Do you know what a hidden gem is? It’s a very overused term. Basically, every single reviewer has used this term once or twice, and I bet you anything that they used it in the wrong context. Today I am going to do something truly outrageous: I’m going to use the term correctly.
What I am talking about? Today the topic of discussion is Summer in Mara, the game from Chibig, the small developer from Spain. You might remember seeing it once during the Nintendo Indies event. I bet that after that you have completely forgotten that the game ever existed. Until now.
The studio that made the game is small, but the game is anything but. It looks just like your typical Animal Crossing/Harvest Moon mashup with a cute charming world, different characters and a farm to look after. But in reality this game has a lot of unique aspects, and it’s much more akin to The Legend of Zelda than, say, Stardew Valley.
First of all, there’s an overarching plot. The plot that actually is kind of a big deal. I’m not going to go into details, but just know that there is a mystery and pirates. What else do you need?
In the middle of the story is Koa, our protagonist. She’s a cute little girl just starting her life on the island with her grandma. Her world (the planet?) is called Mara. Mara is a home to various characters, all with their own story to tell and participate in. The world of Mara consists of tons of islands, and after a short introduction Koa gets the ability to traverse the seas. In those moments the game reminds me a lot of The Wind Waker, and that’s always a good thing.
Looking at the various reviews, it’s easy to get the idea that the game is mostly mediocre. I don’t agree. While it’s obvious that the devs aren’t very experienced and their budget was somewhat restricted (the game was crowdfunded), there’s nothing obviously wrong with it. First of all, it looks nice. I was playing on the Switch, and the game consistently looked bright, colourful and dense. There are a lot of details and the artwork, from the few gorgeous animated cutscenes to models of various alien creatures, is stunning. To be honest, I’ve seen quite a lot of triple A titles with less interesting creatures. Next is music: it’s great. Yes, it plays over and over again, and there’s not a lot of tracks, but what is there is catchy and unobtrusive.
While the game (and its trailers) does look like a farm sim, it’s not. Not at all. True, you can grow carrots, potatoes, and corn to feed your animals or cook meals (to recharge stamina), but that’s about it: there’s no economy per se. The game is not about that at all; it’s about relations with the other folk in Mara, and it’s about doing various quests and solving the mystery. Also about fighting terraforming aliens and pillaging pirates. There’s a lot going on.
The name of the game is very apt: when I was playing, I actually felt like a kid on a summer holiday. The atmosphere is everything here: the game isn’t very complicated in its structure, but what it does, it does great. The quests (the main feature) are numerous and while they mostly ask of you the same thing, they don’t feel like a chore — mostly thanks to unique personalities of characters and great art. It feels like a summer adventure or a kid’s dream, and it’s exactly what I needed.
Is it perfect? Of course not. While it is charming and filled to the brim with content (expect 20 hours of gameplay — that’s a lot for a cheap game), it’s very formulaic, and if you don’t feel like doing the same thing over and over again, you will get tired of it soon. There’s also the issue of bugs — even though it was released over a year ago, there’s still one nasty glitch that people have been writing about from the very start: right after you finish the final quest to see the cutscene, the game stops working. And after you restart it, the cutscene is nowhere to be seen and lots of things stop working all together. You’ve been doing all these tasks for over 15 hours and in the end you can’t even watch how it all plays out — I had to find the cutscene on YouTube! The cutscene is great, but the fact that the devs haven’t managed to fix this issue tells me that the game had been abandoned soon after its release. I guess negative reviews didn’t help with the sales. Go figure.
Summer in Mara is not an exceptional game worthy of a cult following, but it also deserves much more than it got. Fantastic music, artwork and atmosphere make it the summer game for me. Tired of Animal Crossing but looking for good vibes? Look no further.
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