And my god do we need some cheery blue-sky gaming in this hell year of 2020. Mucking about in Mara has been the soothing balm at the end of my working day, blissful hours exploring a world where no one has a bad word to say, and no one has even heard of Nigel Farage.
Instead, the various races that dwell on the islands of Mara live together in harmony, with the only real peril coming from an invasive race called the Elits, who plan to harvest Mara’s natural re-sources. Even then, only a few of them are real baddies.
The protagonist, Koa, is an orphaned human child who’s been raised on an island by a qüido called Yaya Haku. Haku disappears at the start of the game, so Koa is left to tend to the island and gradu-ally explore the rest of Mara by steadily upgrading her boat to go further and further into the ocean.
The exploration is undoubtedly the most exciting part, being hugely reminiscent of the serene sail-ing of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Yet the loading screens between grid squares and the relative lack of sights to see quickly remind you that this is an indie game developed by a tiny team rather than being a triple-A Nintendo title.
It’s also very slow: it took nearly eight hours for me to unlock the first outbuilding on my island – a humble chicken coop. And playing Summer in Mara feels weirdly aimless. The game is essentially a series of fetch quests, with characters demanding items which you then have to grow, make, or find. But beyond your immediate task, there’s little to shoot for.
The most engaging parts are when you’re told you need to raise the funds to upgrade your boat, giving you a financial target and prompting you to work out the most profitable crops and goods to pursue. Otherwise, there’s not much incentive to craft the dozens of things you’re given blue-prints for. I have complicated recipes for everything from fajitas to paella, but little reason to make any of them.
Then again, it’s immensely satisfying to gradually shape your island by planting palm trees, building beehives, and generally making it feel like home. If you’re able to embrace the aimlessness, to grow for the sake of growing, and wander for the sake of wandering, then Summer in Mara can be thoroughly enchanting. There’s a lot to be said for spending time in a world where nothing bad ev-er happens.
Taking to the waves in your tiny boat is pure joy, and there are some fun things to discover out in the ocean, like an island where vases move when you’re not looking. At certain points, you can stop to catch fish or go diving, and occasionally eccentric but lovely pirates will demand odd things like sandwiches and soap.
A sedate, conflict-free slice of summer in an otherwise chaotic world.