The crafting and farming genres have been around for a while in the video game industry. Until Minecraft became one of the biggest video game hits of all time though, it was more of a niche genre. Today the video game industry is filled with various crafting games where you mostly gather resources in order to turn them into other items. As most of these games are designed by indie game studios their quality can be a little hit or miss. This is one of the main reasons that I am pretty picky when trying out new games from this genre as many add little to nothing new to the genre. Today I am looking at one of the newest additions to the genre Summer in Mara which actually releases on Tuesday (June 16th, 2020). What intrigued me about the game is that the atmosphere looked really interesting and I was hoping that this would lead to a new take on the genre. Summer in Mara does a great job creating an interesting world that you want to explore, but while the gameplay is fun for the whole family it can become a little repetitive after a while.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Chibig for the review copy of Summer in Mara used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Summer in Mara you play as a young girl named Koa. As a baby Koa was shipwrecked and rescued by a blue alien woman named Yaya Haku. Yaya Haku raised Koa on her own island that has great significance to the world of Mara. For most of her childhood Koa was not allowed to leave the island, but as she grows up she finally gets the opportunity to leave and explore the neighboring islands and meet the other inhabitants of Mara. In her journeys she needs to help out her new friends in addition to taking care of her own island. Not everyone she meets has Mara in their best interests though. Can Koa succeed in helping turn Mara into a better place?
In a lot of ways I would say that Summer in Mara is a hodgepodge of different video game mechanics. Lets begin with your own island where you start the game. Basically you have free reign over your own island with a few restrictions. Much of the game revolves around gathering resources which you then craft into other items. The crafting in the game is really simple. As you progress through the game you will receive a bunch of different recipes that require different ingredients. If you have those ingredients in your inventory you just need to use the workshop in your house to turn them into the item you desire. Many of the things that you will craft are different types of food that restore your hunger and stamina meters. You need to eat since if you run out of stamina you “pass out” and start the next day with only a partially filled stamina bar. You will also be crafting various tools and resources which are used to gather resources or are used in other recipes/quests. The final thing you can craft are different structures which unlock new recipes, resources, and other ways of improving your island.
In order to craft items and to generate money you will also use your island as a farm. In the game there are basically two types of crops. First there are various trees and bushes that you can plant that either produce fruit every so often or can be cut down for wood. These trees/bushes can be planted most places on your island with a few restrictions. Then there are your more typical crops which you have to plant and farm. The farming system in the game is pretty basic. You can only plant crops in designated plots next to your house. As you progress through the game you will unlock more plots so you can grow more crops. To plant crops you begin by tilling the land and placing the seeds which is done with the press of a button. You then have two options. You can fertilize and water your crops which basically entails carrying a bucket on your head and walking over each field. Using water and fertilizer will make the crops grow faster and produce more of the crop. Otherwise you can just leave the fields and they will take longer to grow. Each crop has a designated number of days that it needs to grow and then you can harvest it.
Eventually after the prologue you are given the opportunity to use your boat to travel to nearby islands. At first you can only visit a nearby city, but as you progress more islands are opened up to you. The sailing is really basic as you just press a button to move forward and use an analog stick to steer the ship. The sailing is kind of dull as you mostly just line up your boat to its destination and wait for it to arrive. Once you reach your first island you are exposed to other major gameplay mechanic in Summer in Mara. Much of the gameplay involves talking to various residents of Mara and helping them with various tasks. Many of these tasks involve acquiring/crafting various items for them. These missions help you learn more about the residents and also help progress the story.
Before I discuss the gameplay further I want to make a quick detour to discuss the overall atmosphere, characters and story. I want to bring it up at this point as I think it is the game’s greatest strength. I thought Summer in Mara did a great job creating an engaging world that you want to explore. This is a good thing as in many ways the game is kind of an adventure game. Throughout the game you meet a number of characters many of whom are pretty interesting and unique. You can tell that quite a bit of work was put into developing them. The characters in the game are a mixture of various humanoid characters and others that look more like aliens. The character designs are good and the overall style of the game is good. The game’s animation sections in particular are quite good. I found the story to be a little kiddy, but I thought it was interesting enough that I wanted to see what would happen next. The game really succeeds at creating a laid back experience that you can just sit back and enjoy.
The laid back feeling that the atmosphere creates is actually a good representation of the game as a whole. Anyone who is expecting Summer in Mara to be an action packed game is going to be disappointed. Instead the game is about taking your time and enjoying the experience. There is no death or combat in the game as the closest thing to it is “passing out” from running out of energy which just starts your next day with less energy. There are no time limits in the game so you can take as much time as you want. Summer in Mara feels like the type of game that you can enjoy while passively watching television, listening to music, or other leisurely activities. In a lot of ways the game also feels like it was designed as more of a family game. The mechanics are pretty basic where I can’t see children having any trouble playing the game.
Summer in Mara is not your typical video game as it is more about the experience than challenging gameplay. If you aren’t a huge fan of laid back games it is not going to be for you. Those that like these laid back type of games though will probably have fun with Summer in Mara. I will warn you though that the gameplay is a little more basic/limited compared to some of the most popular games in the genre. The farming, fishing, crafting, resource gathering, and other mechanics basically require the bare minimum effort. Despite this I still enjoyed the game though.
While I enjoyed Summer in Mara the game has one huge problem. I have only alluded to it at this point, but the gameplay ultimately boils down to one gigantic fetch quest. Basically the main gameplay involves talking to a character who gives you a task to perform. These tasks basically break down into a couple of different types. First they could ask you to talk to another person to get an item. There is literally a set of quests in the game where you go from character to character swapping one item for another. Another option is to get you to acquire a certain item for them. This usually involves either buying the item from a shop, fishing/mining for it, or growing the crop on your island. Characters sometimes also force you to go to your island to craft an item for them or place an item on your island. This is basically all there is to the gameplay in the main storyline. Most of the gameplay can be summed up by “take this item to this character”. This can get a little repetitive after a while as it feels like you are basically just an errand boy/girl.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the game forces you to regularly go from your current island back to your personal island and then back again. If the game had a fast travel option (that didn’t cost in-game money) this wouldn’t be a huge problem. The sailing isn’t satisfying though so this just feels like a waste of time. I am the type of player that likes to optimize quests so I tried to minimize travel as much as possible. I purposefully tried to advance as many of the quests on an island as I could before having to return to my island so I could complete all of those tasks on my island at the same time. Despite doing this I still had to make a bunch of trips back and forth. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that you can only craft items in your own house. I did not like this decision at all as the game should have let you craft items on your boat or in other locations on the islands that you travel to. It makes sense having to return to your island to plant and grow crops, but this mechanic forces you to regularly return to your island just to make an item and then return to the island you were just on. This becomes pretty tedious after a while.
It is so disappointing that the mission structure in the game is so basic as the game shows a lot of potential. As I said earlier I still enjoyed Summer in Mara, but it could have been so much more. The reliance on fetch quests makes the game really drag at times. If you don’t like fetch quests Summer in Mara will not be the game for you. Even if you don’t mind fetch quests though, this mechanic makes Summer in Mara the type of game that you only play for an hour or so at a time. Longer than that and the repetitiveness of the fetch quests really starts to show.
While I think Summer in Mara really needed more variety in the types of missions, I will give the game credit as it appears to have quite a bit of content. I haven’t finished the game, but I have played enough of it to tell that the game will keep you busy for quite a while. I would expect the game to take you around 20 hours just to finish the missions and do some basic exploring. If you take a more laid back approach it should take even longer. The game features around 20 or so different characters that give you quests and they have a lot of them to give you as you seem to be the only person in the area that can offer any help. The game also features quite a few different islands to explore even though many are left kind of barren. I think the game could have included more variety, but there is quite a bit to do in the game.
Ultimately I had mixed feelings about Summer in Mara. There are things that I liked about the game. It does a great job with the overall atmosphere creating interesting characters and worlds that you want to explore. The gameplay may not be super deep, but it can be pretty fun at times. People who like laid back games should enjoy Summer in Mara. The problem that almost ruins the game is that it basically devolves into one giant fetch quest. Pretty much all of the quests in the game involve bringing this item to that character. This gets pretty repetitive after a while where you are best off playing the game in shorter doses. In some ways this shows that the gameplay needed to be a little deeper. The game does feature quite a bit of content though as you can expect 20+ hours out of the game. Between the game’s positives and negatives you are left with a pretty average game.
My recommendation for Summer in Mara comes down to your feelings towards more laid back games and fetch quests in general. If you aren’t a big fan of laid back games or are looking for a more in-depth farming/crafting game you may be a little disappointed by Summer in Mara. Those that hate fetch quests will also likely be frustrated by the game. If you can get past the heavy reliance on fetch quests though you can have fun with Summer in Mara. Families in particular will probably really enjoy the game. If this describes you I think it might be worth checking out Summer in Mara.