Inspired by the mighty Limbo, Toby: The Secret Mine is a puzzle platformer with oodles of charm and eerie style. Toby is a young shadow creature in a shadow world. An evil grown-up with devil eyes is kidnapping (shadow-napping?) Toby’s friends, locking them in cages and running off with them into the darkness. The scoundrel! It’s up to Toby to chase down the culprit and rescue his friends along the way.
Very much like Limbo, the graphics are beautifully simple yet incredibly striking. Any solid such as the ground is black and as you work your way through the levels the background colours rotate through some stunning shades of blue, orange, grey, green, purple and red. Simplicity is at the heart of The Secret Mine’s graphical success. Although a large portion of the screen is often in complete darkness, it’s still weirdly picturesque. The uncluttered and understated environments have a tranquillity to them that is hard not to fall in love with. The rainstorms were absolutely my favourite levels. The look and sound of the heavy rain feels gorgeously savage and helps to underscore the game’s hostile beauty.
The darkness also hides some of the game’s puzzling aspects. What may seem like a solid mound may actually be hollow and can be entered if approached in the right way. Levers, keys, your caged friends and even enemies may be hidden in the pitch black shadows. There are also moments when you will need to travel up or down in addition to the standard left to right. Again, you’ll need to investigate the dark to find your way.
The movement mechanics are pretty solid. Jumps feel accurate and little Toby responds well to every command your controller gives him. He’s not a quick mover, by design, but he’s only got little legs and his speed generally fits the game’s laid back style. The only time his pace fails him is when things such as little spiky wotnots jump up from the ground and when he springs the occasional arrow trap. Really, he’s not meant to outrun these things. He’s meant to outwit them. Prepare to die repeatedly in the name of working out which direction these troublesome and sometimes frustrating spiky and pointy ratbags come from and end up.
Aside from a few sharp endings, much of the game stays true to its relaxing gameplay style. There is as much puzzling as there is platforming and generally everything feels well laid out and logical. Puzzles involve levers, switches, pushing boxes and finding ways to get around enemies you can’t possibly otherwise survive. Toby isn’t a fighter. It’s an avoid or die situation. Patterns can be observed and the environment can be used to Toby’s advantage.
He’s a brave little soul, is our Toby. As his search continues he will often run into his Nemesis and you’ll need to chase him. This kicks off some wonderfully thumping rhythmic drums that continues until you lose sight of your antagonist. These brief moments really pick the game up and gives it a sudden shake before putting it down again to continue at the normal leisurely pace. There’s not a great deal of danger here, but it is a weirdly effective adrenaline injection and something to look forward to.
There will be danger in other places, however. Toby: The Secret Mine is a good challenge. Although levels are short and you can complete the game in a day, some sections are significantly more difficult than others. The solid mechanics do help your plight, but death will indeed come fairly frequently. It’s lucky then that your deaths are supported by a more than decent auto-save system. Generally speaking, you’ll never be set back too far and often you’ll resurrect even on the same screen, minimising your urge to walk out into the street and kick the nearest lamppost.
Toby: The Secret Mine is a wonderfully dark, eerie and enchanting puzzle platformer. Sometimes frustrating but more often peaceful and charming, there’s a lot to love about this game. Well worth casting a shadow over.
S J Hollis Rating – 7/10
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