Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is set in the same universe as Stories of Mara and Summer in Mara. While the three games belong to different genres and can be played independently of each other, they share a common set of characters and the same setting. Being a rather challenging action-platformer game, Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara brings new energy to the trilogy, which is otherwise oriented more towards casual players.

You will reprise once more your role as young Koa whose help and assistance are required in a little town plundered by pirates. They looted all available goods to enhance the obstacle courses that they built for entertainment. Koa will be tasked not only to retrieve these goods but also to test all these trials and compete in all races.

The game is built linearly, with a new area made accessible only after you complete all the trials from the previous one. These are also unlocked sequentially, ending in a boss fight or a notably harder level after you complete the three or four stages included in that area’s batch. Each of these levels has set timers that award gold, silver and respectively bronze medals for speed-running, but they can also be completed in a leisurely manner, allowing you to take your time to explore and collect every little shell (the main currency used in-game). Aside from shells, each level also has between one and three collectibles that you can gather which, in combination with the shells, allow you to purchase cosmetics for your character, boat or rebuild the town. There is no option to upgrade your abilities in any way (aside from some minor boat upgrades), therefore gathering all these is entirely optional.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara contains a very varied set of levels, both in terms of biomes used (ice, lava, temple, hills, water), but also regarding to the mechanics. Some are parkour levels, others involve swimming underwater. Some boss fights take the form of competing with the boss in a race to reach the finish gate first, while others will require you to directly fight the boss and fend off their attacks. Each of these levels is pretty unique in its own way and new mechanics are introduced every two or three levels.

The controls are well-implemented and responsive. Instead of double jumping (which doesn’t exist here), most of your time will be spent alternating your jump with a roll which has to be timed exactly when Koa lands from her jump. This makes her advance very fast (walking is extremely slow otherwise) but it also means that you will need an increased level of precision and pre-planning to perfectly chain these together so that you land on stable ground and not somewhere in the void between two platforms. It becomes like a fast-paced, yet rhythmic dance that you have to interrupt every so often to overcome traps or other obstacles and ultimately an exercise in alternating quickly between the adrenaline rush of the speed and tempering yourself to not mess up the jumps.

On the other hand, I had real problems with the camera perspective. The game uses a static camera that follows the main character’s movement, but it switches perspectives rather unexpectedly and this caught me off-guard many times. Aside from keeping up with the fast movement of the character, my mind also had to continuously (and quickly) re-adjust to the new perspective. There is no way for the player to control the camera themselves. Additionally, some levels contain a chase sequence in which the camera moves at a set speed and with a set orientation. If you don’t keep up with it, you lose the level by not being in the frame anymore.

Regarding the difficulty, I’d say that the levels range from moderate to high-intensity exercises (or at least above average), culminating with a rather brutal end-boss. Even if the game can be played in a non-speedrun mode, the chase sequences can seem really tight and frustrating for new players, and there is also a considerable amount of precision jumps, timed jumps and sequences in which you have to carry an object without being hit by anything. On the positive side, the levels are split into different stages, with checkpoints in-between, and reaching a checkpoint will replenish your lives back to the maximum of three. Also nice is the fact that you won’t lose the items collected if you die, neither the coins / door keys picked up from the beginning of the level, nor the collectibles. The game offers two difficulty modes, with the difference between them being the number of checkpoints encountered in a level.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is certainly a well-made game, even though it doesn’t add anything new to the genre. Completing one playthrough takes around six hours if done in a relaxed way (or four hours in a more rushed way), but if you aim to obtain 100% completion it will take you several more hours. For this, you’ll need to obtain all gold medals, win in all races against the NPCs and buy everything from all the shops which essentially means gathering every collectible. Due to its classic 3D platformer style, Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara can definitely scratch that itch if you’re nostalgic for games like Nintendo’s Super Mario 64, PlayStation’s Crash Bandicoot, A Hat In Time and it’s perhaps most similar to Kao the Kangaroo.

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