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Image via Freedom Games

Review: Mail Time

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When I checked out the Mail Time demo earlier this year, I had a number of reservations. It felt rough and directionless, both of which are okay in a pre-release demo, but don’t inspire much faith. I need some indication that the concept will be delivered on. I need to see some chops. There weren’t a lot of chops on display in the Mail Time demo, which left me feeling cold.

So cold that I almost passed on the opportunity to review it. I was afraid that this would be yet another “cozy” game that thinks that being wholesome means not having any potato on its plate. That it would focus so much on being non-threatening that it loses all it’s depth and becomes a hollow, uncharming experience.

And I was right.

No, I’m joking. I’m never right. Mail Time is a good time.

Mail Time Gliding
Screenshot by Destructoid

Mail Time (PC [Reviewed], Switch, PS4, PS5)
Developer: Kela van der Deijl
Publisher: Freedom Games
Release: April 27, 2023 (PC), TBA (Console)
MSRP: TBA

Mail Time puts you in the tiny socks of a mail scout (in training). It’s your first delivery, and if you manage to succeed, you become a full-blown mail scout. Mail scouts deliver letters, if you weren’t aware. There are a lot of rules, and your avatar knows them all by heart.

The big problem is that you’ve only got a name to tell you where your delivery is going. To find them, you’re going to have to ask around, and you’ll soon find that everyone has a problem and want their mail delivered.

You’re very tiny, and everything else is extremely big. The aesthetic evokes a hand-drawn style, and while it’s not technically impressive, it’s visually appealing. As much as I love the lo-fi aesthetic that is currently conquering the indie market, it’s nice to see such a unique art style. The way the dialogue windows are presented using expressive 2D images of the characters, much like a visual novel, is a very nice touch.

There goes the neighborhood

Mail Time isn’t a very big game, and I don’t mean that as a complaint. You’re let loose in a smallish open-world. It doesn’t take you very long to cross it, especially when using your glider. However, all of its characters are nestled nicely in their homes. If anything, it’s a decent representation of an isolated neighborhood. Everybody knows each other and has some sort of opinion and gossip.

Considering objectives largely see you going from point A to point B to deliver messages and fetch items, the smaller world map is probably ideal. I kept hoping that there’d be another map that you move onto after completing the first one, but I later realized that would require you to leave all the characters you met behind, which probably wouldn’t be as cozy.

There’s a decent amount of verticality and much to explore. The movement physics in Mail Time are rather loose and weightless in a less modern sense, but it really works for the game’s exploration. While the area you trek through is rather small, there are a lot of visibly distinct areas to it. It reads very easily, making it difficult to get very lost.

Mail Time Ham
Screenshot by Destructoid

Fat cat

The story isn’t very deep, but the dialogue is charming. Just beware if you’re the type to skip dialogue, because it’s extremely easy here. Text boxes pop up already populated, so you can end up striking them down as quickly as they appear.

The writing has a light and optimistic touch. People can be jerks, but not in a very offensive way. There’s a lot of clever wordplay and a tonne of amusing jokes mixed throughout. Skipping through it would be an unfortunate waste, which is why I bring up that it’s so easy to do. The concept of delivering mail works in an interactive medium because it gives you the opportunity to get to know the characters better,

Even if you do read every last drop of language, Mail Time is a rather short game at maybe around 2 hours. There are stamps to collect, secrets to find, and you can generally go at your own pace, but even if you go out of your way to experience everything, it’s not going to stack up very high.

Overworld
Screenshot by Destructoid

Cottage-core fringe

I’ve become somewhat skeptical of the cozy cottage-core fringe of the indie market after being left disappointed by a few titles, but I’m happy to say that Mail Time delivers where I’ve seen others fall short. Trying to be friendly and welcoming doesn’t compromise it as a game. It manages to be compelling while not being challenging. It does this through breezy design, a lightweight world map, and enjoyable writing. It’s an excellent execution on its philosophy.

At the same time, it comes with a warning that applies to a lot of cozy games. It’s not a transcendental experience that is going to leave a permanent mark. It doesn’t aim to be taken very seriously. Mail Time wants to be an enjoyable and easy-going experience for everyone. It’s cute, inoffensive, and creative. Mail Time is perhaps exactly what we need more of.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

8
Great
Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.