Mail Time (PS5) Review

Snail Mail

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Mail Time

Playing Mail Time has definitely reminded me that the indie scene really is a wild ride of ups and downs. Honestly, it’s refreshing—the AAA space is such a droll affair of safe bets that even the “good games” are just mediocre at this point. Sure, you get the odd surprise here and there, but for the most part, it’s gotten too mundane to get excited about.

It’s because of the indie space that certain sub-genres are even allowed to flourish. The most recent of these being the “cozy game.” Cozy games have existed for a little while but never really got more popular than your Animal Crossings and Story of SeasonsStardew Valley probably being the most prolific in a long while. But recently, due in no small part to recent worldly events, people have been craving a simpler, more relaxed experience.

This brings us to Mail Time, a game that looked super cute and had a semi-interesting premise but definitely signifies to me the limits of a cozy game. When I first saw Mail Time, I thought it looked cute, and after watching Klaus, the idea of being a postal worker certainly seemed fun, but the more I played it, the less I wanted to, and that’s certainly detrimental to the cozy experience.

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Before I go too hard into this game, I want to start by listing some positives the game does have—namely, its art style and music. According to its website, Mail Time was made by a team of three people, and Kela van der Deijl took on the majority of the work, not only doing the design and coding but the art as well.

Mail Time was made by a team of three people…”

The overall aesthetic is similar to that of Adventure Time, Over the Garden Wall, or The Owl House, and there’s a particular way all the detailing on the environments evokes a unique, hand-drawn look that makes everything look like it was coloured with markers that I really enjoy. Furthermore, the soundtrack has a simple, tranquil feel that adds a sort of gentle whimsy to the game, which I also thought suited the game very well.

However, as I’ve said in the past, even being made by a small team is not an excuse for a flawed experience, and this game has many. In Mail Time, you play as a little mail carrier in a forest, delivering mail to little animals. That’s basically it. There’s no overarching story—far as I can tell—nothing interesting moving you forward. Just deliver letters and earn some badges. Each inhabitant has a little kind of story that facilitates why you’re delivering their letters, but nothing that really connects the whole experience.

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This was where I saw the first problem with Mail Time and subsequently the cozy genre. It feels an easy defence to say, “It’s a cozy game. It doesn’t NEED a story,” and there may be some truth to that, but without a reason to engage with the game outside of “do a thing,” I felt little incentive to continue playing. This isn’t an old-school arcade game where the lack of a plot can be forgiven by fun and captivating gameplay. Mail Time is a relaxed, go-at-you-own-pace game that offers little reason to go at any pace.

Well, that’s not exactly true. This isn’t a go-at-you-own-pace game; it’s a go-at-one-pace game, and that pace is unfathomably slow. Saying Mail Time has gameplay feels incredibly generous. The extent that one can “play” this game is just running up to an animal, speaking to them, and then running to another creature to deliver a letter. Occasionally, you can jump and glide around to try and circumvent the lifeless terrain—and we’ll get to that—but there’s nothing more to it.

“Mail Time is a relaxed, go-at-you-own-pace game that offers little reason to go at any pace.”

Not only that, but the world itself is both a bit messy and completely lifeless. It was a bit of a bummer to have a game set in a forest where all the flowers and foliage were placed like solid objects—neither responding to the player nor showing any kind of unique movement to bring the world to life. This is also an added problem when trying to navigate through vast fields of flowers that are all stuck in the ground like steel beams, and the player is unable to move through them fluidly. It just feels like an unnecessary hindrance.

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Also, while the forest isn’t exactly huge, and I get that the developers want you to run around and become familiar with it, I can’t help but feel like Mail Time would’ve greatly benefited from a map. Again, the characters don’t move, so it’s not like you need to keep track of where they are at any given time, but so many requests involve bringing letters to named characters, and you have no idea where they even are, so a map would just give players more options to get things done in a more effective way. 

That was my second problem with Mail Time. Its gameplay just isn’t fun enough to be cozy. You’d think a game that’s centred around delivery would give the player some fun, unique movement options to make the experience a bit more lively, but this is not the case. My guess is the developers didn’t want the game to move too fast, lest players feel too stressed by the game, but it ends up being quite the opposite.

When you look at games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, or Fae Farm, what makes those games as enjoyable as cozy games is they offer the player a plethora of options. Being able to play a game at your own pace means being able to choose how you want to play it, and having an overarching sense of direction gives players motivation to move forward. The game becomes cozy when it allows you to get into a solid groove—guiding the player in a certain direction but letting them move forward at their own pace.

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I don’t want to sound gate-keepy and suggest video games can’t just be chill, do nothing simulators—hell, I was one of the few people who actually defended vanilla No Man’s Sky—but even cozy games should have some degree of structure. They should gently nudge you forward and not punish you for taking your time, not just drop you into a world with no structure in the name of “relaxation.”

Mail Time definitely could have been a really fun, cozy game if only it had more going on than the bare minimum. The lack of a story holding the whole thing together, expansive gameplay adding variety to the monotony, and just basic QoL features make what should’ve been a relaxing time into a straight-up snoozefest. It’s certainly not bad for a first attempt, but I can’t really see why you’d play this over the litany of better Cozy Games out there.

Final Thoughts

Jordan Biordi
Jordan Biordi

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