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KeyWe review: extremely cute, but this is no way to run a post office

Birds of a feather

Gun to your head, if you were forced to staff a post office with flightless birds, which kind would you pick? Personally I'd go with ostriches, because they are both tiny of brain and aggressive of temperament (plus their long necks would reach high shelves and they would be very fast at delivery). But the good people at Stonewheat & Sons are clearly cowards, because they picked kiwis, the little avocado-shaped birds of New Zealand. Although, bonus points for featuring cassowaries as mail carriers, a species whose first Google autocomplete suggestion is "cassowary attack".

KeyWe feels like a name that was generated pun first and ask questions later, which is a design method I have immense respect for. In this case, your two little kiwi pals must run a small regional Telepost office that has almost terminal levels of whimsy. The telegram machine is split into separate groups of keys that spin, swap places, and, worst of all, do not follow the standard QWERTY layout. Packages are labelled according to the personal notes enclosed with them: set up this scarecrow as soon as possible, but remember his stick body is very fragile. The mail room is also run by an octopus.

Your task, then, is to play the four core 3D mini-games, involving both platforming around the room at speed and spotting the keys/stickers/letters you need. Some are more puzzle-y than others, with the last - where you transcribe a voice memo onto a physical note by combining stickers with the right words on - being a favourite of mine. And as you go through the three seasons of the calender, the games become more difficult or have seasonal twists. One week in autumn the octopus turns the mailroom into a halloween ride where deliveries must be appropriately frightened before being sent out. Summer brings sandstorms that slow you down or obscure what you need, as well as very aggressive plants. There's a secret society who demand their messages on telegrams must be encoded and decoded.

The two kiwi post workers in KeyWe, standing in the area of the game for adding and changing cosmetic items. One kiwi is trying on a skin that makes their fur look like a skeleton
Dressed to impress
One of my favourite bits is that you are paid in stamps, depending on how fast you do your task, and can buy some amazing skins and items with them. I dressed my kiwi as Miss Marple by using a purple coat, big magnifying old lady glasses, and a cloche hat. Absolute joy. Some items can only be unlocked by finding secret items or completing overtime.

Making this more difficult is the fact that kiwis are quite small and also do not have hands. You can grab letters with your beak, and push and pull parcels around on flat surfaces, but you will mostly be interfacing with things using your arse. It is your most versatile tool. It is how you press buttons or collect labels. And interacting with the world this way is mostly very fun. The fixed camera can sometimes make judging your jumps a bit awkward, but in general KeyWe feels tactile and silly, and the scale of everything when you're a little bird is just inherently enjoyable.

So are some of the seasonal changes to your challenges, including the aforementioned Halloween-themed parcel sorting that had us deciphering and sending ghostly packages that could only be seen in the light of a magic lantern. It's at times like this that KeyWe really takes advantage of its co-op elements, and makes you feel like a smart multitasker. You grab the Fragile label after you've done the postmark, and I'll grab a match to relight the lantern on the way to getting the Heavy label on the other side.

The package sorting room in KeyWe, currently full of sand after a summer sandstorm
Sending out parcels is my favourite task, for sure. In this one we are in disarray because of a sandstorm.

It is, however, very much a co-op game and almost impossible to play in single player. If you don't have another kiwi bud to hand, your options are either to hotswap between the two kiwis yourself, or pilot them both at the same time, neither of which is at all practical. That's fine; it is primarily a co-op game after all, much like It Takes Two or A Way Out. Less fine is that it doesn't appear to have in-game voice chat if you're playing online. Talking isn't necessary in all co-op games (look at Journey, for example) but some kind of direct communication is definitely necessary for KeyWe. You'll often have to do things like jump on different keys at the same time, and experiments with timed squawks were unhelpful. Couch co-op is definfitely the optimum way to play.

Even if you are playing this next to your bestie on the sofa, though, KeyWe tips into being frustrating a bit too often to be properly joyous. There'll be at least one mini-game that you just dread coming round to on the Telepost's calendar, and dollars to donuts I'll bet you it's the telegram messages, which is basically typing, but typing very, very slowly, like you're someone's gran on a Nokia 3310. The seasonal remixes of this particular mini-game don't help to gee it up, either, and if anything just made it even more irritating. At one point, after finishing a particularly gruelling telegram, my co-op partner turned to me and said, "This makes me sad". Which is not ideal. And to play the campaign you have to do a few of these a month. My heart sank every time they came up.

The telegram machine in postal puzzle game KeyWe. The keyboard is split into lots of small, random sections of keys. The screen showing the words to send has several letters blacked out, and the players must decode this

The telegram messages weren't the only thing I came to dread either. Even KeyWe's more enjoyable core games will reliably get a wacky addition at least once per season that renders them more agonising than agreeable. Like the time the mailroom was replaced with a flooded basement and we had to sokoban the parcels out by moving floating debris. In fact, the most fun mini-games are to be found in the game's Overtime section, a collection of non-standard extra games you can play to earn more stamps. These include feeding the demanding cassowary staff, or patching up leaks from the octopus tank, or getting in a snowball fight, and they're often races to stack up as many points possible in the allotted time. They're also more directly co-operative co-op puzzles, and feel more lighthearted in the process. Ideally overtime should never be the most enjoyable part of your job, but so it goes with KeyWe.

Ultimately, KeyWe is one of those games that I have to add qualifications to if someone asks if I enjoy it. It's a "fun, but-" kind of game. I wish it wasn't, because underneath the annoyances are some really lovely, imaginative details. The Telepost gets different decorations for different times of year. There are mysterious collectibles to find and store in your little kiwi nest hole. The cassowaries wear halloween costumes. The notes that come with packages to send out are often funny. The kiwis are really cute! But...

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.