Summer in Mara takes some of the best elements from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and embeds them in a fun and relaxing farming sim that encourages exploration and creativity.
I was never a big fan of farming sims like Stardew Valley or My Time at Portia. But after playing a game that combines them with one of my favorite Zelda games, Wind Waker, I realize now – Summer in Mara made me love farming simulators.
Brave New World
In Summer in Mara, we step into the umm… bare feet of Koa, a young orphaned girl. For as long as she can remember, Koa has been living on an island with her caretaker, Yaya Haku. Yaya taught Koa how to survive on the island, cooking and taking care of the plants, while making excursions to the nearby islands.
But one day, Yaya disappears, and Koa has to start taking care of herself. When we eventually fix Yaya’s boat, we start exploring the other islands in search of Yaya. Throughout her search, Koa meets and befriends many colorful but forgettable characters. Koa also meets some less pleasant characters from an otherworldly race called the Elit. The Elit want to take control of the islands of Mara and use them for their gain.
We progress through the story not through combat and dungeons, but rather in a series of what are essentially fetch quests. As we meet characters in the story, we receive side quests from each of them. These quests are accompanied by dialogue that tries to make them feel character-driven. Unfortunately, they don’t give the characters the depth they need to become memorable.
But even though the side quests and story can be forgettable, they create a fun gameplay loop. As I played through Summer in Mara, I would make trips to the city island of Qalis, where I would take several quests, trade with merchants, and return to my island. There, I’d grow and craft the necessary items to complete the quests, and then sail back to Qalis. With every quest you complete, you can find new vegetables and fruits to grow and new recipes to craft, making Summer in Mara an evolving experience.
One of the few lines in the story stuck with me is the rule of equal exchange. Early in the game, Yaya teaches Koa that nature remains balanced when you respect that rule. If Koa has to chop down a tree, she should take a seed from that tree and plant a new one in its place. Following this basic rule is part of what makes the farming in Summer in Mara so satisfying.
As you journey around Mara, you gather new types of fruits, seeds to grow, and recipes to craft. There’s something almost therapeutic about finding a new kind of plant on an island, taking it back to your island to grow into a tree, and selling the literal fruits of your labor for profit.
But there’s more to the farming than just growing little fruit factories for you to harvest. You can cultivate every tree differently, both in shape and size. How you decide to do that is as much a question of efficiency as it is of aesthetics. While my island was barren and boring at the start of the game, later, it became a colorful paradise filled with trees of all kinds.
Summer in Mara isn’t just trees and fields, though. You can mine and fish, as well as raise farm animals. Throughout your adventures, you learn where are the best spots to find all kinds of fish, and which islands have all the best mining locations.
Come Sail Away With Me
Inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Summer in Mara features a boat you can use to sail in between islands. Early on in the game, you fix Yaya’s old boat and can start sailing the sea. The sea of Mara works like a grid. Each square on that grid hosts a different island, much like in Wind Waker. As you progress through the story, you can upgrade your boat and sail to further tiles.
As you might imagine, there’s not a lot to see in the open sea. You can find floating barrels that you can sail over to gain items, and the occasional fishing or diving spot, but not much more than that. It’s up to the islands to scratch your sightseeing itch. While they are fun to explore, most islands don’t offer much to do. You’ll likely visit all of them at least once while completing side quests, so there’s no reason to go out of your way.
All in all, visiting nearby islands doesn’t feel extremely rewarding. Taking the trip from your island to the city island of Qalis always feels like progress, which you can’t say about visiting other islands. I still felt compelled to check them out so as not to miss a rare fruit or material, so they do add to the gameplay loop as a whole.
In Full Bloom
Summer in Mara doesn’t have very complicated visuals, but the game is easy on the eyes. The characters have portraits with multiple expressions, and the locations are bright and colorful. Its visuals stand out the most when it comes to the trees that you plant in your island. You can effortlessly cultivate a picturesque grove, and the options are near limitless.
And as you farm or explore, you can listen to the relaxing music that plays throughout the game. It sometimes feels like the music fades out too soon, leading to moments of noticeable silence, but the atmosphere was always relaxing.
Summer in Mara takes the fantastic elements that made The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker the excellent game that it is, and uses them to propel the farming simulator into something more interesting. While visiting non-story islands never feels very rewarding, I was always eager to explore more.
Growing plants, crafting, and selling – the core mechanics of any farming game really – create a strong gameplay loop that makes Summer in Mara almost addicting. I loved spending my summer organizing my island with trees and buildings of all kinds. The game stands out when it comes to creativity and self-expression, which makes it feel special within its genre.
Release Date: Jun. 16, 2020
Our Summer in Mara review copy was supplied by the developer.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.