We live in a digital age where messages, videos, and calls can be transmitted almost instantly. People around the world are more connected than ever, yet there are still those that struggle with communication. There was a time when it could take weeks just to hear from one person — yes, the analog age of letter-writing. Nowadays, letters are so rare that actually receiving one carries a lot of weight. The creators at 5am Games GmbH are lifting this weight and putting it on top of their game Letters – A Written Adventure, an experience that never leaves the page and encourages playful wording.
I’m Writing To You Because…
It’s getting harder to remember a time when letter-writing was the norm, but Letters doesn’t struggle to let us know. It puts you in the role of Sarah, a young girl living in Sweden during the 1990s. She connects with a pen pal named Katja and begins sending her letters covering both casual and serious topics. However, as you navigate the message of her letter, you’ll encounter illustrations representing aspects of her life. By using the available words in the letter, you’ll be able to change their behaviors and yourself as you make your way to the conclusion. It’s a nice yet personal take on the idea of communication.
When writing a letter, it’s good to go over your wording carefully to make sure that it makes sense and conveys your feelings clearly. In Letters, Sarah is shown to be a very strong writer. This is conveyed through the game’s interesting take on word puzzles. While exploring the letter, some words will be highlighted to indicate their use in illustrations. You can throw them around to get clues, make progress, or simply make aesthetic changes. This then leads into the neat puzzle of finding solutions in words that are out of reach or hidden within others.
Then there’s the progression of the letters themselves. As Sarah grows up, she changes naturally as a person, and so does her writing. Depending on how she grows, she’ll develop different interests, meet different people, and ultimately have to deal with different problems. This is accompanied by the technological progression from letters to chat rooms with a realistic depiction of the format. It really does feel like you’re watching a person grow up and helping them find themselves.
Lastly, the addressing of emotional and mental health issues: Throughout her life, Sarah encounters some very serious issues due to family and friends as well as due to her own self-doubt. These moments are handled in a sincere and tasteful way that gives insight into what a person may go through when faced with struggles.
Even the greatest of writers make grammar mistakes, mainly because it’s very easy to miss them. In Letters, Sarah makes a few stumbles that could have used a bit more proofreading. The first is how the platforming is implemented. While the controls work fine, the act of navigating the letters can get tedious at times. Sarah doesn’t move quickly or jump high, and she also gets winded very quickly when kicking words to uncover answers.
Then there’s the degree of challenge. Letters is a narrative adventure with a focus on word puzzles, but the puzzles themselves aren’t particularly challenging. There are few prompts that are just so obvious at times that it just becomes a matter of getting to the word. It’s also quite restrictive in that the changes you can make are pretty linear, with only the big choices really having some weight. Sadly, there aren’t many directions that Sarah can go in during development.
Then, there’s the length. The game presents the idea of guiding Sarah as she grows up, but we don’t get to see most of it. We’re limited to her childhood, followed by adolescence, and then an epilogue to fast-track the rest. Arguably, it’s focused on the formative years, but there’s so much that can happen following them too, which we ultimately don’t get to experience.
Stamped And Sealed
Letters IS a written adventure that follows the growth of a young girl through her correspondence with her pen pal. It involves solving word puzzles and making decisions at certain key moments in her life. It succeeds in providing an interesting take on word games, a natural progression, and its respectful depiction of personal struggles. Though it has troublesome platforming, little challenge, and length, it’s a very wholesome experience. So, if you have an afternoon free, grab a controller to pick up a pen.
Final Score: 7 / 10
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Letters – A Written Adventure is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Will Quick is a freelance media wizard living in Spain. When he's not gaming or writing, he's doodling comics or whatever else pops in his head.