Summer in Mara Review: An Ambitious Indie Title That Falls Short
Back in February of 2019 the game studio Chibig posted a Kickstarter for a tropical-farming sea exploration adventure game called Summer in Mara. This Kickstarter was fully funded in only a few short days and the game secured its budget for release. Now roughly a year and half since the successful Kickstarter the title is out on PC and Nintendo Switch. Is it worth the buy? Check out our Summer in Mara review below.
What is Summer in Mara?
In Summer in Mara players take on the role of Koa, a young inhabitant of Home Island. Home Island is one of many islands on the vast Mara ocean on the planet called Qu. Koa has never ventured off her small island, but feels the constant call of the ocean. One day there is a storyline event that forces Koa to leave her island behind to explore the ocean of Mara and the various islands and inhabitants that call it home.
- Developer: Chibig.
- Release Date: June 16th, 2020 (PC + Switch); PS4 & Xbox One (Unannounced Date).
- Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 & Xbox One.
- Price: $24.99.
- Hours Played for Review: 32.
- Game Beaten: Yes.
- Code Provided by Developer: Yes.
Summer in Mara Quests and Exploration Thoughts
When you start playing Summer in Mara you take control of Koa on her island aptly named Home Island. On this island you live with your grandma, Yayu Haku, a strict old quido (non-human race). Yayu spends the tutorial of the game teaching Koa the basic core gameplay mechanics that include foraging, farming, fishing, crafting, mining, and cooking.
It is important to note that Home Island serves as your home base for the entirety of the game as it is home to all the structures you can build and Koa’s Workshop. Koa’s workshop is where you craft recipes for tools, buildings, cooking dishes, and can sleep. As the main location for you crafting you will spend an absurd amount of time simply sailing back and forth to your island to make things.
Besides being the hub for crafting Home Island also plays an important role in the game’s story as it is home to the Guardian’s Door, a mysterious stone door that can only be opened using Chrysalis. These Chrysalis are hidden across Mara and must be found to complete the main storyline that involves a greedy off-world entity that wishes to take the wonders of Qu for themselves.
Once you complete the tutorial section the game tasks you with leaving the island to begin exploring the ocean of Mara. At the start of your journey you only have a boat powerful enough to reach certain islands with one of these islands being the city island of Qalis. Qalis serves as the central NPC hub of the game. Here you will meet 85% of the game’s cast of characters. These NPCs are the most important aspect of the game as they give you quests to complete, recipes to unlock, and a main storyline to progress.
An Ocean Sized Quest List
Boasting more than 100 quests, Summer in Mara falls into its central gameplay loop once you’ve reached Qalis. On Qalis you will find a mix of unique NPCs and townsfolk. The townsfolk are static models with limited interactivity. NPCs on the otherhand are unique looking characters that can be spoken to and bartered with. Speaking to the unique NPCs will trigger dialogue sequences that give more insight into the game’s lore and send Koa on quests.
Quests in Summer in Mara follow a relatively simple pattern and can be likened to mmo fetch quests. During each quest an NPC will request something from Koa. This request can be filled using the different gameplay mechanics in the game. If a characters wants a specific dish you will need to find the required ingredients (via farming, fishing, foraging or shopping for example) and then prepare the dish to deliver to the character. Once the dish is delivered you will receive something for your service that could be a new recipe or some coins, the in-game currency.
As you complete quests you will juggle between side and main quests. Since many of the quests lines you complete are tied to others you will need to move many of the quests forward in tandem to avoid reaching a wall in your quest lines. This interplay of the different NPC quest-lines can be both a good and bad thing. The good is that it forces you to interact with the different characters in the game. The bad is that there are so many quests to complete it is easy to fall behind and have to stop main quest progress for a while to simply be able to progress the story again.
On the topic of quests there are a number of glaring quality of life issues with the quests I feel I must address. First quest management is incredibly hard to do. There is no pining of quests to your HUD, no permanent marking of quest locations on your map, and no journal to keep track of NPC interactions so you have quest information. All of these omissions make quest completion far more time-consuming than necessary and makes menuing a major part of the game.
Overall I enjoyed some of the Summer in Mara quests I completed (which was all but one line). A few of these quest felt rewarding and interesting to complete. Unfortunately not all of the quests are created equally and some feel as though they simply end with little to no enjoyable conclusion. This lack polish in all the quest lines coupled with the poor QWOL elements of the quest systems makes the questing experience a bit of a mixed bag.
Exploration in an Empty World
When I first reached Qalis I was immediately struck by the emptiness of the city island. While the city itself is robust with various buildings and NPCs, the island itself just feels empty. A large reason for this is the lack of animation on character models. Sure there are a number of NPCs and townsfolk around but none of them move besides appearing or disappearing due to time of day. Given the lack of hustle and bustle in the city I often got the creepy feeling of being surround by mannequins rather than actual living breathing inhabitants of Mara.
Unfortunately this same empty feeling extends out to the open ocean and the more than 20 island you can visit. While the different islands possess different collectibles, resources, mini-games like fishing and diving, and treasure to find, the main interactions at most of the islands are locked behind quests, so it is often better to simply wait to go to an island instead of simply exploring on your own.
The feeling of Exploration is further hampered by the boat upgrade system. Certain parts of the map are locked off until you advance the story enough to unlock new boat upgrades. This means you are limited to where you can go until you complete specific quests. This makes your exploration feel far more linear than I had expected.
I’ve touched on the major portions of the game and typically like to close on what I call miscellaneous thoughts. These are things that I feel should be highlighted but not in their own section. Under this heading you will find things like farming, Day & Night Cycle, controls, stability, and sound design.
Farming is part of the game, but is fairly basic. All you really do is buy seeds, plant them, water the seeds to advance them a day, fertilize the seeds to improve quality, and harvest them when they are available. If you wish you can sell your harvest on Qalis or save them to consume for stamina.
Alongside crop farming there is also livestock you can raise. Again this is a fairly basic system that involves acquiring the animals from the open ocean, transporting them to your island, and feeding them to get products.
Day & Night Cycle
Summer in Mara has a day & night cycle which means you can sleep to advance the day. This is mainly used when merchants or NPC are not available. There are also special events that happen based on time of day, but these are all tied to the main storyline and are sometime confusing as to when they occur and are underwhelming.
Sailing the High Seas
To travel between islands you will use your ship to sail. This is fine, but again the seas feel fairly empty. You can stop at specific locations on your map to fish or dive in the open seas, or run over floating barrels and boxes for resources. There a few boat races on top of these systems you can complete, but they are few and far between.
Audio & Visuals
Both the music and art in the game were one of my favorite parts. Loved the island vibes both capture in their own unique ways. My only wish is that there were more music tracks and animated cut-scene moments.
Summer in Mara is what I would consider to be an overly ambitious title that gets crushed by the weight of that ambition. There is a ton of potential presented in the various systems the game has but this potential seems to have been limited by the size and scope of the project. While the large amount of quests, islands, and ocean travel are impressive there isn’t much making any of these elements real standouts.