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Summer in Mara Review: Come…Sail Away!

/ Jul 15th, 2020 No Comments

Summer in Mara Review

As children we have an innate curiosity. We’re not bogged down by what isn’t possible. Our curiosity lets us try new things without hesitation. It is a freedom only rivaled by a blank page or an open horizon.

Summer in Mara is all about childlike curiosity even if Koa would never claim to be a child. It is also about the limitless possibilities of adventure, and the freedom that comes with it. A game that mixes a wholesome story with delightful gameplay and a sense of zen.

Return the Favor

An act of kindness and mercy when Yaya Haku rescues a baby adrift in the sea from the wreckage of a ship gives birth to a quest of salvation. Koa spends her formative years living alone on an island with Yaya Haku learning the spirit of Mara and equal exchange.

Yaya Haku teaches Koa important lessons about life.

One day, however, Yaya returns to Mara and Koa is alone on the island. She takes it in stride in the resilient way only a child can. Using what her Yaya taught her, she stewards the island with what is available. Eventually, Koa rescues a strange little creature named Napopo, who enlists her help to get to Quido and find out what happened to their home.

Once in Quido, Koa meets other people like her Yaya and learns the world is a lot larger than her island. After performing a few favors, she meets Saimi, an old acquaintance of her Yaya who set her on her journey across Mara to discover what ailing it.

Koa lashes out anytime someone calls her a child. It isn’t simply petulance.

Summer in Mara is downright wholesome. It is a heartwarming experience built on the thrill of adventure. Koa’s journey is about dealing with loss, growing up, and discovery. Her quest is about helping others, learning about her Yaya, and saving Mara.


Summer in Mara’s gameplay replicates a childlike sense of wonder, even if Koa isn’t a child. While the game provides a feeling of freedom and adventure, it takes a while to get going. The first few hours of Summer in Mara is a slog. There is no dressing it up, it is slow and plodding as it teaches you the basics. It feels like every forced tutorial from the PS2 era. 

The one bright spot of this slow outset is it makes narrative sense. It illustrates Koa’s maturation. Going from a tiny child on the island with her Yaya Haku to venturing out to the wider world of Mara and learning the ropes of adventuring. This slow build matches the narrative and the character’s arc, which doesn’t make it more exciting. However, it shows a thoughtful and deliberate nature behind the opening hours.

All that said, once you make it out of the slow start, the game opens up and sucks you deeply into its mix of adventure and farming simulator. In terms of adventure, the quests and quest chains you encounter are basic. It is an exercise in “fetch” quests. What makes them compelling is how all these quests intersect.

Nothing is more satisfying than developing your island.

The intersection of “fetch” quests builds the world and Koa’s quest. As you do a favor for one character, it ultimately brings you into contact with another character. These chains of quests deepen the relationships between the inhabitants of Quals. 

Even helping rival restaurants on Quals have actual implications and help move forward your main quest. As you help out the proprietors and their apprentices, you move forward personal arcs and larger subplots. The nice thing is side quests don’t feel optional, meaning you get something for completing them.

While we lament the “fetch” quest in games as needless busy work, the quests in Summer in Mara are less “fetch” quests and more performing favors. As a non-combat based game, they work well. Koa does these favors to help others because her Yaya taught her to give back to those in need. The spirit of Mara flows forth by performing these errands for others.

Summer in Mara makes up for its “fetch” quests with zen-like gameplay.

The main perk of helping others besides progressing the main quest is developing your island. When you start the game, your island is in shambles. Your ship and the dock is broken. Only rudimentary seeds to plant and cultivate. Little fruit trees to speak of, and less to eat. It isn’t until a strange friend shows up on your island that your journey begins. Completing favors for others after venturing out helps you build more structures like stables and mines, plant more fruit and vegetables, and craft a ton of useful items.

Building up your island is a lot of fun. Planting, cultivating, and harvesting vegetables and fruit takes time, which requires Koa to sleep. However, watering crops and using fertilizer can shave off time. Once you get far enough into the game, you’re able to do a lot with your island. It is easy to zone out as you tend your crops, populate your chicken coops, pig pens, and sheep stables, and mine iron, bronze, silver and gold.

The other component of Summer in Mara is exploration. When your boat is fixed up and running, you have a lot of Mara to discover. There are a lot of exciting and wondrous islands to find. Many of them are related to the main quest, so don’t want to spoil anything. As you get further into the game, you’re able to explore more of Mara and find more things to bring back to your island. Ultimately, Summer in Mara it is about the joy of sailing and doing good.


Summer in Mara has some rough edges. In spite of them, it is a wildly addictive game. A sense of zen is achieved sailing around Mara and restoring your island. More importantly, the game provides a true sense adventure, which is something sorely needed in these trying times.

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Summer in Mara was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



Summer in Mara’s gameplay is a mix of basic quests, farming simulator, and discovery. It is the blend of these elements that create an experience that is hard to put down.


Summer in Mara isn’t ugly by any means, but it has some awkward animations and lacks finer details in environmental textures. It makes up for these deficits in its imagination of character and island design.


Summer in Mara has a joyous score that is as bubbly and carefree as Koa.


Koa’s journey is motivated by a desire for adventure and processing grief and loss.