The whole ‘Blind Postman’ thing is a bit tenuous. Developers DillyFrameGames attempt to justify the ‘Blind’ aspect because – being a game built around ice-sliding puzzles – the main character is shuttling around an arena with only walls to stop him (and he has two Xs for eyes). Like the main character, we’ll let that one slide. But the ‘Postman’ is a real stretch. The collectibles happen to be envelopes, but that’s it: there’s nothing here that makes you feel like a postman in any way. Not that it matters particularly, but there might be postal enthusiasts among you.
You may not know what we mean by ‘ice-sliding puzzle’, yet you’ve probably encountered your fair share of them. They often crop up in adventure games like Legend of Zelda, and Professor Layton likes the odd one too. You start on a grid, and you can move in any of the cardinal directions. But move, and you will keep sliding until you hit an obstacle, and you won’t have any ability to deviate from that course. As is often the case, there’s an exit and you need to bump your way from wall to wall to get to it, and that can often be harder than it seems. Dead ends and circular routes stop you from reaching that goal.
Full disclosure: we’ve never been fans of the ice-sliding puzzle. There’s something in the lack of control over the character, the ability to get locked into no-win situations, that turns our nose up. Ice-sliders rarely find the sweet spot between trivially easy and trial-and-error. And like Sokoban box-pushers, we see them frequently, but few games manage to do anything original with them.
It doesn’t bode well for poor Blind Postman, then. But as true professionals, we entered with an open mind.
Not that it was easy to keep that open mind. Blind Postman is clean and futuristic, but it’s ultimately clinical, like a hospital waiting room in Tron, and it makes it hard to find any discernible character among the neon. The main character is a box, the walls you slide into are boxes, and most of the things you interact with are, yep, boxes. No amount of garish bloom can hide the fact that Blind Postman looks like a far-future backroom of Argos.
But then we started playing, and we realised how wrong we were. We could feel ourselves mentally unloading all of the baggage we had, as Blind Postman is actually really good. For a £3.29 bitesize indie, it’s an accomplished sliding puzzle game, and probably the best of its kind that we have played. We might even be converts.
How did this happen? Well, the art design started to grow on us, for a start. There’s a Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions feel to the neon grid, and we began to understand why DillyFrameGames opted for it. Hazards pulse red, and useful items glow orange and green, making the visual vocabulary abundantly clear. It’s all so clean and understandable, meaning that mistakes that are made are because of you.
There’s the audio design, too, with sweeping piano movements that soften any tension or frustrations we might have had, as well as synth sound effects that compliment the aesthetic.
Blind Postman isn’t interested in frustrating you. It wants to get out of the way and let the puzzles breathe. You can reset a puzzle at the tap of a Y button, and the game does so in milliseconds. It might be a strange thing to highlight, but you’d be surprised how many games drop obstacles in this way. Once you’ve gained a collectible, you can press Y to reset and it remains gained, which allows the designers to tuck the little envelopes in corners of the grid, adding optional depth to a playthrough. Again, you’d be surprised how many devs get this wrong.
But, of course, this kind of game lives and dies by its design, particularly in its levels. You want to nail that sweet spot I was talking about: not numbingly easy, but challenging enough that you’re not jamming moves together in the hope you get to the end. Blind Postman gets it right time and again. The flow went something like this: I’d enter a level that looks daunting, with so many parts that I couldn’t even fathom what I needed to do. But then I string together some moves, and the level’s cogs start turning. The level becomes easier to ‘read’ – easier to understand what I have to do next.
Then I fail, but I’ve built up a mental log of the moves that got me there, and I can take a different turn at the end. This satisfying ratcheting of comprehension is really well done, and Blind Postman achieves it pretty-much throughout. Some levels teetered towards being too easy, but ninety-percent of what you have here is the right level of taxing. The level design is truly on point.
Every five levels or so, a new block or ability comes into play. Some are conventional – in the latter levels a hammer turns up, but it’s really just a key for the level’s lock, and we were glad it came late – but others are more interesting. A green block can be pushed when you hit it, which means the level’s layout is constantly shifting. There are tiles on the board that pop up when you glide over them, which means you can slide over them once, but be blocked by them on the way back. Turrets can be tapped with your butt, so that they fire in a direction and destroy unwanted glass walls.
There’s a real elegance to these obstacles – they’re never complicated, and you’ve probably played with something like them in other puzzle games. But collectively, in one level layout, they amount to some cracking ice-sliding puzzles. It feels good to push blocks and raise up others to create a pathway to the end of the level. We felt proper Mensa.
For less than the price of posting a Large Parcel to Birmingham, it’s far more than we expected. Sure, the 50 levels are over in a couple of hours, and the ending is about as damp a squib as we’ve encountered, but £3.29 is an absolute bargain for what you get here. A crisp aesthetic with a great soundtrack, all wrapped around some intelligently authored ice-sliding puzzles. We’d absolutely invest in a sequel or DLC of more levels.
When we came to Blind Postman, we winced at the prospect of an ice-slider. We’ve rarely had a good experience with them. But our minds are changed: this is a little gift in the post that we absolutely didn’t expect. We’d suggest that you send a stamp-addressed envelope to get your own.
You can buy Blind Postman for £3.29 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S