REVIEW: Mail Time - Snail mail has never been more enchanting
Dear diary: It is approximately day 12 of searching for Greg. I'm not too sure. I've lost count. When I arrived here in Grumblewood Grove with Janet in the mail truck for my first solo delivery, wearing my best outfit and a new knapsack just for the occasion, I was over the moon. It seemed like a piece of cake — deliver a single letter to Greg and finally earn my place as a full-fledged Mail Scout. How hard could it be?
Well, who and where is Greg? That remains to be seen, although I've been stomping the pavement and clambering up every branch and asking every resident in sight (plus completing all kinds of deliveries for them along the way... and I think I'm involved in a fraud scheme? I'm going to leave that part out when I report back to Janet).
I'm starting to think I've hallucinated it all. Which wouldn't be surprising considering Toph keeps sending me on quests to collect mushrooms that are "probably" not toxic. Am I really a Mail Scout? Am I on a wild goose chase of my own invention? Nothing in the Mail Scout handbook could have prepared me for this...
Just the Facts
Developer: Kela van der Deijl
Publisher: Freedom Games
Coming this summer to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 27, 2023
Review key provided by Freedom Games
Mail Time is so far one of my favorite cozy games of 2023. And this is a cozy game — to a T. There's no violence — well, I mean, there is, unfortunately, a landlord, plus an offbeat caterpillar named Soks who might throw a real stinging quip or two your way. But in this casual platformer and collect-a-thon, there are no timers or penalties on your quests, no fall damage taken when you accidentally glide straight past your destination, and no real way to fail.
It's a game where the biggest challenge is picking the cutest outfit, knapsack, and glider combo within the character creator.
Although the Mail Scouts have seemingly hundreds of rules (all of which your cute and confident character has memorized), this game has basically none. You'll start by parking your teensy mushroom-topped mail truck on the outskirts of Grumblewood Grove, and your supervisor, Janet, instructs you to deliver your first letter by yourself to someone named Greg — no address, no directions. You just get to it. Some employers are really taking "on-the-job learning" a step too far these days if you ask me.
Once you've received your primary quest, you're free to wander wherever the breeze takes you (literally: you're soaring around using a giant letter as a glider) and pick up new deliveries with nearly endless freedom during your trek across the grove.
What results is a whole lot of traveling back and forth, meeting people, and accepting their requests to pass letters and verbal messages to their neighbors. Along the way, there are plenty of fetch quests, like helping a young bunny find all the borrowed coins she lost or picking up fantastic fungi for a mushroom-obsessed collector.
Or my favorite kind of quest of all. LOVE QUEST!
Nothing envelopes you into the fold of a community like passing mail between squabbling neighbors and helping someone find the perfect way to ask their crush on a first date. That's the heart of the game.
Along the way, you'll mark your progress by earning Mail Scout patches for your letter deliveries, bringing you one step closer to becoming an official scout.
One of the game's main draws is that it's a beautiful cottagecore dream. Mail Time is all warm colors, thick lines, expressive characters, and bubble letters, giving it an almost coloring book-like feel.
The aesthetic is the pure embodiment of childlike whimsy, complete with a "little feller in a big world" sizing discrepancy that has you gliding smoothly from trees that look two hundred feet tall, encountering thimbles as flower pots, and buttons as bicycle wheels. Climbing aboard paper ships the size of real ones, and bouncing atop lattice pies and humongous mushrooms like they're your own personal trampolines.
The writing is funny and youthful, and it's not afraid to embrace some of its sillier plots and deadpan deliveries of jokes that are intended to make you groan inwardly a little.
Kela van der Deijl, a first-time developer, designed and developed the prototype for Mail Time as a full-time art student escaping the pressures of the traditional art school framework. She began by making the game for her own enjoyment, and later was backed by publisher Freedom Games and pursued funding via Kickstarter.
But even after turning from a passion project into a commercial one, what still shines through in this 2-3 hour game is the human behind it — someone who made this story full of eclectic characters because it was fun and a nice break. That's the experience you get while playing the game. It's an easy romp in a pretty world.
Beyond the cute woodland animals, cheeky dialogue, and subtle pop culture references, there's a message about trying your best at something — whether delivering mail, running a race, creating art, or banding together with friends to plot a scheme to redistribute hoarded wealth — and being afraid to fail at it. I fell in love with Mail Time's insecure but ultra-quippy characters (they're just like my closest friends!) as they learned to ask for help and lean on each other's expertise and skills.
Another plus for me was that the game felt quite queer-friendly. There's a blossoming relationship between women depicted and multiple NPCs who use either gender-neutral pronouns or multiple sets of pronouns (like he/they and she/they), which can be easy to miss, but felt like a small and welcoming thing that made me love the game's world just a little bit more.
Places to go, people to see!
Mail Time's light platforming in its dense world is one of the joys of the game. Grumblewood Grove is small, but it extends upward. You'll trek between higher and lower levels and find houses, characters, and collectible items perched way high up on branches and in caves. With your floaty jumps, bouncy mushrooms everywhere, and your handy glider, you can always get where you need to go, even if it takes some trial and error.
The pros: The game's platforming is quite approachable. There are often multiple different ways you can get somewhere. I often found that when I was beating my head against the wall missing a jump over and over (the jump controls could be a bit wonky sometimes), there was often actually a second or even a third solution to my problem just a few steps away.
Bamboo's proving too small a target to easily jump and land on? There are larger leaves to climb nearby. Keep barely missing your jump onto a tall rock? There's a mushroom on the other side where you weren't looking.
Because the environment is so dense, it requires you to step away from the problem, look around, and reframe your viewpoint (good advice in general). It can lead to a groan or two, but there's no real penalty to platforming missteps, so overall it's a fun and beginner-friendly platforming experience.
The game's environment and fetch quest-heavy gameplay also require you to bring yourself out of your routines and search every nook, high and low.
Because, true to the game's hands-off, "snail mail" play-at-your-own-pace style, Mail Time lacks a map. You'll learn to navigate the old-fashioned way, by identifying landmarks and backtracking or retracing your steps when you need to.
It's not make-or-break for the experience, but it does mean that for the directionally-challenged, like me, it's easiest to orient yourself by following the same paths over and over again between characters or regions. This tactic makes it easier to get a feel for your surroundings and where the different areas are in relation to each other. But you won't always find the people or collectibles you're looking for that way, like mushrooms for Toph and coins for Cedar.
In my first playthrough, I accidentally left an entire area with three NPCs unexplored until very late in the game because I'd been so focused on the delivery paths I'd managed to memorize — but this isn't the real world, where the mailperson takes a regular route. It turned out that a whole new area was just a glide away.
In Mail Time, it's the journey that matters
Although I loved this game and think its short playtime and fun dialogue make it worthwhile to revisit again, there was some bugginess that soured the final moments of the game.
There was an issue with a mushroom delivery being marked completed before I'd actually brought the last sample to my dear, faded-on-fungus friend Toph. Another achievement based on delivery speed was bugged and prevented me from completing it and collecting all those sweet, sweet Mail Scout badges. Oh well, I can live with a job mostly well done. Nobody's perfect at their job — certainly not me, and not even my ambitious little Mail Scout.
But one sincere disappointment was in what could have been the greatest delight. After your questing ends, you return to find that your mail mentor Janet has worked with the whole community to put on a party appreciating your stellar work. But it's heavily bugged (and I don't mean bugged like Soks's trash cans).
As you go around and say your final farewells and see the whole community absolutely groovin', the dialogue prompts were quite broken. I'd click to talk to someone and get a conversation with someone else nearby instead, and some of my most beloved characters had no parting words, while others were not visibly even present but had a dialogue box — I managed to have a conversation with one character who was invisible. Spooky.
Like a cozy picnic quilt laid out amidst the pastel flowers... this game needs some patching. But it's still full of love and time-worn with memories you can look back at fondly.
In short, Mail Time isn't perfect — but it's a two- to three-hour quest for joy and neighborly connection, and there's nothing wrong with that.
I think a wise little Mail Scout (in training) said it best...
Video Games Are Good and Mail Time is . . . GOOD. (7.5/10)
+ easy-going platforming OK for many skill levels, delightful characters, dialogue that shines with humor and heart, welcoming and visually lovely cottagecore world, positive story about trying your best
- some issues with jump input, can be hard to stay oriented because there's no map, some bugs with achievements and with the game's final moments
Thanks for reading this Video Games Are Good review. If you're interested in learning more about our review rubric, click here! Wanna join our Discord, where you can discuss reviews and get early views at upcoming articles? Click here! Thank you for supporting our coverage!