Summer in Mara is an open-ocean farming simulator from Chibig Studios. The game houses several features found throughout the farming sim genre. However, the game diverges by coating itself in a Windwaker-esque open-ocean world of explorable islands. Koa, the game’s protagonist, has to learn to care for not only herself and her island, but the whole ocean of Mara and its inhabitants. In the mix, she’ll be unraveling the mystery of the ocean and her own past.
Story – Mystery In Mara
Summer in Mara puts the player directly into the center of the mysterious ocean, Mara. Koa will meet with a vibrant cast of characters, many of which are recurring characters from Chibig’s universe. Mun and Brram as well as several other themes like planets and species rear their head in Summer in Mara. From the beginning, the game is very apparent in what is going on. The story starts out steady with Yaya Haku explaining to Koa the impressionable consequences of life. To be precious and gracious to all things, from trees to people. These teachings follow Koa on her entire adventure. Moments where Koa talks to herself to remind herself to thank the trees for their bounty are small, yet meaningful elements. As things grow more complex further in, we see excellent development of not only Koa, but several of the characters we meet along the way.
Interactions between Koa and the rest of the cast are nearly always charming and enjoyable. There are numerous things to learn and discover with each person as you quest for them. The quests range from Brram trying to build confidence to become a chef to Mayo causing chaos for others and even becoming a pirate of Mara. The game is great at eliciting emotion from the player. Several times I found myself with a massive grin across my face talking to Onzo or Napopo. On the flip-side, the game can be quite tragic, but ultimately teaches great lessons of dealing with these emotions.
Moreover, the overarching story that deals with the mystery of Mara is wildly intriguing. The lore has several games previous to help build upon certain things like Ankora and Elit. This makes things like the species feel well-developed even if the player hasn’t played any of the previous titles. The story itself is well-paced and does a great job of standing unique in an otherwise niche genre of games.
The game does a great job of diversity, not only in the characters (which are mostly aliens), but in the designs of the different islands. For instance, I stumbled upon one island full of vases. As I walked around, I kept hearing this growling sound, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out where it was coming from. Eventually I discovered that as I moved the camera around, the vases were changing locations. Unique islands like this or the volcanic island teeming with foreign flora really added to the creative side of the game.
Gameplay – Can You Fetch A Fetch Quest?
Where the story is deep and varied, the gameplay is the absolute adverse. At first, the questing does a decent enough job of teaching you basics, but once the introductory chapter ends, the player is entirely on their own with several things left unexplained. Multiple mechanics such as diving or commerce are completely crucial, yet get no explanation as to how they work. With no mini-map or compass on land, it also gets rather confusing as to where one is supposed to go. On Qalis, the main island, initial landfall is extremely confusing as you are told to go here, but have no clue where to go once there.
The questing is absolutely the worst part of the game. Every quest is nothing more than a fetch quest. It isn’t even hidden. While the flavor text is intriguing enough, the quest itself is simply ‘go here, get this, bring it back’ or ‘give this to somebody, come back with payment’. What makes it worse is several of these quests require items that are nearly impossible to find or make. At one point I had 6 quests that I couldn’t complete because they needed flour in some form or another. Flour could not be purchased and I didn’t have the recipe for it. One of these was a main quest to give a croissant to the lady in the lighthouse. Eventually I caved and purchased the croissant for a large sum of money, which is also not very easy to come by.
Another irritating segment of the game is something that only adds to the annoyance of the seemingly endless fetch questing. The need to have to return to Koa’s home island in order to craft or cook anything. Players must manually trek back to the boat, drive all the back to her home island from wherever they happen to be, and wait through several loading screens in order to craft anything. In a game that requires so much backtracking, a fast travel option home would have been greatly useful.
The farming simulation itself is vastly limited to a few plots of land directly in front of Koa’s house. On top of that, much of the farming systems make little to no sense. Cotton and Corn take 6 days to fully grow, whereas an apple tree takes two days. Plant growth can be expedited by a day if watered from a well. However, the wells run out of water after three uses and can only be refilled if it rains, which is an extremely rare occurence. On the positive side, Koa can decorate her island with several different trees and numerous decorations from Qalis in whatever she sees fit. This allows players to give the island a unique flare to an otherwise lacking simulation system.
Graphics and Audio – Mara Save Us
Graphically speaking, Summer in Mara is clearly no Last of Us Part II, but for an indie game in the genre, it certainly doesn’t need to be. It’s closer in tune to something like My Time At Portia, where it fits more at home. It certainly has its issues and shortfalls. There were several times where I walked through what should have been a solid texture or stood floating in the air above a boat or rock. Nonetheless, the game did a great job of nailing the design of its several species, islands, and flora and fauna. Everything seems to fit perfectly into the world, unless it’s not meant to, and then it doesn’t. There are two cinematic experiences in the game, at the beginning and end; both of them are absolutely stunning and had me wanting a full fledged show to watch more of the beautiful designs.
Paired with the attractive visuals is the lovely, yet sometimes lacking audio design. The game has no full voice acting, but houses grunts, groans, and laughs for every character. The emotion in dialogue comes across perfectly despite the fact the characters aren’t actually speaking. Where the audio fails is when the game falls silent at unexpected moments. For the most part, music will be playing for Koa’s journey, but every now and then the music will completely stop for seemingly no reason, leaving Koa and her little boat drifting along in silence. Outside of the random silence, the audio mingled well with the outstanding overall design of the game.
Summer In Mara was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a review key provided by Evolve PR.