Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara marks a departure for developer Chibig with their Mara series. Previous games such as Deiland have always been based around agriculture and felt like light, approachable versions of Stardew Valley. Now, we venture into a fully fledged 3D platformer and in many ways its a successful transition. Aimed at the simpler, easier end of the 3D platformer market, it takes me back to the golden age of family movie game tie-in’s of the early 2000s. Don’t expect anything too unique and you’ll be in an uplifting treat.
Koa has a simple move set. She can walk, run, jump, ground smash and do a barrel roll when running and jumping. The roll I found a bit fiddly at time to trigger but its the fastest way to get around Mara. Across eight worlds you’ll have multiple levels to uncover various pieces of maps, trash, fabrics and patches to 100% the game. You’ll travel in a boat between the worlds which can also be upgraded to access previously cut off areas and its a nice jovial vibe to sail to your next destination. The central hub of Qälis is also fun to explore too as you can buy extensions to rebuild areas previously trashed by pirates at the opening of the story. It marks a good visual progress for your game campaign. It is worth noting Koa plays a little floaty. She isn’t mobile phone floaty but she doesn’t have perfect precision either. I got used to this quite quickly and it only became an issue when gunning for gold medal completion on a few levels. The forgiving game design lets the floatiness slide.
Levels themselves have chonky cartoon graphics full of colour and sparkle reminiscent of 2000s 3D platformers and the N64 era. Each world has some familiar themes like lava from a volcano, an ice world, a tech world, a pirate one – and they bring their own traps along for the ride. Koa is never difficult when playing it normally and although levels have a couple of checkpoints, you’ll rarely need them. The camera moves to fixed positions largely giving you the best view for the platforming and since there are no enemies to speak of outside a few boss encounters where you throw a bomb at a few things, there is no combat either. This puts Koa firmly into the collectathon category but also the speedrunners category too. You’ll need to play the game twice, once to collect everything and once to get gold medals for time trials.
Whilst platforming is the main trick, Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara throws a few twists in too. Some levels work like Crash Bandicoot chase levels, running either into or away from the camera. These are fun and fast but the game sometimes feels slow to let Koa change direction. Underwater swimming levels are fine but feel overly reliant on swimming in circles to avoid fish. There are also crane levels where you guide a diving crane down to the bottom of the sea to grab treasure. A few boss battles ask you to throw bombs or jump on switches to beat enemies and an AI race mode for seven levels are unlocked too. This mode shows just how fast barrel rolling can make Koa and is handy to play if you are struggling to get gold medal times in speedrunning mode.
I really enjoyed the simplicity of this game and whilst I think many will find it perhaps a bit too simple, what it does, it does well. A younger audience will enjoy the main game. Speedrunners will enjoy going for fast times. The wholesome vibes from the series carry through and visiting old locations and characters is a nice touch too. You don’t need to know anything about the series to enjoy Koa, but those who have played previous games will get some nods to previous events. I’m taken back to the golden age of movie tie-in’s like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Toy Story, Shrek 2 and so on. Those games are fun to play at the time but won’t usually be in your top 10 of all time list. It confirms that Chibig knows how to make a good platformer though as they appear to moving this way with a few games in the future. That makes me more excited with what’s to come.
Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara
Simple, bright, colourful and uplifting - there is something wholesomely lovely about Koa that takes me back to early 2000s gaming.
Bright worlds, characters and scenery to enjoy - backed up with an upbeat soundtrack.
Speedrunning bonuses add longevity.
Variety of level types make things feel quite fresh.
Feels like an early 3D platformer throwback in the best way.
Some character movement can feel stiff and angular in speed and underwater areas.
Lack of a challenge does mean you will find yourself autopiloting through some of the stages.
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