Summer in Mara is a non-direct sequel to the relaxing farming and crafting game Deiland, which let you plant and maintain trees, fruit and veg on an alien planet. Whilst Deiland was relaxing it was also quite repetitive in nature but that strangely worked to make it a very easy game to unwind to. Summer In Mara decides that more of everything is better and for the vast majority of the experience, developer Chibig is correct. In extending everything, Mara brings new issues though which aren’t really addressed.
Koa is an orphaned girl who is rescued from her boat by a lady who will soon become known as Granny. She is not human though and lives alone on her island. Koa grows restless of working the land and when Granny passes away, Koa decides to venture back out in her boat to see the world at large. Her motto is similar to the film Yes Man. Say yes to everyone and everything that needs help. This takes the form of about 20 hours worth of fetch questing, farming and sailing as each character you talk to sends you on errand after errand after errand.
That may sound I felt like it was boring and towards the end of the game, you’d be right – but I’ll get to that. Initially quests are for crops and resources. This will see you sailing back home, planting seeds and watering them until they are ready. Once harvested (all of this done by simple button presses) you can then return to the character and complete the quest. This will then advance on their story arc and as characters stories start to overlap, you’ll have to switch up who you help to advance the story. There is a main story of world peace being threatened by natural resource hogging aliens but it is peace meal and unsatisfactorily tacked on at the very end of the game. Until then, you are just being the best friend to everyone you meet.
Summer in Mara is at its best when you are discovering new things to grow, farm or mine. Early on in the game you’ll be buying seeds to see what crops you can master and then taking them to the kitchen to make new dishes to replenish your stamina. Your stamina decreases every action you take and so food prolongs your days activities. Crops and resources can also be sold to merchants and some will pay higher for certain goods. It is genuinely fun to see new things grow and blossom and that includes your own island. Here you have up to 16 crop squares, up to 35 trees and plants, a pond for fish, a mine for minerals and various farm animals to look after late in the game. As the animals require crops, you’ll be working like a machine to keep your own infrastructure going. This was kind of were Deiland’s day ended but Summer in Mara then allows you to explore a map as your ship gets upgraded to discover new islands and find new things to bring home.
Each island is home to something unique and sometimes you’ll need to forage seeds from islands to then bring them home and cultivate the crops. Some have beautiful stories attached and often a character will be having a rest on one of them too. It was a joy to sail around and explore Mara in full and thankfully you can use a quick move system to warp to different map squares for a price. This stops late game fatigue seeping in quite so much.
What does seep in is resentful regret as fetch quest after fetch quest seems to get longer and longer for characters who become more and more insufferable. Most characters treat Koa like dirt or use her then dismiss her like a dog. I’d go as far to say it left a very bad taste whilst playing as characters don’t seem to move forward until their stories are resolved and even then it feels clunky and askew. Whilst I appreciate many people may not care too much about the story, when you are sailing around trying to find another pirate merchant who keeps moving all the time because the grumpy shopkeepers want something again, maybe you’ll be spitting feathers too.
The other curious weirdness is the restrictions on how much you can put on your own island. There are other towns far larger than your own so I didn’t understand the restrictions. It didn’t matter much for trees but it really did for crops as I was running out of room quickly. I also found that I could leave my island and not bother with farming too much in the second half of the game if I didn’t want to. Farming is relegated to second fiddle behind the fetch quests and as you can generate a lot of revenue from mining instead, crops just became a thing of the past. Also, Qalis. It is the central town with all but a few of the main characters living on it. You spend so much time running around on it from person to person, I could tell you the layout from memory in twenty years time.
My moans do weigh the game down but if you choose to play at a leisurely pace, Summer in Mara is relaxing and chill. You can choose to ignore all the quests and just spend time on your island, cooking food you’ve grown, harvesting trees and mining. Then you can sit on your roof and look out to the sunset. It is in these moments, along with the discovery of new things, that the game really excels and if Chibig continue with the series, like it seems they will, more of this would be very welcome. What it also needs to do is move beyond the ‘go here, grow this, return’ formula for quests. You basically do this from beginning to end with zero variation. There is a poorly executed treasure dive mini game and the fishing game returns but that is it for breaking up the monotony.
So its three steps forward, one back for Summer in Mara. Bigger and more doesn’t make for everything being better. It is still a lovely game but if you don’t like running errands until the end of time, avoid this like the plague!
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