Developer: Chibig Studio
Publisher: Chibig Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: 16 June 2020 (Switch, PC), 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Price: TBA – Available Here
Summer in Mara is a crafting, exploration, and farming game. Players take on the role of Koa, a girl who is now in charge of a little farm after the passing of her adoptive grandmother. Koa is struck by the need for adventure, desiring to leave her tiny island and explore new places. Her wish comes true when a mysterious creature lands on her island and an evil alien corporation appears in Mara.
The story is the sort of relaxed and heart-warming fare that is perfect for a player looking for a calm andd enjoyable gaming experience. It is just as much about the journey as it is the completion. The writing rarely gets too heavy and is generally joyful and lighthearted. Getting to know the citizens of Mara is an important part of the game, and the people are mostly loveable, even if it takes a little time to warm up to them.
Summer in Mara is a laid-back game that runs at the player’s pace. The game mixes Harvest Moon with the island-hopping elements of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The world is set to a day/night schedule where players have a limited amount of energy to expend on whatever task they wish to do. While energy and hunger can be replenished with food, energy is consumed at a faster pace as the evening wears on. Sleeping for the night will restore energy, but only sleeping in the comfort of home will bring Koa back to full energy in the morning.
The farming and resource gathering gameplay is pretty standard fare. Players buy seeds from the vendor, plant it in their plots, and harvest their crops several days later. The plots are quite limited to begin with as they can only be constructed in pre-determined spots. Some of the spots are blocked in the beginning and can only be cleared as the player progresses through the story. While the hardcore farming sim fan will be disappointed with the restrictions, the limited number of plots is balanced well with the shorter day/night cycle and the rate energy is expended. There are just enough plots to maintain every morning while still having enough time to run to town to restock supplies, do a few missions, or explore an island and still be able to make it home to sleep.
How Summer in Mara handles water and fertilizer is unique. Instead of having each plot consume a single charge of a watering can or similar implement, players simply need to run over a plot while holding a bucket of water or a bag of fertilizer. Players do need to plan their path for maximum efficiency as the bucket and the fertilizer bag can only be carried for a limited number of steps. The system is an interesting twist, but I would have preferred to see the bucket and the bag last for a few more steps, so an extremely efficient route could hit all the plots. This would be a great way to reward skill while keeping the original design in mind.
The crafting system is decent, but it could use some quality of life improvements. Players gain a large number of items to craft over the course of the game. The need to return home to craft is a bit restrictive and frustrating, especially when players need to take two boat rides to turn in the quest after. I would have preferred to have the ability to craft some simple recipes on the boat right away. I would have also liked to see the number of raw materials in my inventory when crafting, instead of having to back out to the inventory to check. Finally, a faster way to craft missing raw materials for complex recipes would have been a great time saver, whether it meant automatically crafting the needed material or offering some sort of shortcut to access the missing material.
The questing system is how Summer in Mara tells the story, but also drives crafting progression forward. There is plenty to do as many of the game’s NPCs will need a favour or will barter with Koa. They almost always involve instructions to fetch, craft, or explore. The system works well, but the progression of the side quests is a bit uneven as they require items that haven’t been unlocked yet by the main quest line. The worst offenders are the quests involving flour and pineapples. The flour will be addressed in a future patch by having one of the vendors sell flour, according to the developers.
While there are several quality of life features that can improve Summer in Mara, the gameplay is enjoyable overall. It manages to strike the right balance of activities, without being wildly punishing if a player focuses slightly more on one thing or another. The rate of progression is set that players are getting a steady stream of new recipes and quests to keep them going. The pacing of the game is excellent, and it is easy to fall into a rhythm that makes hours go by quickly. As a fan of the Harvest Moon franchise and the sub-genre it spawned, Summer in Mara’s gameplay is the perfect blend of something familiar and something new.
Summer in Mara has a bright and eye-catching animated look inspired by Studio Ghibli. Even the cut scenes are done in a similar anime style. The style, animation, and models are excellent. The only issue with the game’s visuals is some of the smaller, more desolate islands as they tend to look too similar and visually blend into a single mass.
The audio experience in Summer in Mara has its ups and downs. The sound effects are good, but the volume of some sound effects is quiet compared to the rest of the game. The mining sound and the breaking boxes sound are more extreme examples. The soundtrack is excellent. The music gently swings back and forth from relaxing tunes to uplifting songs. The problem is how the game decides to play music and when to stop. The game tends to choose a song, play the entire song, and then leave the player to contemplative silence until an event or a location triggers the next track. The end of the track can be very abrupt. At the bare minimum I would have preferred to hear the music fade out gently into silence, though I think I music backing the entire game would be ideal.
Summer in Mara is perfect for anyone looking for a relaxing game paired with a colourful, Studio Ghibli inspired look. While the game does struggle with some odd quality of life issues, these are mild nuisances, not game breaking experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Mara and only wish I could have stayed longer.