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Let’s take to the seas and enjoy island life in all of its splendour. In Summer in Mara, you play as Koa, an overzealous young girl who finds a lost and frightened creature called Napopo. Find a way to bring them home whilst tending to your very own tropical island.

Gameplay

The first thing I noticed about Summer in Mara is that its simple functions are mind numbingly ambiguous. I often found myself at a complete loss (including within the game’s opening 30 minutes) when being tasked with simple requests like “build a port” so that I could set sail; I was only missing Thread but for the life of me, I could not work out how to obtain it, nor did the game care to share any tips on how to do so. However, I then went to the ship and it allowed me to set sail anyways. Along the way, it told me to navigate according to the NPC’s directions, but the NPC hadn’t provided directions, nor was there a marker to guide you. I simply sailed in a random direction and found the island (whether that was accidental or by design, I can’t say).

With that blast of negativity out the way, Summer in Mara controls well and streamlines basic farming and gathering actions. Simple innovations like having a bucket of water and simply running through your crops, allowing the contents to splash out of the bucket and automatically water them, makes the action much less arduous. Koa also moves with ease and despite the bizarre way her head remains perfectly still while she’s running, it makes getting from A to B a lot more convenient than most other games of the genre.

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The crux of the gameplay itself is very disappointing, with one fetch quest after another. If you’re not familiar with the term, fetch questing is when an NPC requests that you retrieve something and bring it back to them. These quests are serviceable on occasion and can help to add context to the plot but when it’s all you’re doing for hours on end, it’s just not fun at all.

World Design

The world in Summer in Mara emphasises island life, having you sail from one to the next, fulfilling quests and tending to your island’s crops. Much of the game is travelling back and forth, planting crops on your island, waiting for them to grow and then bringing them back to the quest-giver. It grows tedious after a while, with a lot of fetch questing and no fast travel option. This fetch questing also could have been more excusable if there was either a marker on the map, a mini-map for quick access or even an arrow pointing you in the right direction. The only indicator that shows you if you’re on the right track is an arrow above the object/NPC in question, and it’s so small to the point that you won’t notice it until you’re next to it. There were also moments when the map said that an NPC was one place and they weren’t there at all, rather I found them ten minutes later on the other side of the island. What’s the point of a map if it’s not accurate?

Story / Personality

Where Summer in Mara redeems itself (if only a little bit) is in its charm. The plot is all about helping a stranded creature called Napopo and learning more about the history of the surrounding islands. With calming aesthetics and a lovely presentation, it’s easy to get absorbed into the majesty of it all, that is until the frustrating gameplay pulls you right out. However considering the game’s over-reliance on fetch questing, I really struggled to care about what any of the NPCs had to say because all they wanted was for Koa to get things for them.

Considering Summer in Mara‘s tropical island life recreated in video game form, Chibig’s adventure puts a lot of emphasis on island preservation and environmental sustainability. It encourages the player to give back to the land that is generous to its inhabitants, with tutorials advising to replant trees after cutting them down for wood and being able to pick up trash on the beach and recycle (never thought I’d praise that in a video game).

Graphics / Art Direction

Considering its beautiful themes and the potential of the game’s setting, Summer in Mara suffers in its visual fidelity. It certainly has a lot more attention to detail on the PC version, but even that version could have used some more polish to realise the full potential of tropical island life.

On the other side of that coin, the cutscenes are absolutely stunning. Obviously the game can’t look at all like the cutscenes (especially considering that the cutscenes have a 2D animation compared to the gameplay’s 3D models), but there is a stark contrast when the game’s opening cutscenes end and you start controlling Koa for the first time.

Music / Sound Design

Much of the music is calming at a smooth tempo, reaffirming its lovely tropical theme. There is a big emphasis on stringed instruments with only subtle touches of percussion to carry the beat. Each track is beautiful and I would praise this aspect greatly if it didn’t consistently drop in and out unexpectedly. Quite often, Summer in Mara‘s music is non-existent without explanation. This is understandable when it’s nighttime on a solitary island, allowing you to listen to the gentle breeze and take in the scenery, but it’s very jarring when you’re on an island that has a sprawling town during the middle of the day and it’s dead silent.

Final Score: 25%

Summer in Mara is quite possibly the biggest gaming disappointment of 2020. Considering how much promotion it received from Nintendo, it is astonishing just how incomplete Summer in Mara appears to be. Anyone going into Summer in Mara would think that they are in for a magical experience, however it is definitively anything but.

Thank you for checking out our Summer in Mara switch review, thank you to Chibig (via Terminals) for providing the review code and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:

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Posted by Alex Harding

Lover of chocolate and admirer of video games, Alex is the chief writer/editor of Switchaboo.