Summer in Mara Review – A Casual Stroll on the Beach

Developer and Publisher: Chibig // Price: $24.99 (eShop/Steam)
Review copy received from publisher

Warm sun, a cool breeze, and crashing waves; for many, this is an ideal day at the beach and serves as the inspiration for Summer in Mara by indie developer Chibig.  Summer in Mara is an extremely colorful farming sim and adventure game hybrid set in a tropical archipelago region.  Players take the role of Koa, a young girl orphaned as a baby after her parents’ boat explodes.  Finding Koa in the wreckage, a local resident of the area, Yaya Haku, rears Koa as her own child.  Yaya Haku raises Koa to respect nature and help people, a life pursuit of Koa after her guardian passes on.

Chibig promoted Summer in Mara as a game inspired by both The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Stardew Valley, and it’s easy to see why.  Koa’s home island is in ruins after the passing of Yaya Haku with empty fields and animal pens in disarray.  Much like Stardew Valley, Koa must rebuild her island by growing crops and planting trees. Along with farming, Koa can collect resources to craft items as well as harvest produce and fish to complete recipes.   Eventually, Koa is able gain enough resources to repair her boat, giving her access to sail to other islands and quench her adventurous thirst.

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A Long Row to Hoe

Although Sumer of Mara appears to have an abundance of things to do, it’s difficult to to do more than one thing at a time. Cooking, crafting, and fishing all require resources, but the resources are sparse and regenerate at a snail’s pace.  There is little to do between regenerations except wait.  At first it wasn’t a big deal because I could explore the island, but eventually, I had explored all that the home island had to offer and there were no open quests to complete on other islands.  This forced me to sleep through multiple days of potential progress instead of doing anything productive.

The farming aspect of Summer in Mara is light.  It plays a big part of the game, but there isn’t an option to lose by neglecting crops.  Tending to the crops is passive as the crops will grow on their own given enough time.  There are no weeds to pull or soil to turn to make the crops grow faster.  Crops can be watered to speed up their growth, but water is limited to what is in the well.  Once it runs dry, the only way to fill it is to wait for it to rain on the island.  As with all other resources, this takes a long time to replenish.

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Mara’s Official Concierge

Adding to the resource bottleneck are the quests.  Most of the quests involve crafting, cooking or farming, creating a decision for players.  Should those resources go toward expanding Koa’s home island and her growing hunger or fulfilling a quest?  There isn’t enough available to do both. However, since only one or two quests are available at a time, choosing to improve the home island delays any forward progress.  It should also be noted that the quest system is mostly “fetch quests” as characters ask you to bring them an item.  There is an extreme amount of time spent going back and forth to complete the quests since building and growing these items can only be done on the home island.  

Bright and Sunny

Traveling around the islands is a visual treat; the art direction is something to behold.  The colors are bright and cheerful, helping fulfill the tropical aesthetic.  The animation and art design is so well done that moving  Koa around the islands feels like controlling the main character in an interactive, animated film.  Even though the game takes place on tropical islands, the islands do not feel cramped for space; there is a wealth of territory for Koa to explore.  However, the environments are static.  Except for an occasional roaming animal, there is no movement.  Trees and flowers are rigid instead of moving with the tropical breeze that surely exists in Mara.  Characters stand silently waiting for Koa to talk to them.  When talking to a background character, their speech bubble is oddly placed on the same plane as the character’s face.  If talking to a background character from the side, the character doesn’t turn to face Koa, thus requiring adjustments to swing the camera to a full frontal shot so that the text can be easily read.  

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Final Verdict

Although Summer in Mara didn’t connect with me because of its slow pace, I don’t think it is a bad game.  Labeled as a casual sim, the pacing may be too leisurely for gamers expecting a game inspired by Stardew Valley and Wind Waker.  Perhaps the ideal audience for Summer of Mara is younger gamers.  The spacious islands provide ample opportunity to explore, and inexperienced players may not be as likely to become disinterested while waiting given the space to explore.  The linear quest progression slows down the pace of Summer in Mara which could prevent fledgling gamers from being overwhelmed.  Additionally, the colorful art direction may create a stronger connection with players interested in animated media.  

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