Reviews

Summer In Mara – Nintendo Switch Review

While it’s meant to be a relaxing adventure, Summer in Mara is more often tedious than not.

You play as Koa, a young girl who was raised on her home island by her Yaya, sadly after Yaya’s passing she’s been stranded on the island. Not long into the game a girl named Napopo (who can only communicate to Koa through drawings) shows up on the island as she has fled her destroyed home. With her help they fix the old boat and explore the world of Mara.

Gameplay

Summer in Mara is a farming sim and an exploration game. At home you can grow crops in your few fields, plant trees (or accidentally light them on fire), pick up shells and catch fish. With what you’ve grown and gathered you can create meals with recipes or craft and build items like wells or thread.

Heading out, you’ll first come across the island of Qalis where the shops and majority of characters and quests are. 

As there’s no combat, the main gameplay consists of fulfilling various tasks. Koa has a main storyline to follow but most every named character has a questline to progress as well, and sometimes item upgrades will unlock through them. These quests usually ask for  Koa to give them a particular amount of produce, a new dish, or to craft something for them. As such you’ll be sailing back and forth — quite a lot. You might have to deliver items between NPCs and because of this I especially wish Qalis was smaller. Usually as soon as you’ve completed one task they’ll suddenly need more from you. For some reason Koa can only craft back home and you can’t even check your recipes outside of there, so if you’re missing materials you can only get from the store you’ll waste even more time treading back. Other times you’ll need to head to a specific island to dig up treasure, catch a few particular fish or go diving in the ocean to get a lost object. If you can’t progress side quests often you’ll need to wait and progress elsewhere until you can get the item you need. 

When the main plot progresses your boat will be upgraded and you can explore more of the world. There are over twenty islands and a few other key locations, sadly few of them have inhabitants and many are quite empty even if they look cool. At best they’ll have a new fruit or fish, or a lot of cute piggy wiggies.

In the waters you may find pirates (who also function as shopkeepers), diving and fishing spots. Once you’ve built different animal pens you can rescue them from the ocean, returning them to your home island. Every animal eats one specific food, such as carrots for pigs, but feeding them enough will give you produce like truffles. Once you have pigs (and the more the better) your money troubles will quickly be gone. I found the others only useful for giving me recipe ingredients.  

Though you might fret about farm care nothing gets sick or dies. Animals only need to be fed to be productive. Crops too can grow without water, it’s just slower. I wish I knew that earlier as for some reason they decided that the wells only hold so much water until it rains again. Rain itself was quite fickle so that even with ten wells I still ran out as it took over thirty in game days before it rained again. This was more of an early game issue but it’s incredibly weird since limited water isn’t a mechanic I’ve seen in other farming games. My chickens would occasionally get in the way of my watering or using fertilizer too.

The only pressures you have in this game are Koa’s energy and hunger bar. As running or doing anything else will drain her energy, if you run out she’ll faint and have less the next day. Being hungry will deplete her energy rapidly. The days are unnumbered, and have little meaning so there’s next to no consequences in this game, though taking time to sleep at home and keeping handfuls of food on you is better. 

Balancing issues

The way things unlock can be a hassle too, as I needed some copper bars to progress but I had to spend a lot of money to buy them. Annoyingly, immediately after that quest I got the recipe to create them and already had the raw materials that could have made them.

One issue I had (that is known and should get fixed) is Haku’s flowers. At a few points in the story you’ll need to deliver a flower that grows on your home island. The second time I needed it, the flower just wouldn’t grow to the point that I spent close to one hundred days in game waiting for them to return, adding hours onto my play time. If you encounter this issue the best thing to do is spam sleeping for ten days at a time and then check if it’s grown.  So of course when it did I held onto more just in case, but when I needed to deliver the flower again suddenly it wasn’t in my inventory.

Another little issue adding to the tedium was when I once fainted on a larger island and my boat moved from where it was so I wasted time trying to find it.

Technical issues

The game ran mostly fine but there was some frame dropping in busy places most notably my farm once it got more animals. In handheld, the game chugs a bit more often, but the other issue was when sprinting or sailing despite holding the ZR button the whole time it often stopped for just a second before going again. One of the diving points is stuck in ice but thankfully no quest I’ve done needed me to go there. I had a few odd glitches but most of them occurred after beating the game such as floating animals in places they don’t belong.

Graphics, sound etc

The graphics of the game are okay, the models themselves are pretty good but some characters like the Elits are lacking a bit of shading or something so they stand out bad. The running and jumping animations are a bit stiff (though I did like how high Koa can jump). Character portraits are lovely, with Koa having lots of cute childish expressions. The draw distance was pretty small, I’d get quite close to an island before I could see it so I’d have to re-navigate to park where I wanted to.

There’s some utterly beautiful music in here but it’s let down by inconsistency. Music doesn’t play all the time, and often it’ll come in quite loud by default. I might run into a character and their theme would play for minutes after I’d left the area. So I started playing with my volume down.

Overall

I honestly didn’t start to enjoy the game until nearly ten hours in, when I started to flow into the “just one more task” vibe. Then I ran into the flower issue but afterwards I was able to breeze through the rest of the game. The only thing I really liked about Summer in Mara was the clothes, decorations and progressing the side character’s storylines. That might be about restaurant rivalries or a pirate scared of his sisters. The main story didn’t go anywhere for ages before moving very fast and ending abruptly. While in the end I did want to complete every quest, currently I’m unable to as I can’t collect more animals. Even so it’s not a game I’d want to replay. 

While it’s meant to be a relaxing adventure, I found it more tedious than not. Exploration didn’t feel particularly rewarding or interesting, and the small farm with no pressure to take care of it meant I was mostly unengaged. The latter might make it better for children as they’ll only have to worry about money management (and collecting berries to stave off hunger) but the first few hours are especially a drag. I finished the game in around twenty hours with a few more to get other quests done so it does at least have a lot of content for the price, whether you’ll want to play it is another thing. Overall I feel the game misses the mark in what it’s going for, with the repetitive nature of gameplay combined with many smaller issues leaving me feeling unsatisfied.

Pros

  • Cute character interactions
  • Nice portrait art

Cons

  • Tedious
  • Unbalanced mechanics
  • Odd music mixing

Score: 4.0

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