This article was originally published on Doublejump.
With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, Summer in Mara offers up a relaxing change of pace as you set out on a unique farming adventure in a beautiful, tropical archipelago. Spanish-based developer Chibig received more than ten times its funding goal for the game on Kickstarter, and it’s easy to see why: it’s the closest a video game has come to the charm and freedom of living in the world of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo.
Summer in Mara casts you in the role of young Koa, tackling the responsibilities of maintaining an island ecosystem, scouring the ocean, making friends and working to ensure her hunger and stamina levels never cause her to pass out. Having been raised by her grandmother, Koa is left to fend for herself in a world that has strong opinions about the incapability of young, but only she can make any changes for the better.
Your adventure begins when a stranger washes ashore on your island, unable to communicate and in need of help. Therein lies Koa’s entire motivation for everything she does — to help others, connect communities and improve the world of Mara even when it comes at a cost to her. To do so, you build your island by adding structures and cultivating crops to make or bake new treats, all to impress and help the many colourful characters you encounter.
When the archipelago finally opens up after an unnecessarily long tutorial sequence, individual exploration falls a little flat. There are more than 20 unique islands to explore in Summer in Mara, yet there isn’t anything to be gained from them unless an NPC tells you to go there. Every island has its own resources for you to respectfully harvest but nothing special. There were no hidden caves with the rarest fruit, no secret quests, and the one gag island that you encounter early on doesn’t have any further part in the game.
Standing as Chibig’s fourth release, Summer in Mara definitely bears some influence from its predecessors in the studio’s library. Chibig developed Ankora and Tiny Planet for Android and iOS before rebooting the latter to PC and PlayStation 4; Summer in Mara shares visual assets with those previous games, but it’s also in a connected universe. As such, it feels very much like a mobile game. Despite its incredible size and dynamism, the economy had me waiting for a pop-up to offer me some kind of premium option for real-world money, and some of the steps it asks you to take in quests feel like the kind of filler content you see in a mobile game either to pace you through the story and keep you coming back or to keep you occupied while you wait. Fortunately, those mechanics didn’t find their way into Summer in Mara, but Chibig would have done well to cut down on the pointless filler content.
Much like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, Summer in Mara is a game to be taken slowly and enjoyed at your own pace. Relax on your island as you prepare the ingredients for the next quest and enjoy the beautifully crafted dialogue from wholesome and diverse characters. While I won’t be starting from scratch to see how Koa’s story ends, I will be keeping an eye on Chibig’s community addresses so I can set sail once again when my issue is patched.
Summer in Mara is an excellent option if you are still coming down from a fresh Animal Crossing addiction and need some peaceful gameplay. Its charm and beauty do tick a number of boxes, but Chibig still has a number of rough edges to smooth out.
Tom reviewed Summer in Mara using a retail Nintendo Switch code provided by Chibig.
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