I think it’s nothing shy of an understatement to say that 2020 has been a bit of an unbalanced rollercoaster ride thus far. There’s been a lot of shocking turns and steep down slopes with a few minor upturns to give us reprieve, even if it’s just been within our own personal lives. I will say this though, one of the much needed lifts of this year has been all the video game releases that were nothing but a calm smooth ride for your brain. No battles to bandy with, no puzzles to ponder, not even a chance of a game over to grieve over. While these games were in production long before these tough times ever began, their timely releases have been the perfect peaceful escape for a lot of us gamers.
Tunnel of Love at First Sight
Summer in Mara is one such game, released mid June of this year by the masters of tranquility, Chibig Studios. In Summer in Mara, you play as a brash young lady named Koa who is tasked with single-handedly taking care of the island she lives on. In the beginning there isn’t much to keep little Koa busy, but after a mysterious new friend washes ashore in need of help, that all changes. Koa then sets off on a journey meeting lots of new friends and helping everyone to the best of her ability. Along the way she also faces some tough opposition from a dangerous alien race called the Elits. The Elits are known to drain planets of their resources and leave nothing but destruction in their wake.
Koa has to work hard to not only keep her island flourishing, but to also gain the trust of all the residents of Mara in order to help her deter the evil Elits. That means growing all kinds of crops, raising livestock, diving for lost treasures, and exploring all of Mara in her newly repaired boat. Exploring Mara’s waters is in itself a peaceful and lovely experience.There are many islands scattered across Mara to explore and most will have some form of resources to help Koa on her own island. Many you’ll need to visit quite frequently, while others will just need to be visited once or twice for story purposes. Though I will say that I very much appreciate the developers choice to add in a warp system. For the amount of times Koa finds herself needing to go from one end of the map to the other and back again, the coins spent on warping are more than worth it.
And That’s No Mechanical Bull
I have to say that for a small, independent studio, Chibig’s ability to produce such polished visuals and catchy soundtracks is more than a little impressive. While I am a firm believer that a great soundtrack really elevates a game’s experience, I also believe that a bad soundtrack isn’t necessarily a deal breaker either. I would describe the music in Summer in Mara as simple yet effective, which is pretty on brand with the game as a whole. Each song suited the moment it was tied to and often reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Especially the parts where Koa was riding the high seas in her little ship!
Graphically Summer in Mara left me extremely impressed. Everything was so bright and colorful. Even during the dark and rainy days there were little pops of color to be found all around the landscape. The Elit tainted areas of the map, with their sharp purple overcast light, exuded a somber and moody atmosphere that really conveyed their poisonous intentions. The portraits for each character during dialogues had such crisp and detailed artwork. The many poses and expressions each character had made them really come to life. I found myself really becoming attached to each one of the characters as their personalities shone through and they started warming up to Koa.
One small detail that really excited me was the fact that when I changed Koa’s outfit she was wearing that same outfit in her next portrait! I know that is a small detail, but it’s not something you see very often and I think it really shows off Chibig’s passion and dedication.
Devil May Care-ousel
Overall, the only flaw I can really tag this game with is that hidden at the core of all of Koa’s exploration and island maintenance, your objectives are just one fetch quest after another. Every mission you receive is to obtain a chosen item via a chosen method. An NPC wants something so Koa is tasked with retrieving it for them. That’s it. For the most part the gameplay is straightforward yet satisfying, but it doesn’t take long for that formula to start to feel a bit stale. I mean it’s easily a 20+ hour long game and while for a maintenance game that’s small potatoes, I found that even the island upkeep felt a bit too linear at times. Upgrading your tools and building new structures wasn’t a matter of finding the proper materials, most of those types of things were tied to story quests. Even then you might still have to wait for yet another quest to emerge for you to earn the recipe for materials involved with that new upgrade. I’m not saying the game isn’t fun, it most certainly is, but at times the straight line you walk from start to finish becomes very apparent and ends up making it feel like the story is dragging its feet.
Give it a Tilt-a-Whirl
So, what it boils down to is that Summer in Mara is meant to be an easy-going game experience, where the only challenge presented to you is keeping your patience about you while essentially completing the same mission over and over again. This sounds worse than it really is though, since the developers hid this fact among the gameplay quite cleverly for the most part. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Koa and her quest to save Mara. I mean, it made me endlessly happy to see some of my favorite characters from Chibig’s other title Deiland make an appearance. So, with all of that being considered, I would absolutely recommend Summer in Mara if you are in the mood for something simple and sweet. It’s the perfect game to sit back, put your feet up, and synchronize your mind with a harmonious and uncomplicated world for even just the briefest of moments.