Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara is a linear 3D platformer with fixed camera perspective, and I took a look at the Steam Next Fest demo for the game for preview. Difficulty and complexity are on the lower end from what I played, which made the demo a bit too simple.
There is one shining light though: the roll you can do upon landing. If you press the run button as you hit the ground, you’ll get a burst of speed and roll forward. If you jump while rolling, you’ll do a forward leap, from which you can land and roll again.
Structurally, each level has a few alternate paths for collectibles you might need for quests, as well as a bunch of shells scattered about that you can spend in town, but they’re otherwise a straight shot to the end. You receive a medal ranking for your speed, but it doesn’t do anything, meaning taking your time and collecting everything gives better rewards.
But Koa does care about speed. Included in the Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara demo are races set on each of the four playable stages, in which you must complete the level before any of your three AI competitors. It’s a neat way to recast the levels as explicitly and solely about speed.
In the races, I was free to roll, jump, and roll again for the whole level, and I understood the glee in Koa’s voice as she jumped and rolled over and over. But even when speed matters, it’s a rather rigid movement system that makes being speedy still feel one-dimensional.
You can buttslam and roll as your butt hits the ground. You can jump a single time, then roll while landing. You can jump while rolling. There’s a run button, and holding it will make you move faster. I’ve just described every element of the movement system, which might be fine if you could chain these moves together in interesting and varied ways, but there’s only one movement option worth linking your roll into: another roll.
I found myself yearning for a Super Mario Odyssey-style dive, a double jump, the ability to roll without jumping, or even a sidehop to give me some different choices to make. Instead, I just asked myself: Do I roll for forward speed or run for better turning control?
The level design of the few stages available in the demo wasn’t outstanding, but it showed some promise. Each level contained a basic platforming idea executed in a straightforward manner. When roll-jumping over and over was a perfect fit, I was having a blast. But any time I wanted to change direction or make a precise jump, it all slowed back down, and I wasn’t a speedy Sonic imitator anymore.
In-between levels, you can explore a town with shops, people to talk to, and sidequests, and while a lot of it was blocked off, it gave a sense of place and allowed for some goals beyond completing each level.
With slightly more varied movement, Koa and the Five Pirates of Mara could have a fluid and freeform platforming system. Without it, it’s still looking like a solid platformer that might get stale before its runtime is over.