The world is a scary and selfish place. People are only interested in what is best for them, and how you can help them. That is until you are found by Yaya Haku. She is a kind, loving, and fiery lady who luckily finds you lost at sea. You are an orphan who is floating in her basket on a rough night at sea. Yaya raises the girl as if she is her own, she instills the belief that nature is finely balanced, and whatever you take from her, you must put back. You play Koa, the young orphaned child, she has been raised in the confines of her stunning island home, and has a desire to explore the world of Mara. This adventure sees her meeting and helping different people and species across the world in this colourful tropical adventure.
Summer in Mara has been developed and published by Chibig, a game that was heavily funded through a successful crowdfunding campaign. With an original release date of September 2019, the game was unfortunately pushed back until June 16th, 2020. As the saying goes, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. This colourful and heartwarming game combines a number of gaming elements to create a calm and relaxing adventure/farming simulator title. You must control Koa and help her develop as a person, while she fulfills her own desires to explore and discover more about herself.
Now I have somewhat of a vested interest in this one, as I was part of the crowdfunding team who parted with their own cash to get this game off the ground. I’ve been reading the updates and seeing how the developers have been adjusting gameplay to get it ready for release. Has the waiting all been for nothing, or will I be pleasantly surprised, and lose myself in this vivid world? Shall we dive in and see what Mara has to offer? Yeah, why not!
The game opens with you relaxing on the roof of your house, you are free to explore the world, but in order to progress, you must start completing quests, and utilising the surrounding lands to collect resources, and create goods which can either be sold or consumed. This forms the backbone of the main game premise and has a distinct Harvest Moon air to it. In the opening stages, Koa is restricted to helping out Yaya Haku, this is until you are left by yourself, and the island which you call home falls into disrepair. You start with limited recipes, tool blueprints, and no way to leave to explore. This all changes, when you discover an odd-looking creature named Napopo, helping them out, gives you the freedom that you desire, and so your journey begins. You must search for resources, work the lands to grow fruit, trees, and care for your animals, all in a relaxing and carefree way.
Summer in Mara consists of over 300 different missions, and 20 plus characters to interact with. You must always remember your manners, which is tough for Koa, as she is a bit cheeky, and always viewed as a little child. Yaya Haku’s words must remain with you throughout, and you must remember that whatever you take from the world must be returned one way or another. This is no more apparent than when you start to talk to the different people of each island you visit. Each has its own story to tell, unsurprisingly, they all need your help in one way or another. It soon becomes obvious that everyone’s lives are intrinsically intertwined, and one task has an impact on another. Your calm and relaxing life soon becomes quite hectic, with everyone wanting a piece of your time to help solve their problems. The unfortunate thing is, that without you helping them, there is no way that you can progress. Koa needs to help these people in order to help herself.
This relaxed and slow-paced gameplay really took a bit of time for me to get used to. Having spent a fair bit of time recently playing FPS and quick arcade indie titles, I had to take a step back, and allow myself some time to adjust to the relaxing game mechanics. I used to love Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing, so this quest based character relationship building mechanic is something that I am used to, and in Summer in Mara its been executed particularly well. The way that each of the characters talks about the other builds up an idea of personality, and really helps you to build relationships with the surrounding creatures. The quests that you undertake are fun, though a little repetitive in places, it very much has a fetch and deliver vibe, or grow and build feel to it. Having only spent approximately 15 hours playing, I’ve only just scratched the surface, but I do get the distinct feeling that I will be muttering to myself “Oh great, another grow sunflower quest!” I guess you sometimes have to take the rough with the smooth, and avid fans of the genre will not be put off by such minor indiscretions.
Summer in Mara isn’t just about jumping in your boat and completing quests. You are free to repair and build up your home however you see fit, “Are there any restrictions?” I hear you ask. There are, and they are limited to your own progress in the game. You start with only stone based tools, specifically an axe and a hoe. As you complete quests you obtain blueprints that allow you to build better tools, obtain more advanced materials, and items, and you unlock bigger and better structures. These can all then be used to increase your growing space, house more animals, and just make your life that much easier. As well as this custom option, you will unlock activities as the game goes on. These are vital to completing the tasks that you are given. You must purchase or build diving goggles to reach the bottom of the ocean to collect marvelous treasures, and you will have to fish at sea, and in lakes, upgrading your equipment along the way in order to haul in the largest of prey.
All activities are dependent on the resources that you have in your possession. You fancy going fishing for a certain fish, but you don’t have the specific bait, you have two choices; hunt it down, or buy it. The world of Mara has a thriving market, where everything can be purchased for a price. Utilise each vendor wisely, and sell them the products that they most desire in order to maximise your profits. Quests and diving pay handsomely, but sometimes a quick fix is what you desire, and getting to grips with the ladies in the market will make a difference between fishing now, or having to wait hours on end. The world itself slowly opens up to you. You are provided with a map, but the images are very vague, and not always accurate, so you must explore and markdown your new discoveries as you stumble across them. The developers have done particularly well with this element of the game, it really did keep things exciting. Jumping in my boat and heading towards the unknown was great, as was the ever-changing diving environment. Put on your goggles and wait to see what you will find, sometimes it was utter rubbish, but every so often you’d hit the jackpot and finding that treasure made it all worthwhile.
Chibig has created a beautifully vibrant and colourful world to explore, with the look of Zelda Windwaker, and the feel of Harvest Moon. The characters have an unusual and cartoony look to them, each of the main characters has a unique design, with the NPC “tourists” all looking and feeling quite boring and bland in comparison. The islands that you explore all have a distinct feel and each is fun to explore, keeping the action fresh and interesting. All the narrative is delivered in text form, with the occasional noise to express the emotion, this reminded me of a jRPG’s presentation. Though the graphics are quite cutesy and colourful, they certainly aren’t aimed at a younger audience. I believe that the gamers that will be attracted to play this will love how well the developers have delivered on their art style. The audio works as well as the graphics. It’s a very lighthearted affair, which emphasises the tropical world that you live in. It combines a reasonably fast-paced tempo, with stringed instruments to replicate the sounds of a sea shanty. The sound effects used aren’t over the top, they are nothing spectacular but work well with each item you use or consume. The audio is very good, and changes to represent each situation, while constantly presenting the relaxed theme of the game.
When I start looking at any PC game, I always look at whether it will support a controller. I’m a pretty lazy player, and certainly prefer to use a controller than a mouse and keyboard. Fortunately, as this is being ported to console, it has full controller mapping. All the actions are easy to complete, using either input method. The boat is particularly easy to use, and when partaking in any of the additional activities, you are advised of the specific way to successfully proceed. The fishing asks you to time a button press within a set area, and then you must keep the fish icon within the marked box. As the fish get bigger and more difficult, this task becomes a lot harder, so practice and better equipment are a must. I’ve already mentioned the possibility that the quests could become monotonous, but with so much to do, the freedom to create the home of your dreams, and a number of characters to help out along the way, this game is going to keep you coming back for more. You are effectively free to do what you want. If you so wished, you could spend all your time farming on your own island, this wouldn’t interest me personally. I feel that the beauty of this game is found in the ability to help out everyone you speak to, and not knowing what you will uncover as you explore the different areas of the map. The Steam profile shows 53 achievements to be unlocked, and I have no reason to believe that this wouldn’t be the case for both Playstation and Xbox. It’s going to be hard for me to place a time on this, I’m going to say you are looking at between 20 and 30 hours to get through the main game, but the opportunities to extend your time are almost endless.
Has Summer in Mara lived up to my expectations? Personally, I would say that it has exceeded them. I expected a relaxed and laid back approach that would allow me to play the game on a casual basis. But what I got was much, much more. The option to be able to create your own homestead that matches your personality is a fantastic addition. The personalities of the characters that you encounter are; amusing, enjoyable, and touching. The world in which you explore is full of mystery and is an utter joy to experience. I can’t help but recommend this title. Fans of farming or casual and lighthearted adventure games will surely not go wrong when purchasing this one. Make sure that you remember to repay mother nature when you take anything from the surrounding land. Grab your boat, as it’s time to explore Mara one island at a time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Summer in Mara Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
It’s time to explore the world of Mara, where life will never be the same again. Help the surrounding people, and remember to repay mother nature in this relaxed farming adventure title.
- Beautiful and enthralling story.
- Relaxing and fun audio.
- Colourful and vivid art style.
- Easy to use controls, using both controller and Mouse and Keyboard.
- Lots to do, and plenty to make you want to keep playing.
- The game’s pace can take a bit of getting used to.
- The quests can be a little repetitive.