Summer in Mara takes elements from Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda and blends them into one charming and fun formula.
In Summer in Mara, you play as a young girl named Koa who lives on a small island with her grandmother Yaya. It's evident from the start that there's more to their relationship due to the fact that Yaya seems to be an entirely different species and the question of Koa's identity comes up a lot in the story. Koa and Yaya aren't the only cast members in this tale, though, as you'll meet dozens of other characters when you finally leave Home Island to explore the world. The variety of characters is impressive with everyone you meet having their own story to tell and there are multiple unique species to befriend.
Summer in Mara's gameplay has a lot of variety as you spend your time farming, foraging, mining, fishing, diving, cooking, and doing many other tasks. What you choose to do at any time is up to you but you'll generally be working towards a quest which are found by talking to the inhabitants of the islands. Sometimes, they'll be as simple as delivering something to someone and other times, you'll have to figure out how to do multiple things such as finding some seeds to grow a plant that can be used in a recipe. Given that Summer in Mara has over 300 quests in total, it's great that they're organised well in the menu as it makes progression obvious.
Home Island is your home base and you'll visit often to plant seeds you found, work at your workshop, or simply get a good night's sleep. There's a 24 hour clock that steadily advances as you play and influences where characters are and what tasks can be completed. However, there is no calendar so you can sleep days away if you want and it won't hurt your progress. I quite enjoyed this as it helps make the gameplay loop more relaxing when compared to a time management setup which can sometimes feel stressful such as in Story of Seasons games. Also, you can decorate your island although when you want to build any large structures such as chicken coops or sheep sheds, there are designated spots to build them so you don't get the same amount of control that you do in Animal Crossing.
Summer in Mara is a very colourful and cheerful game. The colour palette definitely highlights a feeling of summer while the terrain is varied enough and the graphical detail is nothing short of impressive. The character models are where the visuals shine brightest with each resident having their own characteristics that make them distinctly stand out. Even characters of the same species don't share a ton of similar features. As a result, I enjoyed meeting folks and seeing new faces show up on my quest list. The soundtrack and voice acting is just as enjoyable and I even found myself often swaying and nodding my head to the music.
Summer in Mara may look like a simple lighthearted title but that's far from the truth. In fact, it's a lengthy game that seems to never cease in delivering something new. It's clearly a big project that had a ton of love poured into it. However, there are a few annoyances that could be tightened up. For starters, the controls took a lot of getting used to and there's no tutorial other than within the early quests so I found myself often wondering how I was supposed to do things like build a well or even plant a seed.
I also got confused when I went into the ocean for the first time and came across another boat. I figured my quest at hand meant that I had to talk to the person on the boat but I couldn't figure out how to board it. These events make it clear that more hints in the early hours would have been great. I also struggled with figuring out what to do next on some occasions such as when I needed to talk to someone but they were simply never around even though I could remember seeing them earlier. You have to memorize where characters are at times of the day and what the store hours are because such information is not available in the menu at all.
Summer in Mara is a super-fun and colourful adventure with a ton of content that you can enjoy for many hours. Anyone who's a fan of these kinds of games will feel right at home with Koa and her chums so here's hoping this gem gets the attention that it deserves.
- + Countless hours of fun with over 300 basic and elaborate quests to master
- + Vibrant world with unique characters
- + Solid variety of enjoyable exploration
- - Controls take a bit of getting used to
- - Could use more tutorials and hints