How about them eShop sales titles, eh? Just as you purchase your 12th game at 89p, you add another bit of credit to buy some other titles that you perhaps may have overlooked any other time. Toby The Secret Mine is one such game I would have usually missed.
Let’s address the elephant in the room now and get it done with: Toby The Secret Mine is not Limbo. There were a fair amount of copycats after Playdead’s devilish platform game, but none that really stood out. It would depend on your stance if you liked Limbo. While there’s no doubt that the graphics are rather good, surely it’s a bit samey and lacks any real challenge other than switches and spike pits? Yes and no.
Don’t let Toby The Secret Mine trick you into thinking this is a simple platform game with some puzzle afterthoughts: it’s a sadistic house of horrors without a shadow of a doubt. Do you see what I did there? Please massage my ego and give a virtual clap on that crass wordplay – this game is dark, both literally and figuratively.
The Dark Night Rises
Other than a few button hints, Toby The Secret Mine doesn’t give much explanation as to what is going on. What can be surmised is there are some bigger versions of you firing oversized arrows at your noggin and stealing all your pals, putting them in cages. It’s just not on.
However, that uncertainty feeling is throughout as the path you take is mostly trial and error; walk past a dismissable shadow and out jumps a series of pointy fish that kill you instantly. Walk along a seemingly safe verge and you trigger off a hidden trap that launches a multitude of arrows in your direction, easily blocking them with your mortality.
Upon death, you’re returned to a checkpoint area that isn’t always clear. Sometimes these respawn points are an inconvenience where you have to venture past some incredibly frustrating areas only to do it again after being hit by an arrow for what you had hoped would be the last time. Without being able to see the hazards properly, Toby The Secret Mine gets irritating pretty quick as the difficulty makes a detour down to Unfairsville.
Toby The Secret Mine is a typical puzzle game of this ilk with not so taxing puzzles of moving a box here or there to get to another level or hitting a switch to reach the places other lagers cannot reach. One enjoyable feature was the use of sounds. Occasionally you will walk over a typical plain surface but hear a creaking sound.
This indicates that it’s a breakable floor and repeatedly jumping will allow Toby to drop through to a new area. In most cases, this is a linear setup, and you have to go this way, but it’s also a way to unlock one of the very many hidden friends that are locked up. This also applies to some wall areas as walking into a black space is, in fact, a secret area. Bonzer.
The Pleasure Is Not All Mine
Each area exhibits some truly gorgeous backdrops that melt with the foreground action effortlessly. In many ways, Toby The Secret Mine feels like playing a shadowbox; the background lighting is ethereal at times, and the textures, highlights and attention to detail of the surrounding landscapes is a pleasure to experience. However… the mechanics of the game is the prominence of shadows and that the foreground objects and characters are entirely blacked out, albeit their eyes. Visually it looks great, but in application, a little troublesome.
The main issue is knowing what is coming next or positioning yourself out of danger. Arrows have been mentioned quite a few times in this review as they proved the most annoying. Despite having that element of uncertainty of ‘one false step and it’s imminent death’ which adds to the excitement, not knowing how to position yourself or mistiming your jump when up against a projectile is futile.
In one scenario Toby moves a rock in front of him to protect himself from a booby trap. The only thing is this rock is less than half his height, so you don’t have full protection when walking into a ray of light that initiates a flurry of arrows. The solution to this puzzle is to push the rock so far, jump slightly over it, backtrack behind the rock, come back to lure any stray arrows then exit to the right to repeat the same thing.
Quite often you can dodge all of these arrows but unable to see where Toby ends and the rock starts, you end up getting hit then have to redo the area again. After numerous attempts, I got past it but rather than feel relieved and have a sense of triumph; I was annoyed at how frustrating it was. Bear in mind this was in the early stages of the game.
Thinking Of Getting Highlights
Each puzzle is realistic to complete, and though there isn’t the widest variety, they complement the style of play quite well. On the other hand, the platforming sections can be quite unforgiving. Toby’s ability in the air is like tossing a swimming float into the wind; it will get to its destination, but it isn’t without resistance. Fighting the controls sometimes can be quite problematic as the later levels require a bit more precision and further patience.
Considering that Toby The Secret Mine is the work of a solo developer, Lukas Navratil, I can’t help but be in awe of the results, but we have to judge games on their gameplay, not just how good they look. Yes, it’s frustrating in places, and the trial and error approach is a bit too harsh at times. That said, it’s still a good game and anyone with a penchant for a good puzzle platform game that doesn’t want anything too taxing and can be finished in a couple of sittings, Toby The Secret Mine is well worth a look. Especially at the insane price I paid (89p, I believe).