I have no idea how the postal system works. Nearly every day, things from around the country, around the world even, appear in the metal box bolted to the front of my house and I don’t have a clue how they got from those far away locations to my door. But, thanks to an educational game for the Atari 2600 called Mr. Postman, that’s changing. And now that I know postal carriers have to tame wild eagles and ride them through lightning storms to bring me pizza coupons, I have a lot more respect for them. I also feel a lot more pressure to actually use those pizza coupons.
Before all of you who are well-versed in the workings of the postal system write to tell me that’s not actually how it works, I want to assure you I know that’s not how things are done here. Mr. Postman was developed by Taiwanese company Bit Corporation, so it’s obviously modeled on that country’s postal system. But how much different from ours can it really be?
Mr. Postman puts you in control of a mail carrier tasked with getting a very important package to a house in the City of Silence. The first step is taming the eagle that will carry Mr. Postman to his destination. This is done by climbing a tree on the far right edge of the screen, jumping onto a swinging vine and finally dropping onto the eagle’s back, all while avoiding the bird’s “droppings.” Now, there are many things the nondescript white squares emanating from the eagle could be, and what exactly they are isn’t important. What is important is that getting hit by one costs a life. So don’t get hit by one.
Oh, and while all this is happening your score is counting down at a pretty rapid clip, so no dilly-dallying.
Once you’ve secured your steed it’s time to ride him (or her) through a thunderstorm, shooting hailstones while avoiding streaks of lightning. The danger here comes less from the almost comically slow-moving lightning than from the rather dodgy collision detection. A fair number of your shots will pass harmlessly through hailstones, so be ready to get out of the way when that happens. Once you clear the skies of hail three times you finally reach your destination, the City of Silence. Here you navigate through tight passages to deliver your package to its grateful recipients. Just like the first screen, your score ticks down rapidly here, so you’d better step on it.
A lot of developers would have been satisfied creating a game with just one of the stages found in Mr. Postman, and it probably would have been a solid if unspectacular game. But Bit Corp. included all three and managed to stitch them together into a more or less cohesive story, creating a game that is decidedly bizarre, but also diverse and challenging. Consider yourself warned, the first screen is by far the most difficult, often frustratingly so when you’re playing for the first time. Or the fiftieth time. But be patient and stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most unique gaming experiences in the Atari 2600 library.