…if you’re a fan of Doug, Oswald or Caillou you will love the design of this game.

Navigation

You’re gonna be seeing this word pop up alot next to Y button, prompting you to hop aboard your ship and set sail to another island in Mara. I felt it best to use to describe the trickiest part of this game for me. To me navigate is a little different than move or drive, it details some finesse or patience in terms of what you are doing. When I took control of Koa on the roof, I had no idea what to do next. I jumped off the roof once I stood and feared the worst but you remember what I already said so i just landed and kept moving towards Yaya’s prompt.

While some things in Summer in Mara are spelled out, the Y prompt will come up to talk or sit at times, at other times you may be left wondering what to do. In a world where games introduce you to the mechanics quick through some tutorial highlighting what X and B do, Mara let’s the player discover on his or her own. I guess Mara has the advantage, time is on it’s side. The player can take time to figure out how to switch from hoe to hammer because they don’t need to do it to avoid certain death. You can take time to realize how to use the map in Qualis since it doesn’t utilize the traditional beacon system and instead relies on the player to use the topography to learn navigate the island.

My only gameplay mechanic problem is with the crafting system. While I understand the use of the workshop being on the island to give Koa a reason to return home, I couldn’t find a way to access the recipes remotely which led arriving only to have to set sail again for a missing ingredient.

I will let it be decided but I can certainly drop some quick instructions on the controls but I think that would destroy part of what the creators intended for this game, which is…..

Message’s of Mara

It shouldn’t take long for anyone playing Summer in Mara for the moment to happen. It didn’t for me, just moments into Yaya Haku’s first speech. Talking about nature, how we must replenish what we take….was this a game made for kids? More and more with each piece of dialogue, each new character or experience I noticed something.

Koa’s story, the adventure is hers but the lesson is for the player. First I only had oranges, slowly I got blackberry bushes. Pay attention because that herb that couldn’t be harvested yesterday but today it can. This game is all about newness and discovery. Stripped of the predatory elements that predominate most games all that is left is preschool fun.

Along with the fun is the sheer amount of love that was put into this game. I’m not just talking about the pieces I mentioned I mean actual capital L-O-V-E, LOVE. The mailcrabs, the message bottles…those are real messages. Someone’s Happy Anniversary is in this game. I know this isn’t uncommon for developers to add things like this but the level, the depth of statement makes this tender game that much more so.

Unfortunately, hardcore gamers there isn’t any difficulty levels. There isn’t a Summer In Mara: Heatwave playthrough. I’m sure some of you may read this review and think of passing on this title. I would only caution you with a message.

Y’all just dying to kill something….Have fun, live a little.

There are alot of things for the player to experience while playing as Koa. I read on the kickstarter page there are in the range of 150 quests. There are crafting elements and crop growing which brings with it a day/night cycle to manage. You receive items to customize Koa. Every time I encountered a character it seemed I learned a new recipe for a tool or food item. Every island had a new plant or vegetable for me to harvest and plant back home. There are animals to interact with that I haven’t even discovered the impact of, nor what happens when I clean up all the litter.

I played several hours of Summer in Mara and hopefully I am not even close to completing. I think this delightful title is a mix of all the elements of platformer joy minus the frustrations. Any level of gamer would be foolish if they don’t place this title in their online shopping cart immediately. To my son who mentioned just today how I never helped him with the hard levels, I wish you could have started you with this game.

Thank you CHIBIG. After everything else so far this 2020…I appreciate this Summer In Mara

 

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