Making games is hard, probably about as tough as anything out there.
People commit years of their lives before they realise a finished, playable product they’re happy to put in the hands of players. And even after all that time spent creating, there’s no guarantee anyone will actually play it. Especially if it’s a new IP.
So creating a spinoff adventure from a known world is smart. Even if the games aren’t really related, as long as they’re set in the same universe they might actually garner some attention in a crowded market. Take Koa for example.
This is something of a spinoff from a little game you may have heard of – Summer of Mara. It was a fun loving, cozy life sim, which did pretty ok a few years back. So this 3D platformer doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with it, save for a similar aesthetic and a character or two you may already be acquainted with.
But that’s enough to give this game a headstart over so many in the space. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to really stand apart from anything or be a particular memorable adventure. On the one hand, I played Kao through to the finish, unlocking cool new t-shirts and backpacks, completing races and even tackling some rough platforming sections. On the other, I’d kind of switched off the entire time while playing it.
The issue Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara faces almost immediately is that it’s just not doing anything particularly new or interesting. Travelling around in your boat collecting seashells and gradually unlocking a map seems like it might be interesting in principle, but frankly, I would have rather have just had the map available to me from the start to just go exploring of my own free will.
Instead, I had to sit through a lot of jilted, janky dialogue and overloaded conversation screens to get anywhere.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Kao isn’t an especially bad game. It’s short, sharp, to the point, gives some nice level variety, some good challenges, and even throws in some optional things to expand the experience, but it’s also a game I feel as if I’ve played a hundred times before, made much, much better.
When I was climbing towers, dodging falling blocks and evading dangerous traps, I kept thinking of Crash Bandicoot and how it managed to do these sequences so much better. And the speedrun sections where I’m jumping over broken bridges and sailing through hoops just felt so much more seamless in Sonic.
The game itself just feels kind of rough, between the odd control choices of manoeuvring your boat and the way you land a jump and either end up going too slow or sailing around the screen too fast because the game isn’t responding well enough to your direction. And the way the cutscenes are presented just feels rushed and basic.
Which sums up this game quite well, unfortunately. It has charm and heart. It looks pretty at times and the team have at least tried to make things semi-interesting by not making each level the same as the next, instead adding in diving sections and variant boss battles.
But considering how crowded the platform genre is and the quality of games we’ve had in this space in recent years, this is a little bit of a hard sell right now. Perhaps one for a sale as Kao doesn’t really do anything wrong, it’s just that others do it all a lot better.
Kao and the Five Pirates of Mara is a stunning looking, decent platformer with heart, charm and fun to be had. Unfortunately it all feels quite simplistic, stutters and stammers, controls awkwardly, and frankly, other games have just done it all so much better.
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Good gameplay variety and style
– Awkward controls that never feel quite right
– Performance is shaky
– Content doesn’t stand out or isn’t particularly memorable
Kao and the Five Pirates of Mara is out now on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation
Code Kindly Provided by Chibi for review purposes
Played on Xbox Series X