In 2020 Neil reviewed Summer in Mara for Nintendo Switch. This was a game I had my eye on, but his review finally convinced me that it simply wasn’t a game I enjoyed very much. So consider my surprise when I learned that The Five Pirates of Core and Mara wasn’t a spin-off sequel to that title. However, after playing it, I realized that this is a sequel to the Summer in Mara series. Much like Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, Koa and the FivePirates threw the original design of its predecessor out the window, turning a farming exploration game into his 3D platformer. It’s like picking up and playing a GameCube/PS2 era title. The result is a highly accessible platformer that can be quite challenging even for veterans.
I believe Core and Five Pirates are years after the events of Summer of Mara. Koa was traveling the islands of Mara when she suddenly received word that pirates had raided the village of Qualis. Thankfully, these pirates did so primarily as a prank to challenge someone to challenge Mara’s pirate trials. It is up to the core to overcome these challenges and restore peace to the Mara. Along the way, he can converse with many friendly villagers and explore different islands.
The best point of comparison between Koa and Mara’s Five Pirates is something like Super Mario 3D Land. Each island has one or more stages for him to reach the final goal. Koa’s moveset is pretty simple, consisting of run, dash, bomb his jump. A more advanced technique is a kind of long jump that can be connected to a roll, giving the core a lot of momentum. Along the way, there are hidden collectibles that can upgrade the ship you use to travel between stages, as well as unlock decorations such as outfits and backpacks. The movements are pretty good, but I often found myself wanting to use more advanced mechanics while having to adapt that Koa couldn’t be controlled as “precisely” as Mario. Playing the stages at a slow pace, this game is perfect for younger players who are less familiar with his 3D platforming. In that sense, it really reminded me of games I played as a kid, like Rayman 2, Toy His Story 2, and SpongeBob. I would say that the different people you meet along the way are less distinctive, but perhaps this is because you want to tie it more closely to the first game.
The real challenge will appear at the end of the level. After completing a stage, you will see how long it took you to reach your goal. This completion time is marked with bronze, silver and gold medals and this motivated me to complete the stage as soon as possible. Running is simply optional in the first challenge, but you’ll need to run, do the long jump, and find shortcuts everywhere to win the gold medal. Don’t expect neon white level speedrunning technology. But there’s definitely something satisfying about redoing stages and learning every nook and cranny of the level in order to reach the goal as quickly as possible. Especially the later levels can be very difficult as you play with mechanics like disappearing platforms and ice physics. However, this gameplay he loop is very rewarding and, although not explicitly stated, I think it is very engaging for parents who want to play with their children. That said, the overall presentation of Core and Five Pirates can seem a little somber at times. Static character portraits, compressed visuals, simple level geometry, and lack of meaningful rewards make the game feel a little unpolished. Gameplay-wise, this isn’t really a problem, but the soundtrack repeats quite a few tracks and some of the extra levels are really barren. There’s a mini-game where you have to lure a crane to the ocean floor to grab collectibles, but it basically boils down to pressing the ZR button to avoid enemies. Then there’s also the level, which is simply about talking to one of hers somewhere on the island. At times, it seems that there was a desire to turn the sea, the world map, into a vast space with many islands to visit. Ultimately, however, these can manifest themselves as mere set dressing. The “boss” challenges are also nothing to write home about. Most of them are races, where you have to throw items or press switches to reach the end of the goal or defeat the boss. That’s certainly enough, but I would like to see more use of its imaginative design.
Overall, I think Core and the Five Pirates is a great remake of Summer in Mara’s world and characters. Being a 3D character his platformer just makes the gameplay feel fast-paced and feel-good. As I said earlier, this is a great introduction to this kind of game for younger players looking for something more relatable than Mario. For a platform veteran, getting the gold medal in every stage is a decent challenge, but otherwise it might feel a little too simplistic. The game may have some lackluster parts, but it did little to hinder the gameplay experience. I’ll leave the door open for future Mara adventures, but I think these characters really lend themselves to different genres and experiences. Even though I didn’t catch many of her Mara’s callbacks to her Summer, I could tell that the developers really liked these characters and the world they created. Perhaps it’s time to explore her RTS or her RPG genre with Mara?