Games Need To Respect The Player’s Time More
I had an unusual amount of free time this past weekend so I decided to treat myself and dive into a new video game, choosing to ignore my ever-growing backlog of half-played titles I promise I’ll get to one day. Summer in Mara was on sale, a game I’d been meaning to play it since its adorable trailer caught my eye.
Summer in Mara marketed itself as a cross between Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, a claim which its overall tone and style certainly back up. However, the game had absolutely no respect for my time and became more of a boring time sink than an enjoyable or engaging experience.
The premise of the game is great, you’re a young girl on an island who has to figure out the mysteries of her heritage and the surrounding islands. It’s all very magical and pretty and just so darn cute. From a distance, it seemed like the perfect weekend game. Like many farming adventures, you have to gather resources, plant crops, construct tools – all the normal stuff. There’s also loads of fetch quests – bring someone three carrots, get four metal to upgrade your hoe, nothing revolutionary. This is all exactly what I wanted out of this game. I just wanted some simple tasks, a cute little farm, and the relaxing sounds of the island and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack to lull me out of my flat and onto the farm.
The issues started with the tutorial. It is incredibly slow going. Your grandma teaches you the basics of how to farm and gather, but she only gives you one piece of information at a time. Instead of telling me to go out and get some things, I have to return with each individual item before unlocking the next part of the tutorial. I get that this is to avoid overwhelming me, but there is a quest log I can look at if I forget what to do. Fetch quests in a game like this are fine in my opinion, they create a need to go out and explore, to farm, to gather, to play the game.
I didn’t actually realise the tutorial had ended because the next part of the game was also incredibly slow. I thought it was just a slow start, gradually introducing me to the mechanics and systems, but I soon realised the game was just being deliberately slow. Fetch quests are fine, but NPCs would literally stop mid-sentence to tell me to go and get something for them. This would be less annoying if the game didn’t have several systems which seem either poorly designed or designed intentionally to hinder my progress.
Summer in Mara includes crafting – you have to combine certain foods or resources to make meals, drinks, and tools. What the game does not include is a way to check the recipes for things on the fly. You have to go to your home island, into your house, and then into the crafting or cooking menu to see a list of required materials. You then have to memorise that and go out and get the ingredients. This leads to a tremendous amount of backtracking between your home and other islands. I was constantly forced to go home only to go back to the island I was just on so I could go buy something from a specific vendor. This is an infuriating way to pad out the experience, and it just isn’t fun.
Unfortunately, I’m not a kid anymore, I don’t have hours and hours every day that I can spend doing menial shit in games. I had time last weekend, but I still felt annoyed that the game didn’t take that time seriously, it was obtuse for the specific purpose of making things take longer for me. I’m all for my progress being slow at the start of a game so I feel more adept later, like in Stardew Valley, but Summer in Mara is just slow for the sake of slow. This is a real shame because the game has charm and beauty in spades, it’s just hidden under all the filler.
I think the reason this artificial bloat exists is because there’s a perception that games have to be long to be valuable. Games cost a lot of money to make, so it’s easier to market a $20 game that offers 30 hours of playtime than it is a game with only 10. The whole system falls apart as soon as games inflate their running time like this though. The older I get, the more I enjoy short games. I have far less time to just sit down and play now, so games that take anything less than 20 hours immediately shoot to the top of my list. There are so many sprawling open world games just gathering dust on my shelf because I can’t face the thought of having to play the same game for weeks on end – most of those still feature little radiant quests that just pad the game out. Hopefully, we’ll move away from valuing games based on how long they are and devs can just make their short games without fear of being called a waste of money.
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Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.
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