Developer Lukas Navratil posted his inspiration for Toby – The Secret Mine on its Steam Store page. Influenced by games like Limbo and Nihilumbra, Toby looks the part in both art and play style. If you missed out on either of those titles, they are challenging puzzle-platformers. Puzzles which are solved by logically manipulating the environment, or using gravity and motion to overcome precarious obstacles. Toby is full of charm and well made environments worth experiencing. How does it stand next to its influences?
Limbo’s big headed protagonist garnered much critical and fan attention, beyond its presentation and art style much of the game’s puzzles on initial playthrough ended in visceral deaths. Toby pulls back the reigns on the constant trial and error, making this game more enjoyable to a degree. Most of the game’s obstacles are readily understandable, and are featured platformer mainstays; collapsing platforms, bottomless pits, and moving platforms, are all prevalent.
Toby’s story is written on it’s store page, but not introduced in the game in any way. Many residents of Toby’s nameless town were kidnapped, a few brave souls went after those victims only to never return. You play Toby, the last of his community, as he embarks on this rescue mission. Immediately after departing, a mysterious figure (that looks like a bigger version of Toby, but with red eyes) hauls a caged citizen away. You pursue him into a forest, moving boxes to overcome ledges. Environments are not always what they seem. Push into a seemingly solid rock face, and there’s a hidden area with a lever, or a kidnapped soul to be rescued.
There are a wide variety of puzzles and challenges; from finding switches and levers, to timing perfect jumps onto moving platforms or two centimeter wide ledges. No particular puzzle or obstacle enjoys its stay too long, although they return in a more devilish form later. There are invisible checkpoints throughout each stage, as dying happens quite often. These checkpoints are often placed before difficult challenges. There isn’t a user selectable save option, so quitting the game, will place you at the start of the level. Keep this in mind as some of the game’s more aggravating obstacles were not something I wanted to repeat. Additionally I encountered a very strange glitch, in which pausing and restarting with a controller would also restart the game. This would place my progress back at the start of the level. This happened a handful of times, but it was very frustrating.
Frustrations continued to mount with the obstacles and puzzles themselves. One such area was an ancient desert stage, spikes indicate that killer earthworm things will spring up and kill you. It’s not clear which way these worms will trigger and you end up memorizing through trial and error how to get through them. I am not a fan of the constant dying just to memorize a pattern, feels like artificially created difficulty. In another area you are trying to hop moving train carts in a sandstorm. Lining up my jumps time and time again, it appears I was catching the edge of one of the minecarts. Only to hover in place for a second and then slip off of it into a pile of killer worms. Traps also reset with time, even those ground worms, with no indications. On a couple of occasions I stepped back and died after a deactivated trap mysteriously rearmed itself. There are some mini-games included, that are a change of pace fromt platforming. Some are enjoyable rotating puzzle/maze conundrums. While others are trial and error button pushing sequences where you try to just guess the appropriate patterns. I did not enjoy these second type of puzzles very much. Which would you rather face: brainless guessing versus logical deduction puzzles? It’s not much of a choice from where I’m sitting.
Toby – The Secret Mine is billed as a challenging puzzle platformer- and if you are observant enough, you will begin to detect all the subtle design hints that indicate something bad is about to impale you. Toby is aesthetically pleasing, with well made background designs and level compositions. From dark and damp caves, to mystical forests, harsh ancient deserts, and blinding snowy mountain passes, you will see many beautifully crafted environments. You’ll also begin to develop a sixth sense for finding hidden areas, and inconspicuous switches in no time, which I found rewarding. Lighting, particle effects, and blurred foreground objects further enhances each stage with depth and motion. The game’s artistic merit give it a little more charm than even Limbo had to offer.
Some glitches and several repetitive, overly difficult obstacles may bring the game experience down, but Toby’s charm and art design win out in the end. I found the game entertaining and enjoyable. In the end, Toby is a silhouette of its influences incorporating many of their ideas as its own, but doing little in terms of innovation. What developer Lukas Navratil has accomplished is indeed impressive. For those that are looking for an experience like Limbo or a challenging platformer with solid mechanics, look no further than Toby’s – The Secret Mine.