It’s unwise to label Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara as a sequel to Summer in Mara. One’s a cosy, Animal Crossing-style narrative experience. The other’s a fast-paced platformer that constantly puts you against the clock. It’s weird, then, that the two have been paired together in such a way: they’re both set on the same island and they feature the same characters.
In a way it’s kind of nice, if you’ve already played Summer in Mara, to return to Koa’s home islands in such a different way. Summer in Mara didn’t make that much of an impact on us, but we were surprised how pleasant it was, some three years later, to be revisiting the same spots – a familiar lighthouse, a market square, Koa’s own island laden with greenery and vegetable patches. It looks slightly different, thanks to Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara’s more over-the-top 3D cartoonish art style. But in a way, it’s like revisiting a friendly, familiar place after some time away.
Of course, you don’t have to have played Summer in Mara to enjoy Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara. This is very much a standalone experience. Sure, you might not connect with its light narrative quite as much: there’s a fair bit of conversation with the locals, adding some flavour between platforming. But all you need to know, really, is that some pesky pirates are causing trouble in town. And it’s up to Mara to complete their challenges in order to get things back in order. Those challenges? Platforming races against the clock across a variety of locations.
The levels here are spread across a multitude of small islands, and so to travel between them you’re going to have to jump in a boat. The sailing controls are by far the worst thing in Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara: you’ll probably never get used to them, but thankfully it doesn’t take more than a minute or two to get across the map. Most platforming levels are very short, but each is packed with various collectibles to find along the way. You have a choice, then: do you race against the clock to go for a ‘gold’ medal? Or do you take your time and instead try to pick everything up?
Related: The Best Platformer Games on PS5
Completionists will probably do both, revisiting each level to clean everything up. It’s not necessary to complete the game though. As long as each level has been finished, you’re good to go. There are, however, a number of race levels that see Koa face off against the small, feisty pirates directly, and in these, speed is king. You’ll need to utilise Koa’s roll manoeuvre to gather speed in order to best them. Oh, and not put a single foot out of place: fall or get hit by a trap too many times, and it’s right back to the start of the race.
Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara has clearly taken inspiration from classic 3D platforming games, and so fans of the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon should find something they enjoy here. Indeed, some levels even see a perspective shift, with Koa running towards the camera, Crash Bandicoot-being-chased-by-a-boulder-style. No two levels are identical, and the developers have done a great job in keeping things feeling fresh.
The controls aren’t quite as tight as one would like a platforming game to be however – particularly one that requires speed and accuracy so much of the time. Koa is a little floaty to control, especially when running at speed, and so mis-timing a jump or messing up a landing happens all too often. But since levels are fairly short, starting over never feels like too much of a hardship. And achieving a gold medal – or cleaning up all of the collectibles – always feels like a pleasant achievement.
Are there better platforming games out there? Without a doubt. But Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is a welcome addition to the genre, providing a familiar playground to run, jump and dash around in. Its bite-sized levels have been put together well, and even if some sections are a little on the frustrating side, you’ll likely be determined to see it through to its end. At a bargain price, it’s well worth picking up if you’re a fan of 3D platformers.