An adventure promising farming, crafting and exploration in a tropical paradise sounds just like what we all need right now.
That’s what Summer in Mara sells you at least – and on the surface, it delivers. It looks absolutely beautiful; a hand-drawn animation introduces the adventure and, for a moment, you feel like you’re privy to the newest, most beautiful anime series. The in-game visuals aren’t half bad either. It’s bright, colourful and ridiculously happy. Even when main character Koa is having a bad day, it never takes her long to perk up. It’s a game that wants to make you smile from ear to ear for every second you’re playing it.
“It’s bright, colourful and ridiculously happy”
Except it doesn’t quite work out like that. I get the impression that developer Chibig wanted to create an Animal Crossing rival with Summer in Mara; a happy-go-lucky game about plucking fruit off trees, talking to quirky NPCs and evolving your island. But to get one up on Nintendo’s runaway success, Summer in Mara packs in a tonne of quests. Unlike your New Horizons villager, Koa never has much chance to laze around. There’s always something that needs doing.
“Within the first hour or so, Summer in Mara turns into Fetch Quest Simulator 2020″
Too much stuff, as it turns out. Cook this meal, grow these seeds, deliver this to so-and-so. Much of the story will simply see you going from one NPC to the next to deliver whatever whim they desire. Within the first hour or so, Summer in Mara turns into Fetch Quest Simulator 2020 – and sadly it never lets up.
You see, Koa lives on a small island all by herself. There, she can plant crops, she can sleep, and she can craft and cook. There’s also a small amount of resources on her island, such as fruit trees and rocks that can be mined. Your first real mission is to fix up an old boat: this lets you travel to the main town. This becomes the primary hub for everything you do in Summer in Mara. Here’s where the majority of NPCs live, and where you’ll pick up most of your quests.
When you’re simply running around the same island from point A to B and back again, to-ing and fro-ing to complete missions for NPCs, Summer in Mara isn’t too bad. You’ll probably sigh when you’re asked to run up a giant hill for the nth time in 10 minutes to deliver something else to the woman you’ve only just spoken to. But the main town is fairly small, so running across it takes only a minute. The problems start to arise when you need to craft items. The only place to craft is on your own island. You can’t fast-travel there, so you need to jump in your boat and sail the short distance. You better hope you have all the ingredients you need first, otherwise you’ll be going back again.
That journey alone is enough to bear. It’s irksome, but you get used to it; it’s a straight sail, so after a while you’ll jump in your boat, hold down a button and daydream about what you’re going to have for dinner for the 30 seconds it takes you to get there. But soon enough, Summer in Mara‘s map opens up, giving you a dozen or so other islands to visit.
Initially, jumping around them to see what secrets they hold is a real highlight of the game. Most islands are simply there for your exploration, with only a few being tied to the plot. But many of them hold resources and useful items for you to collect. Being able to sail from one island to another whenever you feel like it is freeing and relaxing; it’s what Summer in Mara should have been like in its entirety.
“There’s no looking past the fact that its core gameplay makes Summer in Mara a chore to play”
During the second half of the game, an island at the far side of the map becomes an important part of the story. Expect to constantly go back and forth in your boat; oftentimes simply delivering a message before having to travel elsewhere. It’s tedium at its most prevalent. I managed to grin and bear it for the first 10 hours or so, Summer in Mara‘s enchanting setting offsetting my frustration. But that travelling back and forth did eventually become too much. There’s no fast travel, either; you can pay to quickly travel back to town, but that’s all.
It’s a real shame that Summer in Mara subjects you to such monotony, because it’s a beautiful game. Its characters are delightful and its world is a joy to explore. The music, too, is wonderful, if slightly repetitive; some of those tuns will get well and truly stuck in your head. But there’s no looking past the fact that its core gameplay makes Summer in Mara a chore to play. It’s enjoyable in short bursts, at least to begin with, but being little more than everyone’s lackey doesn’t stay fun for long.