I’m a sucker for a game with farming elements. It’s a shame that I don’t have much of a green thumb in real life, because there’s something so profoundly satisfying to me in watching my virtual crops grow.
It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve been looking forward to Summer in Mara. It’s a far cry from a farming simulator, but the central themes of growth and giving back to nature fuel the adventure in a way that strikes a precious chord for me.
I was initially disappointed with the simplicity of the game, as a lot of its “challenge” exists in overcoming the tedium of endless fetch quests. Once I was able to embrace the simplicity, however, I was rewarded with an overall charming and relaxing game about exploring the world around us and being generous with the treasures we find.
- What is Summer in Mara? A single-player adventure game with farming, crafting, and exploration elements. Follow Koa as she sets out upon the vast sea to explore a colorful world filled with even more colorful characters.
- Developer: CHIBIG
- Release Date: June 16, 2020
- Price: $24.99
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Website: www.chibig.com
A Bright and Tropical Paradise
Summer in Mara is a game that lives very much on its own surface. It doesn’t misrepresent itself — what you see is what you get. I say this in a mostly positive way, as I believe the game puts its best foot forward when introducing you to the world and its mechanics. It’s a low-key adventure game that revolves around farming, crafting, and fetch quests; it never pretends to be anything more or less.
The aesthetic of Summer in Mara is very representative of the game itself, and you can tell how much care went into development with each new element that’s introduced. Everything from the island layouts to the soundtrack is bright and jaunty in the best way possible. I was especially a fan of the character design. Although the 3D models can be a bit plain, the stylized art that appears in each character’s static portrait is colorful, quirky, and brimming with personality.
I wish the same could be said of the dialogue. Koa’s personality is inconsistent at best, wavering from kind and sensitive to spunky and bratty at the drop of a hat. This leads to bizarre interactions with NPCs, who also jump between welcoming and aloof in the middle of a conversation. Moreover, prompts for fetch quests are often stale and riddled with grammatical errors, making the story difficult to pin down.
Thankfully, the gameplay doesn’t rely too much on the dialogue. It’s certainly worth paying attention to Koa and Napopo’s main stories, but the prompts can neatly summarize many of the fetch quests in Koa’s to-do list. These quests are primarily based on farming, crafting, and exploration, which is where the game truly shines. I loved the exploration, and ventured off into Mara’s tides time and again to hunt for treasure, gather supplies, and rescue a whole host of animal neighbors that populate my home island.
Living on Island Time
Summer in Mara’s basic mechanics make the everyday routines fast and efficient. The game’s approach to watering and fertilizing crops is especially brilliant, allowing Koa to quickly tend to her whole garden by holding a bucket over her head and letting the contents spill behind her. It’s a nice step up from individually watering each plot, which can eat away precious time from a day that already seems to go by too quickly.
On that note, one of the things I appreciate about Summer in Mara is the way energy is handled. Koa begins each day with a full energy meter (assuming she had a good night’s sleep), which decreases as she completes different activities around the island. Under the energy meter is a hunger meter, which will increase the rate of energy depletion the longer Koa goes without food. Energy also depletes faster after midnight, so it’s helpful to keep track of all relevant meters to avoid passing out and starting the next day with less energy. Thankfully, the game makes this easy with little text prompts, letting you know if Koa needs to eat or rest, as well as a quick and clear day/night cycle that lets you know when to start heading home.
My only complaints in terms of mechanics are the game’s lack of a robust, fast travel option and a more comprehensive menu. Due to the game’s fetch quest-based nature, Summer in Mara has a lot of downtime that’s spent waiting around for crops to grow or sailing back and forth between the two main islands. This becomes incredibly boring, especially in the early game when Koa doesn’t have enough requests to fill out her to-do list.
This is made more frustrating because you can only access your list of known recipes from Koa’s workshop. I frequently found myself accepting crafting quests, sailing home to check the workshop for a list of ingredients, sailing back to Quälis to buy said ingredients, and sailing back home again to make the recipes. I was able to mitigate the inconvenience a little by collecting a list of crafting quests that I could finish all at once. But, that isn’t always an option.
A recipe book added to the menu (along with a few other minor tweaks for organization) would immensely improve the gameplay.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Audiovisuals - 8/10
Writing - 6/10
Exploration - 9/10
Farming & Crafting - 8/10
Summer in Mara is a charming adventure game that thrives on its simple premise and mechanics. The dialogue could have used proper proofreading, and the lack of a recipe book is a drag. But overall, it’s a sweet and relaxing game.
- Audiovisual elements provide a pleasant setting
- Exploration elements are interesting and rewarding
- Farming and crafting mechanics make for fun and efficient gameplay
- Writing is unrealistic and riddled with errors
- Lack of a recipe book is inconvenient and annoying
- Absence of more fast-travel options slows down gameplay