After being rescued as a child from a fire at sea, a young girl learns to adapt to island life, make new friends and unearths the myths of the guardians in Chibig’s archipelago adventure — Summer in Mara.
Being found/rescued by a strange grandma-like figure in Yaya Haku, Koa (the young orphan) spends most of her early days learning the ropes of island life from her elders. Yaya teaches Koa the fundamentals of cooking, building and farming with some of the basic equipment and tools to hand or which can be crafted from the island’s fairly basic materials. Crafting and cooking both require the use of the workshop and kitchen respectively and both are easily located within your house on your home island.
Yaya impresses on Koa that everything she does should be about improving either the island or giving back to Mara, the local region in which the game is set in an almost Mufasa/Simba Circle of Life analogy. Many of Summer in Mara’s quests centre around this ethos and help build Koa’s friendships as she progresses on her adventure. Helping the locals can consist of planting and harvesting certain vegetables or constructing specific structures to support other crafting or material/resource collection tasks.
It’s not long before a mysterious door on the island is introduced. The tale of the guardians, the mythical protectors of Mara, is recited by Yaya to Koa and shortly after, the orphan is left to fend for herself on the island. Koa then sets out to sea in Yaya’s old boat to investigate an old letter leading to a number of crafting and farming related quests to solve the mystery of the door and find the truth surrounding the eponymous guardians.
As Koa becomes more proficient in certain activities or is rewarded with new blueprints, new tools or materials become available in which Koa create new structures, increase the efficiency of existing actions or simply progress other quests. Tool selection is mapped to a single button which swaps between the available implements, the action button is then utilised to deploy the selected tool. With the exception of fishing, it never really gets any more complicated than just pressing the action button until the desired effect is reached.
Graphically, Mara is a very pretty place, with an approach that imitates the art style of Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker. The islands that Koa visits are both detailed and simple at the same time. The style matches the premise well with details where it most matters and most of the islands feel quite alive with growing trees, fields and a full day/night cycle and weather system (although it hardly ever rains).
Materials gathered are regenerated over time making it easy enough to farm required items although due to some early game balance challenges there are days where it’s simpler to just sleep and advance time than walk the island needlessly losing energy and building hunger.
Summer in Mara successfully imitates the dream of living in a tropical paradise, a potentially stereotypical view that the Caribbean-like way of life is one of relaxing, sun-filled days with very little worry or concern entering the fray. Unfortunately, when the objectives required to focus the mind are so few, a meandering, almost lackadaisical approach can make sections of the game a chore to progress.
There’s never any real urgency to do anything in Summer in Mara. Quests may want completion but there’s never any actual target deadline. Need to build a well? Crack on … or don’t. There’s never any real penalty to just wandering off and collecting some trash or seashells. Other than the food meter, which is rarely a difficulty to empty given the prevalence of free (or stolen) island sustenance, it doesn’t matter if that well never gets built unless you want to progress the main story.
Some players will love that approach, generally, I’d suggest it will be younger gamers who don’t understand the script or can’t quite be bothered in reading all the quest narratives. However, most players are looking for that sense of accomplishment and the urgency delivered in other games to make the most of the time they have to finish an objective due to its reward or to prioritise other activities due to their much greater reward value. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here.
Quests are also sometimes simply poorly designed. After leaving home, Koa makes land on a local island looking for someone mentioned in a letter. After speaking with a local you are prompted to meet to kick things off, Summer in Mara has you travel most of the way across the island only to have you return; to and fro; several times for a very paltry reward. Not only that, after the first trip it’s the same path and players burn energy and food carrying out the laborious task.
Ultimately Summer in Mara is a very relaxing farming sim with some beautifully realised environments, easy to handle crafting mechanics and some catchy tunes but its simplicity causes some longevity challenges.
Summer in Mara is available now digitally on Nintendo Switch and PC with PS4 and Xbox One versions coming in 2020.