Summer in Mara review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Publisher: Chibig
Developer: Chibig
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

I?ve always had a soft spot for games I?d describe as Zelda-likes — that is, games that borrow heavily from The Legend of Zelda. It?s weird, because I?ve never been hugely into that venerable franchise, and yet I love games like Yonder and Oceanhorn.

I was kind of hoping Summer in Mara would hit my personal sweet spot of ?kinda-not-quite Zelda”. After all, the devs themselves namedropped Wind Waker when they launched its Kickstarter last year. Throw in a bit of farming simulation and some very pretty, brightly-coloured screenshots, and you can see why it might appeal to me.

What I didn?t count on was that Summer of Mara would be…well, bad. Or, to be charitable, mediocre and boring. Whichever way you want to look at it, it?s not a particularly fun game.

Part of the problem is that the game seems to be missing a couple of key things. In fact, it seemed to be missing one of the most basic things, which is a plot. I played through the first day, carried out a few of the farming tasks (and I?ll get to my complaints about those in a second), and went to sleep (since I couldn?t figure out how else to save my progress), and when I went back to the game it seemed as though the game had skipped over something huge, since everything on the island was in ruins, and the main character, a young girl named Koa, seemed to have lost her grandmother. Clearly I missed something in there, though I?ll assume that this experience wouldn?t be universal.

The obvious question, of course, is why didn?t I just start over? The answer is simple: because the fetch quests on that first day are so mind-numbingly dull that I didn?t want to have to relive them again. I don?t have an inherent bias against repetitive tasks — done well, they can be delightfully zen — but the way they?re presented here, they?re boring beyond belief. Whether you?re chopping down trees, clearing land, sowing seeds, watering plants, gathering berries, or whatever else the game has you do, it never has you carry out those tasks in a way that lends itself to getting into a groove. They always feel disjointed and awkward, so that you?re constantly being reminded that you?re doing boring busywork.

What?s more, it never feels like you?re doing the busywork for any reason other than to complete fetch quests. One of the weird joys of farming in games — at least when it?s done right — is figuring out the gameplay loop. Whether it?s Farming Simulator, or Yonder, or Stardew Valley, or whatever, part of the fun is getting into that groove and doing work for the sake of work. Here, you just do it because you met someone who needs X amount of a certain item, so you have to spend time growing the exact amount of resources that person needs before moving on to the next fetch quest, where the cycle repeats, but not in a way that feels interesting.

It also doesn?t help that Summer in Mara isn?t really big on holding your hand in areas where it would actually be useful. Like, it tells you how to chop down a tree at great length, but when it comes time to, say, give you a mission marker or a minimap to help you figure out where to go, the game is mostly silent. If you?re lucky, you?ll spot where the game wants you to go as you?re wandering around aimlessly, but for the most part the game is defined by the way it tells you to go do something, but then doesn?t give you any clue where you?re supposed to go. Even on the smallest island at the game?s outset, the game will suddenly tell you you have to do something — whether it?s meet a random person, or go do a random task — but without a map or a visible marker, you have to run around the island until you stumble across whatever it is you?re looking for.

The most annoying part of Summer in Mara, though, is that it feels like it should be a lot better. Going by looks alone, it?s lovely. It nails that Wind Waker vibe, and if the game was better designed, it would be a joy to wander around it?s vibrant world.

Instead, because the game is such a chore from beginning to end and all points in between, it feels more like you?re trapped in a world that should be a whole lot more fun than it is. Summer in Mara will try to suck you in with promises of being all charming and delightful, but all it takes is a few minutes (and a few hours after that) to reveal just how empty those promises are.

Chibig provided us with a Summer in Mara Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C-