Summer in Mara – First Sip Review
Summer in Mara is an adventure, farming, exploration, slice of life simulator. Developed and published by Chibig who were also behind the game Deiland. The team also have a few mobile games that are not available on Steam.
The story in Summer in Mara is fairly basic, but it’s quite nice. Essentially Koa is an orphan who was found by an old fish lady named Yaya Haku. Yaya raises young Koa and teaches her the ways of the island, specifically about giving back what you take from nature to keep life going on. It’s a nice little story and it has a very Disney/Pixar feel, with Moana probably being the strongest reference point.
And just like those classic films there is a sense of darkness in the game. For Summer In Mara the darkness that happens fairly near the start of the game (essentially after the tutorial). Is the death of Yaya Haku, which leaves young Koa to take care of the island herself. Although they don’t really dwell on this at all. In fact, if you don’t locate the little memorial you may not even know she passed.
From here a strange light appears and leads to the discovery of a cute little creature that is lost. It appears she has been run out of her home by pirates and needs to return. And naturally, Koa as a sympathetic character will do her best to help her new little friend. It also helps that Koa has the spirit of an adventurer, but she keeps her obligations to the island as well.
The graphics in Summer in Mara are an interesting mix. They are both the strongest and one of the weakest aspects of the game. Basically it’s a mixed bag.
The colors are very bright, warm, and inviting. The skies and oceans are very blue, the sand is yellow, the grass is green, etc. The designs of the major characters are very nice. Koa is cute and plucky, characters like Yaya and Noho are similar to the fish people from One Piece. Even the minor NPC’s that just inhabit the islands at first look very good. Unfortunately, as you play the game you’ll notice the same few NPCs crop up a lot. Almost like the earlier GTA games where you can see clones of people walking together. It’s not quite that bad, but you will notice a lot of very similar characters and complete clones in different areas. The main problem is the animation, or lack thereof, as most NPCs will either barely move or won’t move at all.
Without taking movement into things, still images from the game look really lovely. And, Koa, for the most part, moves quite smoothly, there is a weird weight to her jumping. Major characters will have anime-style portraits during their dialogue which all look really lovely.
And probably the best part of the game is the fully hand-drawn animated intro. Much like the game Indivisible and the quality is high enough to compare it to a Studio Ghibli production.
Mostly you’ll hear a lot of relaxing music in the game. Different parts of the day and different areas have their own themes. But the best part is occasionally it sounds like Koa is humming along to the music. Or maybe the music is an expansion of the music she hears in her head. Either way, it’s a lovely little touch.
Sound-effects are fairly standard. Not really much to report on here, when you cut a tree down, or harvest your crops, etc. you’ll hear fairly typical noises. Nothing sounds bad or out of place. But at the same time nothing really stands out either.
Voice acting, there isn’t any. It’s not really a problem, and for the most part the characters make strange noises like in Nintendo 64 games.
Interestingly though the animated sequence appears in the trailer with voiceover but I don’t recall it being voiced in the game. There have been a few updates on the game recently though.
The basic gameplay of Summer in Mara is a mixture of exploration, farming, crafting, and fetch quests. While the game is technically open-world, you do have to complete some quests to open access to the other islands. A lot of the features of the game (exploration, farming, crafting, etc. ) appear in a lot of games in the genre, including Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon. However, in those games, the opening of the game gives you a slight tutorial, an overall goal, and then lets you proceed as you see fit. While in Summer in Mara you play through a tutorial and are provided with specific quests to complete henceforth. To quote The Simpsons this is perfectly cromulent, however, the linearity of the game does detract from the overall experience. Where complete freedom could have embiggened the game.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only issue with the quest system. As mentioned you start the game via tutorial quests. However, they don’t really guide you through what you need to do. You’ll get a quick statement to build something or harvest something and then you’re on your own. This was a major problem with the game and had me spending far longer than required on basic quests. However, after a similar consensus formed in the community, the developers have added more guidelines in the tutorials.
When a Developer Listens
The additional tutorial information isn’t the only change Chibig have made based on community feedback. They have also implemented a quick travel between islands instead of having to take the boat back and forth all the time. New locations to craft items outside of your home. Koa’s position has been added to the map so you don’t need to rely on landmarks. And you can now start a new game without manually deleting your save file. There is still a lot of work to do on the game but Chibig have shown they are listening and doing their best to make a lovely game more wonderful.
I got a bit sidetracked before, the actual gameplay largely consists of hunting for resources. i.e. cutting down trees, kicking berries out of bushes, catching fish, etc. once you have enough resources you can make tools, construct objects, or cook food. You have both stamina and food meters, when your stamina runs out you are forced to rest to recover a little bit. When your food meter drops it appears that your stamina burns out faster. Neither of which is a real problem, more of an inconvenience that can be solved fairly easily. Sleeping will recover your stamina, eating or drinking will restore both meters to a point as well.
Talking to certain NPCs will start quests that normally involve either finding an item or making one. Farming is pretty similar to most games, you prepare a patch of soil, plant some seeds, and water and wait. There are a bunch of references to Pirates in the game, but I didn’t come across them in the 4 hours or so I played.
As it stands there are better examples of the genre, although, this game is competitively priced, especially when on sale. But the key feature is the fact that the developers are not only updating the game. But that they are updating it based on community feedback.
The story is interesting. The characters are well designed. It’s bright and beautiful to look at. Overall the game has more positives than negatives for me. But there are a number of things that stick out in a bad way. For instance, I found a boat on the sea with two Qalis (inhabitants of the first island) on it. I stopped my boat to chat to them and could not, however, I could walk well above their ship as there was an invisible box around them. I noticed more of these locations quite frequently, where you will see a gap or a small fence but an invisible obstacle stops you.
Once again, the game has enough going for it that you can look past some of the minor issues. But there are enough minor issues that it might be best to wait for the next update.
In Coffee Terms
Summer in Mara is like a lovely macchiato, it’s a pleasant blend that is fairly well known. It looks fairly nice on the surface. But when you drink it you realise it needed to be brewed a little longer. Not horrible, but give the barista time and it will be a much more enjoyable drink.
Summer in Mara Links
Summer in Mara review summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.