Illinois began its official stay at home order on March 20, 2020. I hadn’t really gone “out” with friends since about a week before it went into effect, give or take, due to everyone exercising caution. The only reason I remember the last time I actually attended a “larger” gathering of friends was February 28, 2020 is because there was a Facebook event made for it. What I’m saying is, even if there is an occasional “be in the same park at the same time” moment, most of my socialization has been online via chats or games. It’s an adjustment, to be sure, but one that Chibig’s Summer in Mara is helping with.
Summer in Mara is one of the many farming and life simulations gracing systems in a year that is, quite honestly, pretty full of them. It’s going up against games like the steamrolling Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the revived Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town and Rune Factory 4 Special, and other indies like Ooblets. The catch here are the otherworldly elements to it.
Something is up in Mara, which is only vaguely apparent at the start. Koa is an orphaned child taken in by a woman from a different, alien species and raised as her own. (You later learn she’s a quido.) She’s taught to respect the world and environment and knows there are guardians. Except things happen and, even though the tutorial has Yaya Haku guiding you through its intricacies, soon Koa finds herself completely alone.
For a brief time, it almost feels a bit like Koa is in her own quarantine alongside us. She gets by with not having “everything.” There’s no fuel for the boat. You don’t have all the bait you’d need to catch different sorts of fish. You can’t buy more seeds. Even food has to be made differently, as the orange juice Koa makes doesn’t have the sugar cubes Yaya Haku used to put in it and she hasn’t had chocolate in forever. When Napopo arrives, it’s essentially a lifeline. She has someone who can help her get her grandmother’s boat running again. She has a sense of purpose as she wants to help Napopo reunite with the people she’s lost.
Summer in Mara can feel like a series of constant fetch quests, because Koa is extraordinarily helpful. Also, it provides a good excuse to visit a foreign island, get an assignment, head back to your home island to acquire, craft, or grow what you need, and return. But more importantly, it is an outlet in a way many other life simulations and farming games released in 2020 aren’t. I’d say it is more like a freedom simulator. It’s constantly a bright summer, even if there is eventually a force to be reckoned with to preserve resources. It feels like there is always someplace to go and some errand to run to keep you going. (It’s a welcome change for me as of late, to be sure.)
It’s also nice to see and interact with everyone Koa meets. Koa herself is a bright, blunt girl who genuinely wants to talk to and help everyone. Many of the people you meet are colorful and personable. Even if you don’t get a chance to really get to know everything about them, anyone with a character portrait is generally pretty fun. And some of the ones who don’t have one do a good job of improving the general ambiance by existing and maybe offering some flavor text designed to make you smile.
When it comes down to it, it’s reasonable to say Summer in Mara feels like summer itself. There’s a sense of freedom. Time can lose all meaning, especially if you haven’t been feeding Koa regularly and her “awake” time plummets. You have a whole ocean ahead of you to explore and it seems like there’s always something to do or someone to talk to. But even though you are constantly on the move, there’s a good sense of progression and the people tend to be the sorts that you might genuinely want to assist. Not to mention, well, it feels really good to have an outlet where very little is holding me back in these times.
Summer in Mara is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.