There’s a fine line between copycat and inspiration when it comes to new gaming genres, and at a glance it’s hard to tell where Toby: The Secret Mine falls regarding its similarity to Limbo. Having played the latter a few months ago, I was excited to try another similar title. While it may not have the hidden layers of meaning beneath it that Limbo has, it’s still a solid game of its own!
Toby: The Secret Mine is also clearly better in one very important aspect: THERE ARE NO FREAKY, MURDEROUS SPIDERS OR GROSS BRAIN PARASITES IN IT!
Title: Toby: The Secret Mine
Developer: Lukáš Navrátil Games
Publisher: Headup Games
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Developer
Interface: DualShock 4 PS4 controller
Available on Steam, Xbox One, PS4 on July 6th, Wii U, iOS/Apple TV, Android
A peaceful way of life in a small mountain village is shattered. Someone has kidnapped most of its residents. A few brave souls tried to rescue their friends but none have returned.
… Brave little Toby didn’t want to just sit and wait to see what happens next, so he has set about on his own to solve the mystery. Entering the deep forest, he sees this may be an adventure bigger than him, but he won’t stop.
The second Toby: The Secret Mine loads you’re thrown into playing the backstory of the game. Evil red-eyed folks are in your town stealing your friends, and you’ve had enough! Without a single written word you’re off, chasing after them to rescue your fellow people, but it certainly won’t be easy! After a bit of the chase you’re finally presented with the title screen before you’re off on your adventure.
With obvious inspiration from Limbo and Badland, Toby: The Secret Mine is an adventure filled with platforming, puzzles and death. Unless you’ve memorized a walkthrough of the game you’ll die many, many times as you find out what kills you and what doesn’t. Like Limbo, it’s just a part of the game – so much so, in fact, that there’s an achievement/trophy for it – “First 100 Deaths”. To the side of your count of rescued friends on the main menu there’s even a counter of how many times you’ve died. Mine sits at 172 after finishing the game (without going back to find more hidden friends).
This was one of the things I preferred about Toby: The Secret Mine. Across the 21 levels of the game (all of which weave into one solid, nonstop progression like Limbo) there are 26 hidden friends in cages that you can save. For the most part they’re merely hidden behind secret walls, but some are placed in places where you’re likely to die trying to save them, adding some additional risk to tricky portions of the game. I really liked having an additional reason to explore and check everywhere I could even if it often led to various forms of death.
Like Limbo, I was rather blown away with just how artistic a game can be that’s primarily black on a colorful background. In fact, this is another place where Toby: The Secret Mine beats Limbo: the backgrounds of the game are gorgeous. They’re colorful on their own, but made stunningly more so by the fact that your character is entirely undefined. The animation is really fun as well, and the sound effects are both helpful and realistic. I do wish it was possible to adjust the music and SFX settings, or mute either entirely, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
As polished as the art and sound effects are, the gameplay itself could have used a bit more work. Although both Toby: The Secret Mine and Limbo can be beaten in just under an hour if you know what to do, Toby: The Secret Mine is shorter overall as the puzzles aren’t as difficult. This may only hold true for those who have experience in the genre, however, meaning if you haven’t played Limbo or games like it Toby: The Secret Mine works well as an introduction. The game also has some nasty bugs, although the developer already reached out once to warn about a bug (one I didn’t come across myself) with a workaround for it. While neither bug I found was entirely game-breaking, both were incredibly frustrating – one had a single arrow re-fire after I set them off and cleared the path which would kill me when I should be safe and the other caused the tiny platforms I was jumping on to become slippery, making it entirely impossible to progress. The former merely took several attempts to get through before it didn’t bug out, but the latter required exiting the game and restarting that level, making me replay some tricky bits to even get back to where I was.
In a game where you die frequently, it’s important how the game respawns you. In Toby: The Secret Mine you’re almost always brought back a few seconds before you died on a safe platform. There are only a handful of times where death means replaying much of anything you’ve already completed, and when it does it makes sense. For example, there’s a portion where you get out of the caves and are in a blizzard, and at set points an avalanche occurs that kills you if it catches up to you. It would be silly and frustrating to spawn while in the middle of that, so I totally understand being set back a bit if I die. Dealing with longer platforming puzzles also adds some tension to the game, and even though there were a couple times I wanted to break my controller I appreciated it overall.
When it comes down to it, recommending Toby: The Secret Mine is easy: if you liked Limbo and want more of it, Toby: The Secret Mine is for you. It may not be as hard, but I still died almost 200 times in the process, which is a lot! If you haven’t played Limbo (especially if you haven’t played it due to the giant spiders!) and you like games that balance platforming with puzzles, give it a try! Finally, if you like games with a unique art style, definitely check out Toby: The Secret Mine.