KeyWe asks the important question: can two, tiny kiwi birds become post office workers? As I put more time into KeyWe, the answer became clear: yes they can, and it makes for a charming, yet challenging experience.
You’ve got mail
The premise devised by the team at Stonewheat & Sons is simple, and one that has proven to work in the wildly popular Overcooked series: take a relatively easy task, discombobulate it, and get players to work together to get the job done. This has been applied to the postal service, where things from telegrams and letters to parcels and the sorting of mail is a multi-step process of zany gameplay elements and ideas. Oh, and you’re no longer a human, but a tiny, flightless kiwi, a bird native to New Zealand.
As my partner and I booted up KeyWe, the opening cinematic outlined the main story, which works as a backdrop to the ludicrous puzzles you’ll be facing. Two kiwi birds are starting their job at the local post office that's full of cute and charming characters. Here, they’ll need to interact with the normal-sized equipment in order to do their jobs. The story takes place over three seasons, starting in summer and ending at the close of winter. After a brief tutorial of hopping around a desk, ringing a bell, and getting our picture taken, we were off and into the first batch of tasks.
Using your bird brain
There are a handful of main puzzles in KeyWe that receive different sorts of modifiers the further through the story you progress. One of the first ones you play tasks you with using a typewriter to send out messages that appear on-screen. The problem is that the buttons are scattered about the place, requiring the two players to work together to coordinate who is hitting what button next. In later levels, the buttons swap places, the messages come written in code, and there’s even a version where multiple messages come in at once that must be sent to different locations.
This ramping up of difficulty applies to all of the main set of puzzles. Sending out letters has players collecting words from around a desk and gluing them to a bit of paper in a ransom-note fashion, before packing it into a cassowary’s saddle bag (the delivery workers are cassowaries, which is a terrifying concept). In later versions, the words need to be cut into pieces to form new words, bugs snatch and move words around, and words are blacked out only to be revealed with a UV light.
The system of adding modifiers works well to build upon the foundation, creating more complexity without sacrificing understanding. The player is immediately familiar with the mission’s fundamentals but must work to incorporate new strategies if they want to beat the ever-ticking clock.
Preening your plumage
At the end of each game, the stopwatch will show your time, and give you a breakdown of the times needed in order to hit the various medals (bronze, silver, and gold). By getting a better time, players will earn more stamps, which are then used to unlock cute little cosmetics for your kiwi. My partner decked her kiwi bird out in multi-colored feathers and a witch hat while I rocked some green plumage and a big radio headset.
The cosmetics in the game offer players long-term goals to work through once the main story is finished. By replaying levels, players can earn more stamps to unlock other goodies. There are also “overtime” levels which are mini-games that don’t exactly fit into the “post office duties” the birds are responsible for. These activities get you to do things feed the cassowaries, sort coins, and test bubble wrap by popping the bubbles. Each of these tasks have their own cosmetic items that unlock once players accumulate a specific amount of points by replaying the levels.
Every level, whether it was a story-related mission or a unique overtime mini-game, was a joy to play. My partner and I were laughing and shouting directions as we tried desperately to complete the job, find hidden secrets, and get a better score.
In terms of how KeyWe feels to play, the controls do well to not get in the way of players performing tasks. Though, there were times where I felt that certain interaction points weren’t as generous with their boundaries as I thought they could be. One point that tripped me up was when I had to jump on the back of a cassowary to do up its saddle bag, which required standing and facing a specific direction and tapping the Y button. Were I facing slightly the wrong way, the prompt wouldn’t appear and I’d waste precious seconds.
While KeyWe is billed as a co-op experience, there is a solo option, but it’s about as challenging as tackling Overcooked’s missions by yourself. The player can tap the left or right bumper to switch which bird they’re controlling, or hold the button to move them both at the same time. No doubt players will get quite good at this, but the game is best experienced with two players.
One small gripe I have, that I feel I must air, is based on the game’s setting. There are kiwis and cassowaries in KeyWe, two birds that are native to very specific locations in the southern hemisphere. And yet, in-game, as the season shifted from summer to autumn, the calendar was labelled as “fall” and then as the snow began appear in winter, Christmas-like directions were strung up around the post office. These are two identifiers of a northern hemisphere setting. It’s just disappointing to feel like your small corner of the world is being presented to a wider audience only to have small details succumb to Americanisation and have the feeling of, “Oh, this isn’t actually set where I’m from.”
KeyWe does a great job at delivering exactly what’s on the parcel: it’s a cute and charming co-op experience that will challenge your communication skills. So grab a friend and get ready to sort the mail, because this one is something special.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. KeyWe is available on PC and Nintendo Switch on August 31 and will be availabe on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 at a later date.
- Challenging puzzles and mini-games
- Classic co-op fun
- Unlockable cosmetics and collectibles
- Charming visuals and cute characters
- Some slight finicky controls
- Limited solo player options
- Cassowaries and kiwi birds and yet not set in the southern hemisphere made this Aussie sad
Sam Chandler posted a new article, KeyWe review: Two birds, one job