Don’t let the name Toby put you off, Clark Kent wasn’t a particularly catching name for a hero either.
Sometimes you have to step back and admire the art style of games, designs so breath-taking they leave you in admiration throughout. Toby: The Secret Mine from developer Lukas Navratil is one such game, clearly inspired by Limbo, this puzzle platformer can amaze with its beautiful art style but can also frustrate for the same reason.
Once you start up Toby: The Secret Mine no menu greets you to navigate or a tutorial to help get you on your way, nor is there a story to give background on our protagonist during this adventure whom I can only assume to be Toby. There is a sense of mystery throughout and from what I can figure out your mission is to liberate your friends from the enemy, trapped in cages similar to that of the popular Rayman series, whilst making your way through each level. You regularly bump into large dark figures with luminous red eyes, with random actions such as shooting arrows at you or picking up one the cages containing a friend and running away quicker than you will ever be able to catch him. It gets you wondering what is going on and why it’s happening, but ultimately Toby’s story is what you want it to be. From watching the actions play out on screen you are free to use your imagination to fill in the blanks from beginning to end.
Essentially this is a 2D side scrolling platformer with the dark contrasting foreground set on a colourful background depending on the setting of each level. The aim is to get Toby to the end of each level, avoiding enemies and solving puzzles along the way. At times the puzzles blocking your path take some brain power to be able to solve and other times they feel cheap, purposely making the player fail many times over as you slowly learn. A prime example of the cheap mechanics is the spikes hidden below ground only discoverable when walking over them, instantly killing Toby. Yes you quickly learn the path, but it feels cheap and perhaps some visual indication would have lessened the pain. You do need a certain amount of patience, part of the draw is that the whole game is a learning experience, what may take you half an hour to solve early on will take but seconds later in the game. Another good example is getting to a stage within a level with seemingly nowhere to go, no reachable ledges, no levers to pull and no boxes to be found that could allow me to reach higher. It’s not until I realised the game was hinting at me with a creaking sound from walking on a certain part of the level which got me thinking, what is that sound? Is it a trap door? Or is it simply a red herring? In more hope than anything jumping up and down on the spot the ground gave way opening up a hidden passage. Looking back it seems obvious now, however moments like this can either impress or frustrate.
There are many hidden spaces that often need to be found to progress or contain one of a missing friends obstructed by darkness, and it takes some exploring in order to find them. It ensures patience and exploration is rewarded. However as I alluded to from the outset this is also where the game can become frustrating. With the lack of instructions or on screen hints it’s often a case of wondering about in attempt to work out what to do to be able to progress. Often I found myself backtracking or aimlessly jumping around in the hope to discover a hidden room or switch which is not helped by the chosen art style, with the black silhouettes almost hiding switches that needed to be activated or platforms to be moved to be able to unlock a path. I appreciate this is the purpose of the game and part of its character however if it effects ones enjoyment it could’ve been executed far better. That being said the checkpoints are mostly placed right before you encounter a tricky jump or puzzling obstacle, rarely did I need to move more than a few feet to get back to where I was before often not needing to move at all; spawning back where I failed. There are no lives to worry about and it’s a case of ‘if at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again’. Whilst the gameplay is simple with only character movement and the odd press of the button to activate a switch to worry about, it really is all down to brainpower for your enjoyment.
As mentioned throughout the visual presentation of Toby The Secret Mine is excellent and certainly more impressive than that of similar games. It’s a much more interesting game to look at than Limbo and certainly not as dark. Black silhouettes on a saturated but beautifully coloured background can be eye grabbing and when accompanied by an inspired soundtrack it has all the right ingredients. The stark black foreground doesn’t present us with anything that hasn’t been done before, but it is executed well and can add to puzzling elements of the game often smartly, but at times frustratingly. Whilst you are not told where your location is from level to level, from the presentation of the colours and the background combined with the sobering music you can gauge what is you are about to embark on. The bright white glow of battling through a snow blizzard combined with the eerie sound of the wind whistling through the trees, to the warm orange glow of the desert, it’s very well done and certainly makes it stand out from similar games of the genre.
The similarities to this and Limbo are clear to see . The presentation is where it excels with the beautifully coloured backgrounds setting it aside from its clear inspiration and at times the level design is slightly better too. Overall it’s an enjoyable platformer with some satisfying brain teasers, sure it’s not as good as BXB’s game of 2016, however if you enjoyed the likes of Limbo and Inside you will be sure to enjoy this for what it offers in terms of its presentation and problem solving. The perfectionists will enjoy attempting to find all the trapped friends with some hidden by some well thought out puzzles, to some staring you right in the face but hidden by the darkness. Perfectionist or not this is one likely to be enjoyed by all and is well worth a try.
Toby: The Secret Mine was provided to us by Xbox via a download code for Xbox One.