Summer, Summer, Summertime! Time to Craft Stuff and Unwind!
Ah, the summers of one’s youth! Who could resist the innocent nostalgia of running through grassy fields, collecting seashells on sandy beaches and selling farm produce to giant fish creatures. Summer in Mara is a crafting game about a young orphan girl named Koa, who is raised on a remote island by a benevolent adoptive grandma. When she comes of age, Koa becomes inspired to venture beyond her tiny island to meet new friends and explore the seas.
It’s easy to see that Summer in Mara is a light, casual resource-gathering and crafting game. Right from the get-go, Koa will be tasked to chop down trees; plant, harvest and water crops; fish and collect seashells. Another thing that becomes quickly apparent is that she’s in no danger while doing so. Yes, that’s right, despite the rudiments of the gameplay harkening back to survival titles, Koa is never in any danger of dying. A lack of food will simply deplete her energy faster and force her to rest.
The lack of death is intentional on the part of the developers, who wanted to create a more relaxing experience, focusing on letting us experience Mara’s childlike wonder at exploring this colorful world, and it is a beautifully pastel-colored landscape indeed. The music, full of piano pieces so sentimental that it would put up The Sims’ build mode to shame, evokes a very nostalgic tone that succeeded in drawing me back to my own childhood (which is so long ago now that’s an impressive task).
I also enjoyed some of the cutesy characters like Koa’s mushroom-like companion who speaks entirely in endearing squeals. Likewise, it was always fun to feed and pet the many adorable animals around the world, and to offer some of them shelter in some of the buildings you can repair on the home island. If I had children, I’d definitely be happy with them playing Summer in Mara.
Koa’s invincibility is one component of what makes the game oddly unsatisfying. With no starvation, the drive to grow and harvest food feels less pressing. Food only helps keep her energy up so she has to sleep less often. When her energy runs out she’s simply transported back to her boat or to her house, which is more of an inconvenience than a serious worry. Thankfully food is plentiful and farming is easy to do. Tilling the soil is as simple as a button press as is planting crops. After that, you can simply sleep the time away till the crops are grown with there being no real pressures on time to stop you from doing so. Adding water from the well and fertilizer bags found around the world helps crops grow faster and more plentifully. There’s some enjoyment to this, particularly when you’ve bought a good number of seeds from the market ladies and sown them into crops you can sell back for a tidy profit.
With no danger on the high seas, going from one island to the next can become a rather tedious exercise in toing and froing, at least until fast travel is thankfully unlocked. A big problem I had with Summer in Mara is that the quests are practically all scavenger hunts or fetch quests. The central island is Koa’s first stop on her journey and is also her quest and trading hub when venturing the ocean. It’s as you begin to meet the literally and figuratively colorful cast of characters there that you come to realize the vast majority of them want some sort of items delivered to them or couriered to someone else.
Koa becomes both the postal service and the Amazon Prime of the world of Mara, delivering countless items at the whim of the citizenry. A great number of times this will require Koa to return to her home island to gather resources and craft at her house. I could switch my brain off for a good number of these quests and simply go from person/point A to person/point B, but there were some scavenger hunts for certain resources where the hints of where to find them are so vague I had to scour every inch of each island to locate them. I really think having some minigame or methodology to search for certain resources and items would make some of the scavenger hunting less of a chore.
I don’t think a lack of death or combat precludes more varied and interesting quests. There could certainly be more complex, in-depth minigames to increase the challenge of farming, mining or forestry. Fishing is one of the more entertaining parts of the whole experience because there’s actually a modicum of skill and risk/reward involved. It requires a bit of timing and precision in button presses so as not to waste a piece of bait. But for one of the relatively sparse skill-based aspects of the game, there’s a lack of complexity to it. There aren’t any dramatic pitched battles with the bigger more stubborn fish like you might find in so many fishing minigames or any real issues with finding the right location for the fish or selecting the right kind of bait. It’s a simple rhythm minigame that’s over in 20 or so seconds.
The diving minigame is likewise rather lacking in depth (pun intended). When Koa sails her boat over to certain buoys of interest, she can choose to leap beneath the waves to search for treasure. One can press a button to descend, keep Koa’s air filled up by swimming over air bubbles (Sonic the Hedgehog style), and collect treasure. That, however, is pretty much it. You can’t even swim back up once you’ve swum down. After you’ve finished collecting treasure you just wait awkwardly for Koa’s air to run out before automatically resurfacing. The lack of complexity in the mini-games really hampers the experience.
Summer in Mara is a nice chillout game you can take totally at your own pace, even if the lack of challenge and excitement will surely frustrate many players. It’s very much an ideal game for children or those who want to take a break from the stresses, fears and pressures of modern life, which right now is very much understandable! Though I certainly didn’t feel thrilled or captivated playing it, I do anticipate returning periodically returning to the sweet, summery world of Mara from time to time when the cold cruel world is grinding me down under its relentless wheel!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Chibig; Developer: Chibig; Players: 1; Released: June 16th, 2020;
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Summer in mara given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher