It’s tough to properly review a video game when you aren’t able to finish it due to a game-breaking bug. If I’m going to be honest, I’m relieved that Summer in Mara broke. I can tell that developer Chibig poured a lot of love into it, but the game is a mess of bizarre design choices and poorly implemented ideas. It’s a shame that this Kickstarted game didn’t receive the polish it deserved.
I can’t recommend this game to anyone, even without taking the game-breaking bug into account. Let’s get into what went wrong with Summer in Mara and the few things that did work well.
All About Execution
You start the game as Koa, a little girl who’s never known a life outside of her home island. Koa was adopted and raised by Haku, a Qüido whose in-game model is kind of terrifying. The story is simple and told through excessive, uninspired dialogue. It doesn’t take long to realize that Koa is a spoiled brat who constantly tells every person she meets that she’s… not a child? I understand that children can be irrational and immature, but Koa is literally a child.
The game’s story starts out fine but quickly becomes obnoxious to the point of being intolerable. Almost every character Koa runs into lectures her on being polite and having manners; most of those same characters don’t even follow their own advice and are incredibly rude. At first glance, it may seem like the game is trying to teach children the importance of treating others well. But is this game even aimed at children?
It’s okay for a story to repeat ideas, especially if it’s trying to make a point. The problem with Summer in Mara‘s approach is how little this actually benefits the narrative. Everyone repeats the same information, and if not for the art, I’d think most of the side characters are one person placed in different locations.
Another weak point in Summer in Mara is the lackluster farming mechanics. Farming is central to the game, but its implementation becomes a huge burden for the player. Koa’s home island is the only location I ran into where you can plant and harvest. This means you have to travel by boat and through a couple of loading screens to reach it when you’re off on other islands. You aren’t required to do this just a few times. The game forces you to make dozens of these trips to get anything done. had to travel back to Koa’s home island too many times just to grow one or two vegetables, just to complete a mission, come back, and repeat the process over and over.
Traveling by boat isn’t very satisfying. You don’t really do anything other than move in one of several directions. Opening your map to see where you need to go is inconvenient considering how often you may need to look at it. You can dive from your boat later on in the game, but the controls are a mess and you sort of have to figure it out while Koa drowns.
My biggest gripe with Summer in Mara is the game’s quest structure. Every single action you take as Koa is in service of a series of fetch quests that make up the entire game. Some of these quests aren’t necessary to progress the main story, but even the main story feels like a fetch quest. Sometimes you’re rewarded with money or cool items, but it’s all so you can do more tedious quests. Every character in this game believes the universe revolves around their needs and that Koa is there to help for no reason. Characters’ stories connect to one another through this web of fetch quests and Koa gets almost nothing in return.
When it comes down to it, it’s a bunch of adults manipulating a girl who isn’t even 10 years old. It’d be easy to let it slip if it was part of the story, but that’s the whole narrative in summary.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Music and art direction are Summer in Mara’s two strengths… or they would be if the music triggered properly. For some reason, music isn’t implemented well in this game. A song will start playing when talking to a character and then suddenly stop for no apparent reason. There are moments when a song only played for about 10 seconds before it was cut off by an event or by nothing. The soundtrack for this game is actually pretty relaxing and just overall great. It’s a shame the player won’t get to hear it that often, since most of the game is spent without it.
I would say that the highlight of this entire experience is the animated, hand-drawn scenes. They’re done with a level of love and attention that I wish the main game received. They’re quirky, cute, and they have a unique personality that the game fails to capture.
Let’s get back to talking about the game-breaking bug. I don’t know how long a typical playthrough of Summer in Mara is, but I only got to experience eight hours of the game. Three of those hours were spent trying to figure out if the game was actually broken or if I was overlooking something. Sadly, it was the former. One of the main quests required that I return to the main island by boat; the thing is that the game wouldn’t let me board the boat, which was the only way I could advance the story. I tried finishing up the side quests but it didn’t fix anything. After a couple weeks of booting up and hoping the problem went away, I gave up on the game. I wasn’t about to start a new game save only to arrive at the same point.
Summer in Mara doesn’t have anything to offer that other games haven’t done better. Ultimately, it’s a muddled mess of design choices that don’t weave together well. Skip this game. It’s not worth your or anyone else’s time.
This review of Summer in Mara is based on the Nintendo Switch version. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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