Owning your own island is a dream I’m sure many people share. Living off the land and making do with what you can grow or build yourself is the kind of simple life that many people strive for as a future. Summer in Mara lets this dream become a reality, but the summer that you spend in Mara ends up being less about relaxing on your island, and more about running fetch quests for everyone else that lives nearby.
You take on the role of Koa, a young girl who was saved from the ocean and brought up by a local islander named Haku. This is all the game gives you in terms of a jumping off point for the story, and you’d be forgiven for feeling lost through most of the game. Minimal static cutscenes make sporadic appearances, but not enough for you to really understand what’s going on or how much time has passed between each one. After these initial jumpy cutscenes, Koa is left to fend for herself on the island, and this is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time.
Initially, there’s not a lot to do or explore, and the game does feel a little boring. Your island is only small, and Koa’s movement feels clunky. Once the story progresses a bit more, the world opens up to you. You have a boat to travel to local islands and beyond, though some areas are locked behind story progression which is a little annoying to say the least. You can only explore as far as the game wants you to at that point, which feels limiting, especially when you spend most of the game feeling like there’s no ultimate end goal.
To begin with, your island has a couple of areas for you to grow crops, and that’s about it. As you explore and progress, you can build animal houses, mines, wells and many more conveniences to make island living easier, but you will have to put in time to achieve this. Everything you build or make requires resources, and while some can be found on your island, most need to be bought, traded or found by exploring further afield, which gives you a reason at least to do some adventuring.
The local island of Qalis is where you’ll probably spend the rest of your time when not on your island. It’s where most of the interactable NPCs are, and where you’ll be able to trade most of your goods. With no proper mini map or compass on your main screen, it will take a while initially to try and figure out where all the people are. You’re often sent to find a certain person to deliver or pick up an item, and before you learn who is where, this will take you an annoyingly long time to do, especially with no quest markers on maps (in the beginning) or NPCs.
Summer in Mara loves fetch quests, and you better hope you do as well because it’s what the story largely consists of. Running back and forth between NPCs and islands to gather ingredients or make equipment is only fun for so long, and there could have been a lot more variety here in the questing to help hold your interest in the game. Sadly, this was not to be, and feels like a missed opportunity for a game that classes itself as an “Adventure”.
Most of the NPCs are unique characters, but largely forgettable, which is quite a feat for an island with cat/human hybrids and a glowing alien type creature. Each NPC has a set number of quests to complete for them, of which you can vaguely keep track of in a status bar under their questline in your menu, but you can’t focus on one at a time as some quests cannot be completed for one NPC before you do another one. It feels complicated and unnecessary, and hard to keep track of where you are up to most of the time.
Summer in Mara certainly doesn’t hold your hand, even if it has that cute look about it. With no real tutorial of any kind for any of the activities, you’re left guessing how to sail your boat, catch a fish or even do something as simple as run, which I didn’t figure out how to do until I had played more of the game than I’d like to admit. The menus are hard to navigate and some of the buttons aren’t assigned to the right command, which makes things harder still. Eventually you’ll figure out how to do all these things, but a little nudge in the right direction would have been nice.
Summer of Mara is certainly pleasing for the eyes and ears. The islands you visit and the seas you cross are pretty and colourful, which makes your exploration time all the more enjoyable. There’s also a fantastic soundtrack, which is somewhat ruined by the fact it randomly fades in and out for no apparent reason. If you were scoring the game solely on these two aspects, it would be a real gem, and one of the earlier cutscenes in the game genuinely feels like it has been taken straight out of an anime. It looks that good.
The farming aspect of the game is also quite fun, and there’s that sense of achievement when you complete a bunch of crops. The day/night cycle works in harmony with this farming, with the rarer crops needing longer to grow, which does mean you are limited to what you can do in a day, especially as Koa has both a food and a stamina bar that you need to keep track of. It feels like the game could have done better had it focused on either the adventure or the farming aspects, instead of trying to push them both into one game.
Summer in Mara feels like a game of missed opportunity. As good as it looks and sounds initially, the game is let down by repetitive questing more than anything else, which is a shame because it had a lot of potential. My enjoyment of the game, while initially low, did increase as I was given more scope to explore and upgrade my island, but ultimately it felt like you were repeating the same task constantly. Mara is just about worth recommending a visit to, but don’t stay longer than the summer.
Review copy provided by PR.
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Summer in Mara is a beautiful game for the eyes and the ears, but spends too much time on fetch quests and not enough on story.
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