Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara brings the wonderful vibes of Summer in Mara to a 3D platformer, but something about the mechanics doesn't quite click.
- Title: Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara
- Release Date: July 27, 2023
- Price: $19.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: Early 3D Platformers, Cozy Life Sims, and Overwhelming Cuteness
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I'm not the biggest “chill vibes life sim” gamer, so I never got around to checking out Summer in Mara. I loved the illustrative style of the promotional art for that title but had already had my fill of “hanging out on a pleasant island just sort of vibing” with Animal Crossing when it landed back in 2020.
When Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara first got announced as a sequel/spin-off, I was instantly in. That same gorgeous style, but a 3D platformer? Excellent!
I've played through a fair chunk of Koa's adventure (and watched my three-year-old play through some too), and I'm mostly liking it. The game is gorgeous and oozing with charm, but something about the gameplay never quite clicked for me.
The Great Sea
Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is a story about a bunch of pirates who ransacked an island town in order to host a friendly, obstacle-course-based competition – that only the titular Koa enters – with the winner getting to be a new pirate. Sure, why not.
This isn't really a story-driven game, so I don't really care that the story is so insanely weird right off the bat. The important thing is that you are a character in a bright, vibrant world who goes from island to island playing through fairly short platforming-focused levels. The game is more or less broken down into eight “worlds”, each with four required levels and a few optional ones. Completing a world gives you a new map that you take back to the hub island, where you then unlock a new area of ocean to explore.
It's a short, sweet, and orderly structure, but I would have been fine if the game cut out the sailing from island to island and returning to the hub with the maps. This is a platformer after all, and I'm here to jump and run and collect things… not sail!
Jump and Run and Collect Things
This is where talking about Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara gets tough. I've finished the game, and I'm still not sure if I like the core platforming elements. Koa as a character is fairly straightforward to control. You move around with the control stick, jump with the B button, and run by holding Y. The one extra trick she has up her sleeve is that if you press Y as you land a jump she'll tuck into a roll, which you can jump out of for extra distance. That extra oompf is satisfying to pull off, except that you have very limited control over Koa once she's in the air, and I frequently overshot my targets when I tried to combo those actions together.
Because of that, I found myself opting for just running or even walking through the levels. They are pretty enough that I didn't mind spending some extra time appreciating the environments, and the scattered
coins sea shells, and three collectibles per level gave me something to grab. The problem is that the timer in the corner of the screen never lets you forget that this is a game that feels geared towards getting through the levels as quickly as possible, like Lunistice, rather than one focused on collecting items, like Super Kiwi 64.
The incongruity I felt between a pressure to burn through levels as fast as possible and controls that left me frustrated at top speeds never settled over the course of my time with Koa and the Five Pirates. As the levels became more complex and interesting I just felt more and more frustrated that I couldn't get the character to move in the way I wanted.
Having said that, I still enjoyed the game. The visual design is absolutely wonderful and the obstacles the levels present were interesting enough that I kept wanting to see what new mechanics would show up. My three-year-old is also super into Koa, even if a lot of the platforming challenges are a bit more precise than he's used to.
This is definitely a fun game, and as an indie platformer, there's a lot to like. I think I was a bit let down because the polish of the art style led me to expect the same polish on the gameplay, but it wasn't quite there.