Here at Sidequest, we love “cosy games” (and figuring out what their cousin, “wholesome” games, even are). For me, a disabled gamer, cosy games provide low-stakes escapism when I’m poorly—in particular, chill games with little missions to complete allow me to feel like I’m making progress on something when I can’t get out of bed. That was my experience with Mail Time, a self-described “cottagecore” game that I played during a recent mega-flare where my hands were trembling too badly to do anything beyond gripping my Steam Deck propped up by cushions.
Kela van der Deijl (appelmoes games)
PC/Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5
Release Date: April 27, 2023
Sidequest was provided with a copy of Mail Time for PC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In Mail Time, you play as a brand new Mail Scout, a little mushroom-capped fairy adorned in dungarees, tasked with delivering post to the residents of Grumblewood Grove. Your goal is to earn badges by completing a series of side quests, with the ultimate aim of becoming a fully fledged Mail Scout. Now, I’m old, so if you ask me what “cottagecore” means, I think of aesthetic blogs on Tumblr posting images of the Cotswolds and earth-toned kitchens stuffed with drying herbs and steaming pots. I also think about the proximity of this aesthetic to whiteness (and white supremacy), as someone who knows first-hand the discomfort and danger of being a person of colour in the countryside.
I’m not entirely convinced that Mail Time provides a cottagecore experience—Grumblewood Grove’s miniature village replicates some aspects of the aesthetics with its rounded, thatched buildings and pastoral setting (your Mail Scout is dwarfed by fields of flowers and a giant picnic blanket), but you’re also constantly on the move and there’s a predatory, capitalist cat landlord to bring us back to reality. However, I do know, with certainty, that Mail Time is damn cute. I hugely enjoyed running and gliding through Grumblewood Grove’s various regions, including a labyrinthine field of flowers and a “swamp” that’s likely just a puddle. The world is beautifully crafted, bright and colourful but with distinct colour palettes for each zone. Instead of the feeling of dread I get whenever I encounter a country village in other media, I felt excited to find and chat with all of Mail Time‘s residents—anthropomorphic animals with highly individual personalities (the dialogue in Mail Time really shows off the skill of writers Maya Bloem and Bloo van der Deijl).
Chatting with these residents is key to making progress in the game; you learn about the various mundane dilemmas of each critter and set about delivering messages between them to resolve their problems. Along the way, you’ll need to do some basic platforming to reach collectibles and quest items hidden in the environment. Despite the small scale of Mail Time, I spent a significant amount of time exploring and working to reach vantage points so I could glide to a particular collectible or new area. Given that I’d been stuck in bed for three days by the time I played Mail Time, I especially appreciated having clear goals set out for me but with the freedom to spend time in the world; there’s no time pressure here, and all the Scout badges are achievable, providing a nice sense of accomplishment without struggle.
Mail Time is also extremely queer, beginning with the option to choose your Mail Scout’s pronouns. Currently, you can only choose “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns, so I’d love to see neopronouns added to the list or the option to add custom pronouns, especially as your choice doesn’t seem to actively impact in-game dialogue (you’re always spoken to, not about). Nonetheless, I felt warm and fuzzy opening up the character creator and seeing “they/them” as the default pronoun option, and I felt even warmer and fuzzier hearing other characters referred to with multiple pronouns—I’m here for that sweet, sweet “he/they” and “she/they” representation. There’s also a cute queer love story at the heart of the game’s biggest side quest.
Unfortunately, I found the game to be pretty buggy, which makes sense given its indie nature and small dev team. Most of the bugs I encountered were minor and primarily graphical, like the ones I found in the character creator where some outfit options were fuzzy and low-res (and these have now been patched out). However, I was locked out of completing a side quest where your Mail Scout is tasked with collecting various mushroom samples. I found this out right at the end of the mission, after collecting almost all of the samples, which was frustrating (especially for a completionist like myself).
I’m looking forward to future patches so I can properly finish the game but, to be totally honest, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bugs were the only detraction from my experience with Mail Time. I didn’t struggle with the platforming elements or feel overwhelmed with the size of the world. Even travelling back and forth a lot between the different zones felt enjoyable and soothing rather than annoyingly repetitive, a feeling that was assisted by the sense of achievement I felt any time I found a new collectible or secret and by the game’s relatively short run time of two to three hours. Playing this game during a flare was ideal—the only issue I had was that my shaky hands occasionally struggled with holding down the glide button, so I’d love to see a few more accessibility options added in the future. Nonetheless, the game ran great on the Steam Deck, making it easy to play curled up on the sofa or in bed.
Mail Time is a gorgeous, queer cosy game that’s perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon or an evening bundled up in blankets. Playing this game while sick lightened my mood significantly, despite the need for patches and bug fixes in the near future. Mail Time‘s quirky sense of humour kept me company and made me smile, while hunting out mushrooms and bottlecaps gave me something to achieve. It may or may not be cottagecore (I’m no expert) but it’s definitely worth your time if you’re looking for something chill to play while you wait for that loaf of bread to bake.
Zainabb Hull is an editor at Sidequest, a freelance writer and videographer, and sort-of artist. They’re also a trans, queer, and disabled brown femme. They tweet into the void at @ZainabbHull.
Hi! First time on the website, loved the review! Just wanted to point out a strange comment that jumped out to me, namely on the link between White Supremacy and Cottagecore: “as someone who knows first-hand the discomfort and danger of being a person of colour in the countryside.”
I completely understand the place where this is coming from, given especially the history of white supremacy in America, but I felt a bit shocked at the problematic generalisation of rural people as dangerous and racist. Of course, racism very much exists in the countryside, but also in the suburbs and in cities, and just assuming that all rural places are somehow dangerous to people of color (again, I understand where this is coming from, but many people of color also live on the countryside!) seems to me a misleading and problematic view. Just wanted to point that out, and of course mean it as a constructive comment! I’m loving the website so far and look forward to trying out Mail Time! 🙂