Summer in Mara
Nintendo Switch

Developed By : Chibig
Published By : Chibig
Category : Adventure, Simulation
Release Date :Jun 16, 2020

It’s always nice to have a relaxing game that you can fall back on. Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons are all series that are easy to get into and offer a relaxing experience compared to other, more demanding, games. Summer in Mara looked like it would be another simple, enjoyable title. It’s certainly a simple game for the most part… but whether I’d consider it enjoyable is another thing entirely. 

Summer in Mara focuses on Koa, a young girl who lives on a secluded island with her adoptive parent Haku. The two spend their time tending to their farmland and foraging from the island’s abundant greenery. It seems like the peaceful days will last forever, but Koa eventually finds herself alone. The loss of her parental figure isn’t enough to dull her spirits however, and the appearance of a strange being on the island kickstarts a new adventure. 

The opening hour does a decent job of mixing the story with a simple tutorial. Koa is taught the basics of gathering and crafting, and the two characters share some banter between each other. Despite these humble beginnings, or perhaps because of this, Summer in Mara’s story is at its most engaging while you’re doing these initial mundane tasks.  

It’s when the game opens up more when the story’s cracks start to show. Many of the characters Koa runs into are, simply put, annoying to deal with. They’re the worst examples of quest givers: rude, lazy and will often give pitiful rewards. Now, this could have worked, and MMO players will probably be used to needy NPCs. The problem here is that there’s little to distract you from the constant requests, since the main story takes a backseat for most of the game. And, when the story does try to ramp up near the end, it still ends up being uninteresting. The payoff is just not worth it for the amount fetch quests you end up doing. 

In fact, fetch quests are by far the worst aspect of Summer in Mara. They’re required to progress the story, they’re required to unlock new crafting recipes and parts of the map; no matter what you need to do, fetch quests will be there to get in the way. So many of them consist of “talk to this NPC, go back to Koa’s island, craft one thing, go all the way back” repeated multiple times. Fetch quests are often a necessary evil for games like this, as they force you to keep making new items and give you something to work towards. But when a game only has them, it becomes tedious rather quickly. 

Even if the fetch quests were toned down, the gameplay would still need some major overhauls to stay fresh for more than a couple of hours. Summer in Mara uses a bunch of simple systems for its gathering and crafting. You can plant crops and trees, mine ore, fish, basically what you’d expect from a game this this. Unlike other farming/crafting focused games, not of these systems have any real depth to them. Crops require no maintenance (water only speeds up their growth), while bushes and trees will constantly generate items forever. Even the animals you can get later on feel like decorations rather than living beings that you must take care of.

This simplicity extends to other systems too. The day and night cycle server next to no purpose, due to the lack of an in-game calendar system. Growing crops and trees does require you to wait a certain amount of days, and things like ore take time to respawn, yet you can skip this by sleeping in your house repeatedly. The cost for sleeping, a small portion of your hunger meter, is not enough of a penalty for pretty much ignoring the time mechanic entirely. When you can sleep for 5 days in a row, and then top up your hunter meter by eating a single meal, there’s clearly a problem. 

Growing various trees across Koa’s island does at least offer some satisfaction. Sailing — and exploration in general — on the other hand is just unengaging. The map is made up sections that can be sailed between, each one having a single island to explore and the occasional fishing or diving spot. Each island is clearly marked on your map the moment you’re able to travel there, so there’s absolutely no sense of discovery. That, plus the fact that most islands have next to nothing on them, already makes having to sail around seem redundant. On top of this, the ocean offers little in the way of visual variety, and the load screens between sections makes long journeys even less appealing.  

It’s not all bad in the visual department though, and the cartoony art style holds up well on the Switch. Koa is well animated, and the character portraits fit the theme perfectly. There are a few framerate drops in some of the larger areas, yet it’s solid enough everywhere else. The only real stain on the visuals is related to bugs, which can sometimes cause the game to look strange. A recent patch does seem to have fixed a few of these problems at least. 

Summer in Mara had the potential to be a good game, it just needed another year or two in the oven. Most of its mechanics are incredibly basic, leading to a stale gameplay loop. With a decent story or characters this could have been mitigated, though the lifeless world and often aggravating characters ruin any chances of this. Patches will at least add some quality of life features, but this won’t be enough to fix Summer in Mara’s fundamental issues.  

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Summer in Mara
$24.99

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*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*