Skip to main content

This breezy 3D platformer wears its simplicity as a badge of honor

My adoration for exploring and collecting in games is well-known to anyone who has ever heard me wax poetic about Soulslikes. Surprisingly, though, it’s rarely the punishing bosses or deep role-playing systems that suck me in the most — it’s the “Aha!” moments of finding a well-hidden item on a ledge most folks would never notice or stumbling upon an illusory wall that leads me somewhere wholly new. But this love of thoroughly examining levels and finding their secrets was first sparked in me with the significantly brighter and cheerier platformer genre almost three decades ago. There’s really nothing that makes me happier than becoming entranced in a happy, colorful adventure that lets me sink back into that childlike wonder I experienced all those years ago.

That’s why I’m always thrilled to find indie games like Chibig’s Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara that genuinely capture the playfulness of the titles I grew up with. Similar to other lovely platformers like New Super Lucky’s Tale or A Hat in Time, it may lack some of the AAA flourishes of the genre-defining Super Mario Odyssey, but it makes its case by flawlessly nailing the fundamentals: a memorable and lovable mascot, diverse level design, tight controls, and a cohesive artistic vision. That attention to such core principles keeps it from suffering the same fate as the dozens of low-budget releases each year that often suffocate beneath the weight of their own ambition.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara truly understands what makes a 3D platformer tick. And after spending around six or so hours completing everything it has to offer, I can enthusiastically recommend this chill summer game for both hardcore genre fans and families looking for something that anyone in the unit can easily pick up and play.

Sometimes, basic is best

Though not technically a sequel in the traditional sense, Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara takes place within the same tropical setting as 2020’s Summer of Mara — a cozy game that saw players explore an archipelago while crafting, farming, and engaging with locals. And while this new entry in the series still stars the ever-lovable Koa, a determined eleven-year-old girl who loves to explore the sea on her boat, it takes a much different approach to gameplay, trading those relaxing tasks for some basic 3D platforming.

The word “basic” may sound unappealing at first glance, but it’s actually that simplicity which captured my heart. The identity crisis that often plagues modern platformers trying to stand out among their contemporaries isn’t at play here. Instead, Chibig has crafted a focused, tightly-tuned adventure that’s all about the essentials: running, jumping, and collecting. Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara wears its restraint as a badge of honor.

Koa jumps with a jetpack in Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara.

I love deeply creative experiences within various genres, but I’m also all about a game that’s comfortable with just zeroing in on its strengths, so I can’t stress how much I love that Koa’s journey almost never tries to do something that could set it off course. It’s a game that is content with letting its wide selection of island locations serve as its outlet for trying new things, each offering unique aesthetics and overarching goals, rather than asking you to endure wacky new gameplay overhauls or varying types of minigames that might disrupt the flow of the game just for the sake of inventiveness.

I wouldn’t want every game I play to be so breezy, of course, but knowing that I didn’t have a checklist of nonsense to do in a menu was refreshing, allowing me to sink into my couch for two evenings and let Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara take me away to a tropical wonderland without ever once feeling stressed or as if my time had been mishandled. I didn’t mind that the core platforming loop changed so little from beginning to end — I was just happy to see what place I’d visit next.

Relentless optimism

That’s not to say there’s nothing to do outside of all the jumping and collecting; just that most of it is optional. Returning to the small coastal town of Qälis after completing each island lets you check in with its likable cast of characters who are always happy to chat with Koa about their lives. Some accept her seashells (the game’s collectible currency) in exchange for some fashionable new clothes or upgrades for her boat that let her move faster or jump over rocks while she’s sailing around the archipelago. But more than anything, their enthusiasm just drives home the game’s central theme of relentless optimism.

Koa runs on an island in Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara.

Even the “villains” end up being friendly folks that rely on Koa to repeatedly use her skills to get them out of jams and seem to genuinely appreciate her for it. While these pirates have sent Koa on a journey around the islands to earn stolen items back, she’s happy to scale a snowy mountain to reset a giant malfunctioning robot for a duo of these scallywags or infiltrate a prospecting station filled with lasers and conveyer belts in order to cut the power for another. The idea of Koa being the fixer around the archipelago is played to its fullest potential throughout the game’s Saturday morning cartoon story which is determined to remind us that life is better when we all just get along.

It’s not that easy in real life, but in Koa’s idyllic summer realm, we can pretend for just a little while.

I get the sense that Chibig has really found its footing here around and given Koa the game she deserves. Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara may not reinvent the genre, but its sun-soaked island adventure left me hoping that we get to see more of its perpetually upbeat world and ever-lively citizens in the future. While we wait to see what everyone will get up to next, though, I really think you should hop aboard Koa’s boat and lose a few afternoons in a tropical paradise. Just don’t forget your sunscreen.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Billy Givens
Billy Givens is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience writing gaming, film, and tech content. His work can be…
If you love game history, you need to try Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
atari 50 impressions nintendo switch logo

Video game collections are becoming more common these days as companies look back on their past. That’s great for game preservation, but collections like Super Mario 3D All-Stars can ultimately feel underwhelming when the end product is little more than a simple port. Atari’s classic lineup of games is no stranger to this treatment; you can play an Atari 2600 game collection on pretty much any platform you desire. Due to the overwhelming amount of Atari collections out there, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration might not seem like a compelling release at first.
That’s why it’s more of a surprise that it sets a new standard for this kind of game collection.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration Trailer
In practice, Atari 50 feels like a museum exhibit-turned-video game. It made me feel like I was walking through the Smithsonian’s The Art of Video Games exhibit for the first time, except everything is about Atari's 50-year history. Not only does Atari 50 contain everything from Pong to some of the weirdest titles the Atari Jaguar had to offer, but it embellishes those games with trivia, scans of game-related material from the time, and video interviews with people connected to them. Anyone who loves gaming history owes it to themselves to check out Atari 50.
Eclipsing other collections
Digital Eclipse has been bringing old games to new platforms for years -- it made Atari game collections for the original PlayStation. Over time, it has slowly put more effort into its approach, moving beyond mere emulation. Earlier this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection included the Turtle’s Lair, which had boxes, manuals, ads, catalogs, comics, TV show clips, and development document. Atari 50 takes that one step further by transforming similar content into exhibit-like Interactive Timelines.
From its title screen, you can immediately access almost all of Atari 50’s 100-plus game lineup. The real draw, though, is choosing one of five Interactive Timelines recounting Atari’s 50-year history. Arcade Origins focuses on the founding of Atari, its earliest success, weird prototypes, and classic arcade games that were released from 1971 to 1984. “Birth of the Console” is about the creation, hits, and triumphs of the Atari 2600, while “High and Lows” discusses the video game crash of 1983 and how the Atari 5200 and 7800 fared during it.
The context art is created in and the legacy it leaves behind are as important as the art itself ...

Meanwhile, “The Dawn of PCs” recounts Atari’s efforts in the PC space from the Atari 400 and 800 in 1979 until the rare Atari Falcon’s release in 1992. Finally, “The 1990s and Beyond” covers everything else, emphasizing the Atari Lynx handheld and 32-bit Atari Jaguar home console. Games will pop up as players navigate these timelines, and you can play them at the press of a button. As is always the case with Digital Eclipse collections, the emulation is smooth, and players can access various visual filters and even the instruction manuals when pausing.
On top of that, almost every game included has some piece of trivia, scanned development document or ad, preserved commercial, or relevant interview to check out. Notable former Atari developers like Pong creator Al Alcorn and programmer Tod Frye frequently appear in these videos, but other prominent industry figures like Double Fine’s Tim Schafer and former Epic Games dev Cliff Bleszinski show up to offer their thoughts. The context art is created in and the legacy it leaves behind are as important as the art itself, so it’s incredible to see Digital Eclipse’s effort to include all this supplemental information.

Read more
No Man’s Sky 4.0’s difficulty options make the space game feel new again
No Man's Sky warp drive

You’d think space was the final frontier, but 2016’s spacefaring exploration sim No Man’s Sky seems to keep finding new ways to expand and improve its eye-watering collection of features. What began as a quiet trek through a galaxy comprised of over 18 quintillion lonely planets is now a far more comprehensive game with a more sophisticated suite of gameplay options, including frontier towns to run, outlaw space systems to smuggle goods through, multiplayer missions to complete alongside your friends, and a fully-fledged story campaign to follow at your own leisurely pace.

It’s also recently been updated to its fourth major iteration as of October 7. That’s when developer Hello Games unleashed the 4.0 update, also known as the Waypoint update, coinciding with the long-awaited Nintendo Switch release. As a result of the 4.0 update, long-term No Man’s Sky fans were once again treated to an impressive array of improvements, including boosts to visual fidelity, better legibility within menus, and a noteworthy overhaul to inventory management that also left some players momentarily disheartened.

Read more
I can’t wait to go back to Street Fighter 6’s excellent Battle Hub
street fighter 6 battle hub preview arcade cabinet

Fighting games live or die on their online communities. Of course, basic functions like rollback netcode and cross-play are essential to a healthy fighting game, but Street Fighter 6 goes further by creating an online hub that celebrates the series and gives players somewhere to hang out between matches. Call it a metaverse if you must, but in reality, the Battle Hub is one-third of the Street Fighter 6 package and will likely be home to the communities and tournaments that ensure people will play the game for years to come.
It was also the focus of the Closed Beta for Street Fighter 6 this past weekend, which gave me a second chance to go hands-on with the game after falling in love with it at Summer Game Fest Play Days. The core 1-v-1 fights are still a joy to play and the beta’s new characters -- Juri, Kimberly, Guile, and Ken -- all come with the exciting combos and flashy animations. But really, I came away impressed with the groundwork Capcom is laying for Battle Hub and its implications for World Tour mode.
What’s the hubbub about?
The Battle Hub is one of three options players can choose right from the main menu of Street Fighter 6, and when selected, it tasks players with creating a character avatar that will represent them. I didn’t spend too much time with these options, but they seemed quite in-depth for those who enjoy a detailed character creator. After creating a blue-haired and face-tattooed fighter, I was thrust into the Battle Hub’s futuristic arcade.

Multiplayer hubs as a replacement for simple menus aren't a new concept for fighting games (Bandai Namco games like Dragon Ball FighterZ have done this for a while). Still, for Capcom’s first attempt at one, the Battle Hub is full of personality and things to do. Its stark blue colors, a plethora of screens, and many gameplay cabinets make it feel like the high-tech arcade Capcom wants it to be.
As soon as I entered, I could walk around, emote, and perform classic Street Fighter moves the Hadoken with button presses. I was also near two kiosks. At one, I could register and view tournaments and Street Fighter 6 events, although none were available for me during this Closed Beta. The other one was the Hub Goods Shop, where I could buy clothes and other gear to customize my character further with the currency I accrued while playing.
The other kiosks on the main level weren’t available in this Closed Beta outside a screen that showed which player in our server was performing the best. I then headed toward the arcade cabinets, most of which form a circle around the center of the Battle Hub. One person has to sit on each side to initiate a Street Fighter 6 match. While it’s a bit annoying to sit and wait for someone to play with you, I could always find an opponent if I looked around at every cabinet. Hopefully, the final game will have an option to get into fights slightly faster for those who want to simply jump into it.

Read more