Mailmen Delivers with Personality While Going to the Dogs in Slow-Paced Puzzler
“When you control the mail, you control information!” -Newman, Seinfeld “The Lip Reader”, Season 5
No other Seinfeld saying so succinctly spells out the humor and craziness you get with Ayopa Game’s Mailmen. While the dull sounding name may give you the wrong impression, Mailmen is a real-time, yet slow-paced puzzler that will put your strategic planning skills to the test. Engaging at times, Mailmen is full of personality putting a different spin on going postal (sorry couldn’t resist). The primary shortcoming is the control system which is not as intuitive as you’d like and hampers the otherwise fun gameplay.
Presented in a top-down view, the game focuses on three mailmen in the town of Greenville—Johnny, Charlie and Dave—and your mission is to help them complete their daily tasks. These tasks involve everything from picking up and delivering packages to rescuing fellow mailmen while navigating around villains (who knew) and of course, guard dogs. While the premise sounds straightforward, the devs have added an entertaining layer of puzzles and scenarios that require quick thinking and teamwork.
Visually, Mailmen is a good looking game with vibrant colors and runs smoothly on the iPad. Speaking of Seinfeld, the animation and graphics have a decidedly “King of the Hill” feel to them. For those who are (gulp) too young to remember, “King of the Hill” was an animated comedy about a suburban family and their mundane life. The characters in Mailmen are just as likable and come with their own special “mailman” abilities which frighteningly are all plausible.
Behind the story-driven 18 levels comes a neat little world that Johnny, Charlie and Dave will face. The neighborhood blocks and objectives start out small, but they gradually get bigger and more obstacle-filled as the game progresses. Objectives are presented by the mailmen’s boss through a series of speech bubbles at the beginning of each stage. Stars with a maximum of three are awarded based on objectives completed, packages picked up/delivered, avoiding dog bites, and time to completion. With each 3-star rating, a stamp is awarded and stored in the Stamp album.
Each of the mailmen has special abilities which players can use to protect the sanctity of mail delivery. Johnny is a reckless driver who is equally adept at sprinting as he is an expert at dog tying using his ropes. Dave is a rotund yet heavy lifting dude who is also a master of disguise in terms of dressing up as a fire hydrant. And last but not least is Charlie, the rookie who uses tennis balls to distract while using his athleticism to climb trees.
While the mailmen, um, have their abilities, they will face their most hated enemy—the dog. (There’s also a rogue ex-postal worker by the name of Newman). Not all dogs are the same, and players will need to plan accordingly.
Chihuahua—smallest yet has the most annoying bark and easy to outrun
German shepherd—usually sleeping but are fast and can do damage with their bite
Beagle—long range vision who is good at alerting other dogs
Doberman—poor vision but the fastest and hardest chomper of the bunch
Bulldog—ruthless biter with decent speed
Rottweiler—wicked bite with the ability to free tied up dogs
Mastiff—one bite can put the mailmen on disability
Robodog—radar-like vision impervious to deception and difficult to tie down
The gameplay in Mailmen is actually pretty creative with some the levels being very complex and elaborate. Think of a maze with a number of traps and that tells you what game is all about. The visual range of dogs varies and part of the game involves using stealth tactics. This can involve hiding behind crates, climbing up trees and using plain old good timing to stay out of the way of dogs. Others can require using fellow mailmen as decoys (e.g. throwing tennis balls or drawing their attack) while the other sneaks up from behind to disable the dog. Because of the size of the neighborhoods and the multiple tasks, guide arrows are provided to show where key locations and tasks are.
The dogs are loud and annoying and you’d be amazed at the level of stress as they approach. Part of the game forces you to calm down, or at least you better if you’re to complete the objectives. Besides the special abilities of each mailman, each is equipped with an air horn which is useful for disorienting attacking dogs.
Mailmen also has GameCenter achievements and leaderboards so in addition to achieving gold stars, there is a degree of replay value.
The controls in Mailmen deliver (no pun intended) mixed results. To move characters, the game uses a tap-to-move scheme where tapping a spot will move a character to that area. This control set up works well, but does significantly slow down the pace of the game. A minor issue in general, but a bidirectional pad or control arrows would be a welcome addition.
The other control mechanic worth mentioning is in selecting specific characters because it can be confusing and not intuitive. Mailmen are presented as tiles in the upper right corner of the screen. Here, strength levels are also presented so players can monitor how much longer a mailman can afford to take dog attacks. In order to select one, players must tap the icon to make him the active character. The issue occurs when you’re maneuvering and need to switch between characters because you will likely move the wrong character. While you do get comfortable with that mechanic, the scheme still feels a bit awkward especially when quick moves are involved. An alternative and more intuitive character selection scheme that hopefully will be incorporated in future updates is simply double tapping a character to make him active.
Because the neighborhoods can be large, there are plenty of areas to explore and locate hidden items. The game allows players to change views by dragging the screen to move across and pinching to zoom. However, a minor shortcoming is that a camera icon must be tapped to rotate the screen. Again, while only a minor issue, it can feel a little clunky.
Overall, the controls aren’t as smooth or intuitive as they could be, and can even be frustrating as the levels become more complex. But, if you’re looking for a challenging game with cartoony characters and a bit of personality within a slower pace package, Mailmen is that game. Quirky, yet slow paced…just like the real USPS.
Albie Meter: 4 Stars (fun and personality-laden animation and story-driven game with complex levels; offers a good degree of challenge requiring well-timed moves and planning; control scheme can be clunky and feel awkward; slow paced format with some replay value)