Taking a look at Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara, you might assume the game is meant for children. The truth is, however, that Koa is a truly ageless game. While it is certainly engageable for a younger audience, the game features optional difficulty levels and pays homage to several classic platforming games that will appeal to the older player. The game allows you to play casually but encourages you to challenge yourself, creating a title that is as entertaining for the experienced as it is engageable for newer players.
The game opens when Koa, a character returning from the game Summer in Mara, receives a distressing message from her friend Mayo warning of pirate attacks. We quickly discover that Mayo’s intentions are actually to get Koa to compete in the game-like trials hosted by the Five Pirates of Mara. To make things interesting, however, the Pirates have looted everything in the struggling local town, adding some truth to Mayo’s initial claim and pushing Koa to compete to get the villager’s belongings back.
Each island in Koa contains a series of platforming trials culminating in a boss fight. These platforming segments can be completed at any rate you wish, but you’ll be graded based on your completion time and how much of the seashells and other collectibles you managed to gather before completing. The game urges you to replay each level to work towards a better score and medal color, but you don’t have to acquire a specific score to continue.
Playing through Koa’s levels, you’ll quickly notice some obvious inspirations and tributes to classic platforming giants. On the first island alone, I could feel similarities to Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64, SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom, and even some of the Sonic games. I admit that some of these might be a stretch of the imagination, but Koa’s levels certainly triggered memories of my time with those games as I played through them.
My personal favorite was the speed sections, which reminded me of my time with Sonic Riders on the Gamecube, or the hoverbike races in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. As these were some of my favorite games from my childhood, it’s hardly any surprise that these segments were the ones I most easily gold-medaled during my time with Koa.
The art and style of Koa is certainly child friendly, without feeling sugar coated or obnoxious. As a grown man complaining about the style of children’s games, I understand that I’m not exactly the target audience for them. Still, Koa managed to keep the bright, colorful, and fun vibe I’d expect in a children’s game without making me feel like I was playing something way beneath my age range.
The characters are fun, friendly, and expressive, without feeling unrealistic or “toned down” for a younger audience. Koa is clearly annoyed by the actions of Mayo, who is a bit of a trickster and most certainly a thief. The characters are allowed to express more than simple admiration and joy and feel like fully-fledged, real characters without the game ever dipping into a darker tone.
The sounds and animations around Koa herself are fun, fit the bubbly tone really well and provide great feedback for the actions you perform. Koa’s little “hup!”‘s and ecstatic giggling as you jump, sprint and roll make your actions feel fun and impactful, helping provide the sense of motion and impact that the animations deliver. Koa herself is both adorable and fierce as a protagonist, providing a sense of youthful excitement and determination that makes the character delightful and supremely likable.
Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara features a diverse set of levels for you to explore, each taking place on their own islands and featuring their own unique environments. These environments have their own challenges and mechanics to master, including an ice level with the ever-famous slip-and-slide mechanics — something that platformer fans seem to either love or hate with very little room between the two. My favorite of the islands was Koa’s home island, which you will see in the screenshots included in this review because I love the seaside greenery look of the place above the others.
oa is a solid platformer that’ll appeal to fans of the genre, and can certainly serve as an introduction to it for players young and old. If you’re not a fan of the genre, I don’t think there’s really anything in Koa that’s going to make you change your mind about it, but that’s okay. Koa will be a great game for the audience it targets, which uniquely will be broad across all age groups and levels of experience.
My biggest complaint about Koa, which is minor at best, has to be with the keyboard controls. While functional, I had a bit of trouble with the combos used to pull off certain movements, specifically the long jump and rolling. I highly recommend playing this game with a controller if you can.