In ‘Summer in Mara’ you’ll have to take care of your own island, harvest your crops, create new tools and buildings, and sail with your boat to discover new islands and secrets. The controls are easy enough to use, from kicking trees to gather apples to mining stones in the caves, but is Summer in Mara a washout or summer of fun, read on to find out…
Summer in Mara Review | Xbox
‘Summer in Mara’ is a beautiful adventure with farming, crafting, and exploring mechanics set in a tropical archipelago. You play Koa, a young girl rescued as a baby from a storm at sea by a kindly island caretaker. Koa grows up on the island learning about the subtle balance between herself and the Island. When Koa’s new mother disappears, she must venture beyond the island to find her. The game starts with some beautiful cut scenes and a tutorial level to get the players used to the various controls and mechanics. Once ready, the game introduces sailing, as you must travel between the islands to solve the mystery and repair your home island.
As the adventure expands to the other islands, Koa has to do A LOT of fetch quests. To speak to someone in a lighthouse, you need to talk to a fisherman, but the fisherman won’t talk to you unless you give him a rod. To get a rod you need twine and a stick. To get twine you need to buy seeds to grow the plant, to grow the plant you have to go back to your island plant the seeds, and wait two days. When you have the twine and the correctly prepared wood, you can craft the rod. Once you give him the rod, he tells you to talk to someone else… It was a little like an episode of The Mandalorian.
I don’t mind fetch quests, I grew up with all the Dizzy games, so I am used to getting objects to pass through a level. However, modern games are much bigger and now use marker systems, detailed diary entries and maps to make the quest clear. Features that Mara sorely lacks. And as this is targeted at children, this really should be simpler. Maps are rudimentary and there are no direction arrows or marker system to show the player where to go meaning you spend a lot of time wandering around for no reason.
I really wanted to love this game and if I had the time to immerse myself in it and learn everything about the maps and islands, I might have loved it more, but the lack of instruction meant I kept getting lost and frustrated (even using YouTube to solve simple quests).
Whilst searching, I did find that other gamers were having issues with sailing but this wasn’t the case for me and it looked like recent patches have fixed these launch issues.
The whimsical story is lovely, the array of beautifully drawn characters are amazing and the eye-bleeding vibrancy of the islands is wonderful, but fiddly trading mechanics, translation niggles and lack of direction will frustrate many gamers. And yet, there is so much love in this game from the 40+ interactive characters, the crabs with personal messages from the fans, and the animated cuts scenes that draw you into this deep and colorful world.
As most of the dialogue is through text and not speech, young players may struggle. This is also exacerbated by some shoddy translations.
Overall, ‘Summer in Mara’ is a calm, relaxing world, with a handmade look and an exciting narrative. The various mechanics are easy to use and players will lose themselves in this beautiful world in more ways than one. Wayfinding frustrations and clunky trading mechanics taint an otherwise fun adventure packed full of heartwarming lessons about nature, and our place in it. This is a lovely game and I would welcome many more in this vein, but when designing xbox games for children, studios do need extra consideration on character audio and clear direction to further a player’s enjoyment.