Summer in Mara review — Season of fetch quests

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Summer in MaraIt’s an aesthetic that makes it instantly inviting. The character portraits are beautiful, detailed and full of color. The game even has a nice but brief animated video shortly after the prologue. Whenever character portraits and dialogue are on screen, there’s a lot to love. The dialogue is witty and fun, and the characters are often interesting. Sadly, everything else in the game is mediocre at best, and downright tedious and obnoxious at worst.

Summer Love

Summer in Mara begins with a fish lady finding a human baby in the water by a shipwreck. She decides to adopt the child to be raised as her own. The game’s prologue works as a tutorial where the woman, named Yaya Haku, teaches the girl, Koa, the basics of the game. Haku is the keeper of a small island with some spiritual significance – this becomes clearer later.

Narration in The summer of Mara is mostly pleasant, although ordinary. About two-thirds of the main questline is spent trying to get two other female fishes to talk to Koa, forcing her to go back and forth between a small handful of places over and over again. The game primarily focuses on Koa’s interaction with the people of Qalis, which is a small island north of his even smaller home island. And by ‘interact with’ I naturally mean ‘boring shopping for’.

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There are themes on display, of course. Once you have delved into the main storyline, Summer in Mara begins to randomly inject comments about environmentalism. But it feels like it came from nowhere, with a race of aliens buying land and polluting the oceans. However, these beings are barely mentioned for much of the narrative. While the dialogue and characters are good, the plot is hit and miss and not particularly compelling.

Back and forth

But why should it matter? It’s a Game, after all. Well that’s because there isn’t a lot of gameplay in The summer of Mara. There are things to do, for sure. Agriculture, harvesting, crafts, sailing, but everything is rudimentary. There is a small field just outside Koa’s house where you can clear and prepare the land and then plant crops. Then a number will appear above them that tells you how many days it will take them to grow taller.

Each day that a crop is watered, only one day is subtracted from the total. Unfortunately, the Koa can usually only water crops a few times after it rains. Summer in Mara did you build a well in the beginning, but it’s not really a well at all. It’s more of a bucket that collects rainwater. This means that if it is not raining, you cannot water your crops. But it doesn’t rain often, and while Koa can buy water, she can’t use it on them. Oddly enough, Koa does not need to water the crops, as they will still grow.

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However, there is no calendar system. If you want to focus on growing and crafting without a real goal in mind, you can just sleep for several days in a row without consequences and load your inventory as you please. You can also mine ore and smelt it into bars (although there’s nothing you can do to do this), which will also be used to upgrade all of Koa’s tools. The main ones are a hammer for mining and an ax for chopping down trees.

An exhausting day

Koa has an endurance indicator linked to all of these actions. She also has a hunger indicator below. If he drops, she starts to use more stamina. It’s easy to maintain this while cooking, which is made easier by collecting oranges and berries on his island. You can also go fishing via a simple and boring mini-game as long as you have the right kind of bait and a cotton thread in your inventory. If Koa uses too much stamina, she passes out and wakes up with almost no stamina. Likewise, if she gets up too late, she will pass out and wake up with the same low stamina, even if she was full when the game forces her to sleep.

This means Koa needs to get some sleep every night, which is understandable. She can sleep in her bed at home, in her boat, or in a sleeping bag or tent. Sleeping in his house or in a tent will fill his endurance to the end, but using the boat or the sleeping bag will cost him much less. Oddly enough, sleeping bags and tents are treated as single-use consumables. It would be really handy to be able to sleep anytime, but no, these are magical sleeping bags that disappear as soon as Koa wakes up. 20200603212834 1

The other negative side is that it means you’ll often have to stop whatever you’re doing once Koa’s stamina is low or when it’s dark and return to his island. Sailing is unfortunately boring. You just need to point in one direction, wait for the loading screens and keep pointing. It takes a huge toll on the game that each island is in a grid that you have to travel from, which will allow you to load into another grid instead of just giving you an open ocean to travel. It doesn’t help that you can only navigate them in four directions, despite the fact that others should be easily accessible via the corners.

What year is it?

None of this is surprising when taken with the rest of Summer in Maravisuals. It’s a simple, unpolished look with a short drawing distance, dated geometry, and janky animations. The running animation of Koa is just awful. His head barely moves and the movements of his body are strange and unnatural. They never stopped looking weird to me. NPCs also don’t move and stay still in the same places throughout the game. Because of this, the world seems lifeless and frozen. A mother stands in a park watching over her children, day and night.

Daytime cycles also change suddenly at set intervals – it’s not gradual. You can watch a sunset at one point, only for the night sky to drop down on the next. Summer in Mara would have been dated on the Gamecube. Even then, it would all be more understandable if the game was fun, but it isn’t. You have a bunch of character-related questlines that usually require you to go talk to a character or bring them items.

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Most of the time that just means that when you want to accomplish something, you wake up, navigate to town, walk towards the character you need to talk to, and then talk to them for a while. Then you will often walk to a different character and then come back to where you started. Even worse are the quests that require you to acquire an item that you have never seen before because the game does not tell you where to get them. You just need to move on to another task and hope you stumble upon it via a different questline. The majority of my playing time was simply spent walking back and forth or navigating between two points. You unlock more islands as you progress through the story, but hardly any of them are of interest beyond a first visit.

Don’t get lost

To be clear, I don’t hate Summer in Mara. I wouldn’t even call it a bad game because it can be a bit relaxing and cute. But it doesn’t do much, and all of its components other than character portraits and dialogue are basic and boring. Add all of that to the constant movement from point A to point B and then point A, and that makes for a game that I can’t recommend to anyone who doesn’t find tedious scavenging quests enjoyable.

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