koa and the five pirates of mara review

Koa And The Five Pirates of Mara Review – Platforming On Island Time


Koa And The Five Pirates of Mara Review

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koa and the five pirates of mara review

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is a lovely little platformer with many more minor issues that compound each other. In its state at launch, it's highly unpolished and a bit buggy but shows a ton of potential with creative and excellent theming. It's worth a shot, but not the best version of itself it could be.

Score 6

Platformers are a genre where you’ll find no shortage of games to satisfy your needs, and among them, 3D platformers are a bit rarer, and (especially in the indie space) it feels like a special event whenever a new one is released.

Games like A Hat in Time or Fall Guys became iconic for being well-made 3D platformers with a ton of charm, and Koa and the Five Pirates aim to fill this space as well.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara
The adorable title art of Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara – Image by Monica Phillips

While on the surface, it has the same charm and style that A Hat in Time had; you should keep your expectations tempered slightly, as it has quite a bit less polish and is less ambitious than that title. You should note that, despite that, it manages to be pretty unique, going for a style of platformer I’ve never seen before.

In this Koa And The Five Pirates of Mara review, I’ll go over everything this chill, relaxing platformer has to offer, with it being a mix of incredibly cool and unique concepts with some underdone and occasionally janky execution.

Silly and Unsightly

koa and the five pirates of mara scrapbook speech bubble
Talking to another character gives a neat little scrapbook speech bubble – image by Monica Phillips.

Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara boasts reasonable visuals. Colorful and cute, but nothing to shout from the rooftops about. They look like they’re going for a nearly identical style to Hat in Time, so if you thought that one was a bit rough, be prepared for Koa to look even rougher.

It’s cel-shaded, and what I would call ‘medium-poly’. It’s going for a GameCube-era look in HD, and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s a decent attempt at a modern/retro blend.

Most textures have a decent level of detail to establish the cartoony style they’re going for, and the game is usually incredibly bright and colorful, with assets having enough pop to stand out in these densely packed levels.

While the overall aesthetic may be charming to most, the animations are, by contrast, a bit of a letdown. The character’s faces are so static.

Outside of the hand-drawn portraits they get during dialogue and a select few animations, there’s zero visual change during their idle animations or when you interact with them. It’s kinda terrifying when the screen zooms in on Koa. All she’ll offer you in return is a cold, dead stare. It’s chilling.

koa and the five pirates of mara the main hub of the game
The main hub of the game, post-ransacking – Image by Monica Phillips

On top of this, there will be no animation when you collect a key collectible; it’ll just snap to a pose and snap back to talking with a character.

The game does occasionally buck this trend with cute idle animations and well-tuned traversal animations. But if you’re expecting expressive energy and consistently wacky animations to punctuate this adventure, then you are barking up the wrong tree.

Overall, Koa looks great at times, but more than a few times, I felt like I was playing the half-finished Unity demo where the texture and shading artists were miles ahead of the animators, yet this is the final product. It’s rough. Not to the point that it makes the game a pain to play, but it’s a missed opportunity for sure.

A Playful Playground

koa and the five pirates of mara playground
The first level shows off this game’s GameCube-esque art style – Image by Monica Phillips

I can’t tell what type of game Koa wants to be, and while that’s a little confusing as a critic, it’s also pretty cool.

It’s a common thing when discussing platformers to discuss the two major types (mostly when talking about 3D Mario), and that’s collect-a-thons and course clear, with the former making you explore for a ton of items to progress and the latter having you get to the end of the levels.

The levels in Koa are designed like your typical course clear 3D platformer fare but with a bunch of collectibles thrown in and just a hint of open-ended exploration to them, like a fine mix of Banjo-Kazooie and Mario Galaxy. I might have preferred going heavier in the direction of one or the other, but I don’t mind this unique approach.

Movement is pretty fun once you get the hang of it. This is almost exclusively thanks to the roll and long jump, which are taught to you in a single text box at the end of the tutorial, but they make rolling around this world way more fun. However, after this novelty wears off, this movement could be labeled as pretty one-note.

koa and the five pirates of mara
A race indicated by the timer, and absolutely nothing else – image by Monica Phillips

There should be some more mid-air control; a dive or a double jump (or both) would go a long way in making the mid-air movement feel a bit easier to master, and open up more fun movement options. I feel obligated to long jump everywhere since it’s the fastest and most fun option at my disposal, but it’ll occasionally send me off a cliff with no way to course correct.

This would be forgivable if movement and traversal weren’t all the game had to offer, but outside of clearing stages and grabbing goodies as you go, there’s next to nothing for you to do.

There is a hub world that changes as you progress through the game, which is always a lovely addition, with some bonus customization features, then races and level-based medals for all you would-be speedrunners out there.

In short, the game plays like a relatively common platformer with little to diversify it from anything you have seen before ten times over.

This will likely be fine for most platforming fans, as traditional formats are what we crave, but I can’t exactly praise this one for toeing the line and failing to push the envelope even slightly.

Tropical Themes

I’m all for a jaunty island soundtrack and was quietly excited to hear what Koa had in store for me, but sadly, it serves as pretty generic background noise. I nodded my head in rhythm quite a few times, so it did its job for sure, but much like a lot of this game’s features, it’s filler, not killer.

It’s going for a very tropical beach vibe with a lot of brass and synth and quite a focus on percussion. It’s pretty upbeat, and I could see some people listening to it often outside of playing the game. I just wouldn’t happen to be one of those people. I know a good soundtrack when I hear one, and this is pretty tepid by all accounts.

I can’t say that I didn’t like the soundtrack; it was fine. But the same cannot be said of the sound effects. It might sound mean, but I get annoyed by the protagonist’s voice, mainly because they play every single time you do anything.

Compared to A Hat In Time, again, Hat Kid was endearing because she spoke sparingly, but in this game, I hear Koa babble constantly, and I do not like it. It’s even worse underwater since she’s continually making terrible gurgling noises.

The rest of the sound design is fine, some things feel like they’re missing audio, like moving platforms and most stuff you activate with switches, but generally, the rest is standard. The lack of polish and the feeling the game needed more time in the oven extends to this section, too.

Not by the Books

koa and the five pirates of mara race
Even though they’re super laid back, I’m still challenged to race, wild. – image by Monica Phillips

The story in Koa And The Five Pirates of Mara is pretty unique and standout, most platformers go for a straightforward premise, but this one has several decently fleshed-out characters telling a fantastic story.

This kid named Koa gets a letter written in distress from her friend and sails over to see what’s happening, only to get roped into a big adventure.

Koa comes to the big main hub island to find that pirates have taken a ton of stuff; basically, anything that wasn’t bolted to the ground is gone. Her friend seemed to know something about it and was lying about being in danger to get Koa’s attention. Once you get there, you must try restoring the island by tracking down the pirates and getting map pieces.

While it’s no Citizen Kane of the gaming world, it’s nice to see a platformer try to push the narrative beyond, go here, save the princess, or something to that effect.

Characters offer a trove of fun interactions, the story, while wacky, feels cohesive for the most part, and I would even say that in a game where platforming should be the highlight, the story is probably the best thing Koa has to offer.

Technical Troubles

koa and the five pirates of mara boating
The main way to cross islands is through boating on a flat textured ocean – image by Monica Phillips

Given it’s just released as a video game in the modern day, many of these issues I have are subject to change, so I just want to note I’m covering the launch day patch of the game on PC. That being said, Koa has many issues I’d feel weird not addressing since they weren’t easy to ignore and kept coming up.

The game’s audio issues are the main one. Any time I tabbed out, there was a 10% chance the music would cut out and require me to turn the sound on and off again to fix it, and occasionally it would just permanently cut out all audio. Then there were times when two songs played at once for seemingly no reason, which was unpleasant.

Outside of the inadequate audio systems, the rest of the technical stuff and the UI works pretty well; I only had issues with my resolution resetting randomly sometimes when I started the game up and occasionally not letting me move it past 720p. Everything is great when it’s working, but it is prone to breaking quite a few times.

Progress in Paradise

koa and the five pirates of mara wild collectibles
A beautiful pirate outpost, it reminds me of the Night Market in Stardew Valley – image by Monica Phillips

You start with a pretty standard tutorial, but for some reason, the introduction, after giving you the tutorial, shoves a bunch of shops in your face that you can buy stuff from with collectibles.

Why are these unlocked now, before I have gotten the chance to get anything, and why am I being forced to see them? Who knows! I just think I should’ve only been able to see these later, at my own leisure.

Aside from that oddity, progression in Koa is pretty standard. You go to islands using a boat, and those islands have 1-4 levels. You complete all the levels in the bigger islands to get a map, rinse, and repeat. At the end of each big map, you’ll have a unique encounter with the pirate there; it’s not a standard boss fight but more of a race.

You can get upgrades for the boat, which allow you to play some minigames scattered across the ocean and earn some extra collectibles. These collectibles really only unlock cosmetics, and character and movement upgrades are almost non-existent, you just have your base mobility and moveset, and you just play a bunch of levels from there.

The levels change themes from the standard grassy plains, to the docks of an old navy base, to the base of a ton of pirates where their ships are all docked at night. It’s a lot of thematic variety while keeping the oceanic theme. The levels also introduce a bunch of cool gimmicks, like cannons, trampolines, and speed boosters, which all feel fun and unique.

The Alternatives

gears for breakfast
Image from Gears for Breakfast on Steam

Plenty of 3D platformers are out there, so I’ll focus on a few that offer a bunch of collectibles and have some fun speedrunning potential. That being said, if you’re interested in Koa, you should check these out too:

  • A Hat in Time is the most straightforward comparison to this game. It has the same Gamecube-type aesthetic with way more fun movement and cool collectibles that change the game in extraordinary ways. It has way more open levels with some optional linear ones; it’s great.
  • Here Comes Niko! is another cutesy, wholesome 3D platformer taking you across a bunch of islands with a surprisingly complex plot across the whole thing. It’s excellent, if incredibly easy at most times, and is more of a collect-a-thon.
  • Yooka-Laylee is a heavily Banjo Kazooie-inspired game made by some past RareWare devs, it’s not known for being the best game out there, but if you see it for what it is rather than what it isn’t, I’d say it’s pretty dang alright.

The Verdict

Score: 6/10

Overall, I could see the numerous bugs and very unpolished nature of the game putting it off for some, but if you’re a fan of 3D platformers and want a new one to try, I’d say it’s worth a shot. It’s $20 for a game with much speedrun potential and replay value, so you get your bang for your buck.

If the bugs get patched, and the game gets quite a bit more polished over time, I could see it getting bumped to an 8/10. It’s very creative, has a lovely premise, and many great ideas, and it’s fun when everything’s working, and you know how to long jump. With more options and better overall quality, this game would be a wonderful time.


Question: What is Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara?

Answer: This is a 3D platformer that’s half collectathon and half traditional level-based platformer.

Question: How long is Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara?

Answer: It’ll run you about 7 hours to do the main story if you’re running through everything, but there are many optional challenges.

Question: What platforms is Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara on?

Answer: All major platforms, namely Steam, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

Koa And The Five Pirates of Mara Review: Play Log

I played this game for 8 hours on Steam and got through a few optional challenges and all the main story content.

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