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Koa And The Five Pirates Of Mara Review: Rekindling The Spark Of 3D Platformers

EDITORS' RATING : 8 / 10
Pros
  • Engaging for all skill levels
  • Nostalgic platforming charm
  • Addictive gameplay
Cons
  • Fixed camera limitations
  • Precise movement requirements can be frustrating

A PS5 code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara" will be released on July 27, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

The world of 3D platformers has a shiny new addition. "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara," developed and published by indie studio Chibig, is a title that proudly carries the torch lit by its genre predecessors, while simultaneously offering a fresh, albeit simplistic, spin on the beloved platforming formula.

If you played "Summer in Mara," you'll be welcomed back into the world of Mara as you run, jump, and roll through the different islands with Koa and her trusty sidekick, Napopo. You'll navigate traps and perilous terrains as you attempt to win the Trials of Mara and recover stolen pirate treasures.

The concept of "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara" is akin to a sweet, nostalgic trip down memory lane. The cartoonish and linear 3D platformer aspect, reminiscent of classics like "Super Mario 64" and "Banjo-Kazooie," instantly feels familiar. This game takes that nostalgia, though, and presents it through a fresh, 21st-century lens, making it accessible to both genre veterans and newcomers alike — especially younger gamers just starting to cut their teeth on the platforming genre.

A casual approach: an accessible gateway to platforming

Despite its superficial simplicity, the game shines in its well-calibrated approach to difficulty and complexity. It keeps the entry barrier low, proving an excellent introduction to 3D platformers for younger gamers or those new to the genre. The roll-leap-land-repeat mechanism introduces a sense of speed and dynamism, which is delightfully engaging without being overwhelming.

That said, it feels like more could have been added to the overall control scheme. Spamming the run and jump buttons feels a bit too easy, and the lack of an added attack button does away with the much-needed sense of dynamism. For genre veterans, more nuanced and varied movement options could offer a richer, more complex platforming experience. Of course, more buttons also means more complexity — something that isn't really a focus in "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara."

The gameplay is relaxing and hyper-casual. It doesn't push you towards breakneck speed, but rather encourages exploration and interaction. If you end up struggling in a level, a pop-up message even offers you the option of changing the difficulty in an attempt to make sure you're, ultimately, enjoying the game. Each level presents alternate paths hiding various collectibles and shells — the latter being a currency spent in the town between levels. The collectibles are essential for quests and are generously rewarded, reinforcing the game's exploration-focused ethos.

Speed and strategy

All that said, the game isn't all about taking it slow and easy. There's an exciting edge for those who love speed and competition. Race stages and time trial modes invite you to speed through levels against other characters or try and beat your previous level completion times. The thrill of chaining rolls and leaps together to maximize speed, while keeping ahead of the competition, offers an engaging alternative to the slower-paced exploration. While the medals awarded at the end of these races are purely honorary, they cater to those driven by achievement and add an extra layer of replayability.

Beyond racing and leaping through levels, "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara" offers plenty of variety with its town exploration segments. Here, you'll find shops, familiar "Summer in Mara" NPCs, and side quests that deliver additional gameplay depth. These sections give the game a simplified RPG-esque flavor, creating a more diverse, rewarding experience that goes beyond simple platforming.

Well worth the trip back to Mara

One commendable feature is the fixed camera perspective. While initially, this might seem like a limitation, it adds a distinct flavor to the overall gameplay, mirroring classics from the PS1 era. However, the absence of an adjustable camera option is a bit of a letdown. Maybe we're spoiled at this point, but we've to expect a degree of camera control in 3D environments. The fixed camera occasionally obstructs views or hinders a jump, which can prove frustrating during the game's more intense platforming sequences.

Precise movement can also be a bit of a challenge. While the platforming mechanics are simple and intuitive, precise landings (coupled with the somewhat inflexible fixed camera) can make or break a speed run. This is even more likely to happen if you're spamming the long-jump ability since you can't really guide Koa in a direction while she's in mid-jump — an ability that many other 3D platformers feature.

None of the game's limitations are deal breakers, though. Despite a few admittedly nitpicky shortcomings, "Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara" impresses as a polished, welcoming, and engaging platformer. Its relaxed pace offers an excellent starting point for novice players, while its speed-based race modes provide challenges for veterans and speedrunners.

Running through the levels recaptures the charm and nostalgia of classic 3D platformers while introducing new elements to make it more accessible and enjoyable for modern gamers. It's an easy-to-pick-up, difficult-to-put-down kind of game, beautifully crafted for those who want to indulge in the simplicity and charm of 3D platformers.

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