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Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara (Switch) Review

by Willem Hilhorst - July 24, 2023, 11:00 am EDT
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Summer in Mara 3D Land

Back in 2020 Neal reviewed Summer in Mara on the Nintendo Switch. It was a game I had kept an eye out for, but ultimately his review helped to convince me that it simply wasn’t a game I’d get much enjoyment from. So consider my surprise when I learned that Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara wasn’t a spin-off sequel to that title, but only after playing did I realize that this was a continuation of the Summer in Mara series. Much like Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, Koa and the Five Pirates throws the original design of its predecessor out the window and has turned the farming-exploration game into a 3D platformer, which feels akin to the pick up and play titles from the GameCube/PS2-era. The end result is a very accessible platformer that will challenge even veterans quite a bit.

Koa and the Five Pirates picks up, I think, a few years after the events of Summer in Mara. Koa is traveling around the islands of Mara when she suddenly receives word that pirates have raided the village of Qualïs. Thankfully, these pirates have mostly done so as a prank to challenge anyone to take on the pirate trials of Mara. It’s up to Koa to triumph over these challenges and return peace to Mara. Along the way there are a number of friendly villagers to talk to as well as various islands to explore.

The best point of comparison for Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is something like Super Mario 3D Land. Each island has one or more stages in which your objective is simply to reach the end goal. Koa has a fairly simple moveset consisting of a run, a dash and a bomb jump. The more advanced technique is a sort of long jump that you can chain into a roll, giving Koa a lot of momentum. Along the way there are hidden collectibles that you can find to upgrade the ship that you use to travel between the stages or to unlock cosmetics like outfits and backpacks. Movement feels pretty good, though I did find myself often wanting to use the more advanced mechanics while having to adjust to Koa not controlling ‘exactly’ like Mario. If you play stages at a leisurely pace, the game is great for younger players that aren’t as familiar with 3D-platformers. In that sense it really reminded me of games I grew up with like Rayman 2, Toy Story 2, and the SpongeBob games. I will say that there isn’t as much character to the different people you meet on your journey, but perhaps this is because it wants to tie in more closely with the first game.

The real challenge is presented at the end of a level. After completing a stage you are presented with the time it took you to reach the goal. There’s a bronze, silver and gold medal attached to this completion time, and this really incentivized me to complete stages as fast as possible. Whereas on your first attempt running is simply optional, to get a gold medal you will need to run, long jump and find shortcuts everywhere. Don’t expect Neon White levels of speedrunning tech, but there definitely is something satisfying about redoing a stage and learning all the ins and outs of a level to get to the goal as quickly as you can. Later levels especially can be quite a challenge due to playing with mechanics like disappearing platforms and ice-physics. This gameplay loop, however, is very rewarding, and while not stated outright, I think this really can be engaging for parents who want to play with their children. That having been said, the overall presentation of Koa and the Five Pirates can come across as a bit plain at times. Static character portraits, compressed visuals, simple level geometry and a lack of meaningful rewards make the game just feel a bit unpolished. When it comes to gameplay this really doesn’t matter, but the soundtrack repeats quite a few tracks and some of the additional levels are really barren. There’s a minigame where you have to guide a crane to the bottom of the sea to grab a collectible, but it basically boils down to mashing the ZR-button and avoiding enemies. Then there are levels where the goal is simply to talk to one person who’s somewhere on the island. It seems at times that there was a desire to make the ocean, your world map, feel expansive with a lot of islands to visit. But ultimately these can just come across as set dressing. The ‘boss’ challenges also aren’t really anything to write home about. The majority of them are races, where you either need to reach the end of a goal or defeat the boss by tossing items or hitting switches. They suffice for certain, but I wish that their imaginative designs were put to better use.

Overall, I think that Koa and the Five Pirates is a great reworking of the Summer in Mara world and characters. Being a 3D character platformer just makes the gameplay feel fast-paced and welcoming. Like I stated, for younger players this is a great introduction to these types of games if you’re looking for something that might be even more accessible than Mario. For platforming veterans there’s some decent challenge in getting gold medals in every stage, but other than that it might feel a bit too simple. The game might be unpolished in a few places, but there was very little that hampers the gameplay experience. Leaving the door open for future Mara adventures, I think that these characters really lend themselves to different genres and experiences. Even if I didn’t pick up on many of the callbacks to Summer in Mara, I could tell that the developers really like these characters and this world they’ve created. Perhaps it’s time to explore the RTS or RPG genre in Mara?


  • Gold medals make for a great challenge
  • Satisfying 3D platforming and stages
  • Very accessible to new players
  • Characters and the world rely on you knowing them from its predecessor.
  • Feels unpolished at times
  • Side-levels are a bit unnecessary

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Game Profile

Genre Action

Worldwide Releases

na: Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara
Release Jul 27, 2023
RatingEveryone 10+
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