Sometimes, you just want a relaxing escape from the day-to-day grind. You want a chance to dip your toes in the wet sand and enjoy a cool drink with the ocean breeze rolling by. Summer in Mara offers this promise, as well as a dash of casual farming and heartwarming storytelling. It does contain lots of things to do and features a clean visual style, but doesn’t really rise above the sum of its underwhelming parts.
Growing up Koa
This adventure follows a girl named Koa, the main protagonist. She is found at sea during a fishing trip by Yaya Haku, some sort of blue gelatinous person with tube ears. Yaya Kaku acts as a motherly figure to Koa and brings her to live on a tiny island. She trains a young Koa on the basics of island life at the beginning of the game.
While this island is barely big enough to hold a volleyball court, the maintenance it requires of its residents is constant. From the opening moments of the game, Koa is tasked with farming, fishing, and other busy chores. Fetching objects or resources for herself or NPCs is the main gameplay loop in Summer in Mara. Shortly after events early in the game, taking a boat to other islands in the area expands the game world in a fashion somewhat similar to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
How’s it looking?
Speaking of The Wind Waker, if I was forced to describe the visual style of Summer in Mara, I would simply say it feels like a slightly less stylized version of the Nintendo classic. Everything from island makeup to how the wake from boats appears is very reminiscent of what we saw nearly twenty years ago on the Gamecube. You even troll the ocean for underwater treasures like Young Link. Everything carries a higher resolution look, with higher polygon counts and framerates, but it doesn’t really elicit the same emotion. The NPCs range from normal-looking humans to humanoid creatures to nautical critters.
The designs are 3D approximations of the same characters represented in the very high-quality animated cutscenes that show off a slick anime style. It would have been preferable for the game to more closely mimic the style of the animations, but that may have been a task too gargantuan for the small team at Chibig, the studio who created Summer in Mara. That being said, the game ran very smoothly on my PC and will likely have no issue being played on even the most modest hardware configurations.
The old back and forth
During the game, Koa will be presented with loads of tasks, many of which will require specific items to craft or build. Some items must be harvested via farming or mining and carrying out these tasks will require tools of various usefulness. All crafting, cooking, and other inventory busy work is carried out in the small shack that belongs to Yaya Haku. This isn’t a big issue at first as your initial tasks are on the first island, but having to return to the shack as the game progresses is just a waste of time.
Like other games in the farming simulator genre, you will often have to just put Koa to sleep to pass time and wait for crops to grow. Watering some crops can speed up the process, but the deep wells that you fill watering buckets from go dry almost instantly and must be refilled by rain. I only saw rain one time over the course of what felt like months of in-game days, further drawing out the frustration. When I was relying on killing time as part of the game’s normal workflow for quest completion, I got even more frustrated.
The frustration paled in comparison to the anger that I developed having to drive the boat back and forth to use the only crafting table in the world that was located on the first island to complete the simplest tasks. I think Summer in Mara is supposed to autosave the game as you play, but there is no indication from the game’s UI that it happens or any mention in the menus. More than once I loaded the game to discover that I was fortunate enough to have to start the journey of Koa from the beginning.
Speaking of the UI, it feels about as underdeveloped as any game I’ve seen in a long time. You will be assigned quests that don’t really explain what you need to do. Button prompts will appear on screen that ask you to hit the left mouse button to proceed, though the game is actually looking for input from a different key altogether. What little tutorial is there at the beginning of the game is mostly worthless as some of the information you are given is not accurate. Sometimes, I entered the barren options menu to find that some buttons were in different languages, making using said menu rather difficult.
Maybe spend the summer somewhere else
There is no controller support that I could find or use and no key remapping to help overcome the bad UI prompts. Koa will hit invisible walls, struggle to get over basic obstacles, and object placement seems to follow unspecified arbitrary rules. Even simple things like cutting down trees feel placeholder as you just hold down a button to bring up a filling meter that drops the tree in question rather than using the button to swing the ax you crafted for the task. Even its fishing mini-game feels second-rate.
It looks and plays like it is far from ready for wide release, even for your typical early access title. The bad part is that Summer in Mara is not marked as early access, so I don’t think I can be forgiving of its half-baked mechanics, presentation, or UI. 5/10 underwater chests
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Summer in Mara released on June 16 for Steam and Nintendo Switch. Xbox One and PS4 versions will arrive at a later date.
Summer in Mara
- Decent visuals
- Runs smoothly on low-end PCs
- Cutscene art is very good
- Overall experience is less than the sum of its parts
- Design choices pad playtime
- Offensively bad UI
- Bugs and polish make it feels unfinished