I have a few obsessions. Many of these interests are pretty standard fare, like cheese boards and good coffee. My love of video games (and writing about them) is a joy to share with others here at The Punished Backlog. But one of my more obscure passions is the United States Post Office.
I could—and maybe someday will—write a book about my love of the USPS. It will definitely reference the classic scene in Miracle on 34th Street when dozens of postal workers dump hundreds of letters addressed to Santa Claus on a judge’s podium. How about the ways that the USPS commits to delivering mail, no matter how difficult or limited the address? I’ll include love stories to snail mail in general.
So, imagine my joy when I stumbled upon Mail Time while browsing the Nintendo Switch “New Releases” page. (I was inspired by Allison’s recent foray.)
Mail Time is a sublimely pastel and gorgeously orchestrated indie game about delivering mail to forest creatures. Calling it “cozy” is an understatement. The world of Mail Time is welcoming, funny, and encouraging.
Conceptually, Mail Time is simple. Players bop around Grumblewood Grove, collecting letters and delivering them to their intended recipients. You know, how the mail works. The protagonist, who you’ll name and customize, will make chipper conversation with the colorful (literally and figuratively) locals.
Mail Time is a sublimely pastel and gorgeously orchestrated indie game about delivering mail to forest creatures.
There are side quests, such as collecting mushrooms for an armless bat named Toph who’s excited to taste everything the mycology world has to offer. (I quickly decided I would do anything for Toph.) Players have a journal that tracks achievements called Mail Scout Patches. Some are part of the main quest, while others are entirely optional; all of them have an adorable design.
The biggest struggle for your Mail-Scout-in-training is that there is no map. Letters come simply with a name and an illustration of its recipient. It’s up to the player to find (and then remember) where each of the 20 forest inhabitants live.
At first, I found myself disoriented that there was no map. Where were the icons? The tracking? The mini-map? I’ve become so used to being directed at every moment in games. But as I kept playing Mail Time, I often found myself sighing with contentment. The combination of movement, sound, and color in this game is incredibly soothing. Mail Time prides itself in its marketing of being a “cottagecore game” where nothing is rushed. I loved getting lost and finding myself again within this sweet world.
Mail Time features a small but gorgeous open world. Most of the “gamey” aspects come from platforming. Players will time out jumps and glide across daisies, mushrooms, tree stumps, and valleys. While sometimes clunky and confusing, the platforming is relatively simple for anyone confident with gaming. That said, it may prove a bit of a challenge for those who struggle with timing. Luckily, Mail Time includes a robust accessibility system, among other thoughtful features.
Mail Is for Everyone!
Mail Time has a super cute character creator. I picked out pink-braided pigtails along with a giant old-fashioned Air Mail envelope as my glider. Helping Toph find mushrooms also unlocks new hats, though I was partial to the classic red with white spots.
Notably, Mail Time includes a pronoun selector (she/her, he/him, or them/they) that can be changed at any time during the game. This gender diversity extends to the cast of NPC critters as well. Many are non-binary and/or in queer relationships. Mail Time quietly affirms that mail, like love, is for everyone.
I adore the other inhabitants of the woods. There is the snarky caterpillar, Soks, whose sass made me laugh out loud. You’ve got the emo bird Kaz, whose self-doubts about their art spoke to me. There are insightful moments, as well as messages around failure, creating, and connecting. The community of Mail Time reflects the love of those who made it.
A Small Team With a Big Heart
When I rolled credits on Mail Time after about five hours, I was surprised at how few names were listed. Mail Time is a delightful feat made by a shockingly small group of people, helmed by solo developer Kela van der Deijl in the Netherlands. A duo did all of the dialogue (of which there’s a lot) in a game about sending mail and meddling in the personal lives of one’s neighbors. One person made all the music! The game was funded via Kickstarter and produced on a budget of less than $50,000 USD.
Mail Time quietly affirms that mail, like love, is for everyone.
Despite that impressive feat, I found myself wanting just a bit more content. For instance, there are three rabbit children in the forest, but only two of them provide side quests. There’s a little bee that follows you around, but it’s never explained why. But, I’m greedy; I just want more of the things I enjoy.
It‘s easy to love Mail Time, perhaps because it’s clear that the people who made it do as well. I wish a heartfelt congratulations to everyone who worked on Mail Time; you made something beautiful.
Ladybugs and Bug Bugs
Given the small team and limited budget, it’s not surprising that there are a few hiccups. I played Mail Time within a week of its Nintendo Switch release, and I encountered a few bugs. Nothing game-breaking, but one mushroom was entirely missing, and as you can tell by now, I really wanted to get Toph all the mushrooms.
Yet, these problems are small. After rolling credits, I joined the Mail Time Discord to report my missing mushroom. I found a dedicated fanbase. When the game originally launched for PC and Mac in April 2023, it was riddled with glitches that were patched in the following weeks. However, the Discord was filled with positivity. One user wrote in May, “Finished my playthrough! Lots of bugs but that just means I’ll have an excuse to play it again after the patches!”
I can forgive the shortcomings and the bugs because it’s clear just how much work was accomplished by such passionate people. The community seems to echo my sentiment.
Final Thoughts: Is Mail Time worth playing?
Mail Time is one of the sweetest and most comforting experiences I’ve had in a long time. I intentionally chose the word “experience” because it’s cozily consuming in the best way possible. If you’re looking to self-soothe with a video game, look no further. Mail Time is available on a variety of platforms but plays especially well on the Nintendo Switch (MRSP $19.99).
The community of Mail Time reflects the love of those who made it.
Despite its relatively short five-hour runtime, Mail Time doesn’t feel small. It’s a great example of quality over quantity. If you are remotely interested in cute forest animals and/or the mail, you’ll want to add Mail Time to your gaming route.
Mail Time, developed by Appelmoes Games and published by Freedom Games, was released on April 27, 2023, for PC and Mac, and on October 19, 2023, for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided this site with a review code.