The indie puzzle platformer with the silhouetted foreground. It’s a cliche at this point. From Limbo to Typoman, it’s been done to death. And so in comes Toby: The Secret Mine which was released on PC more than a year ago, but has finally showed up on the Wii U eShop. So how does this game stand up compared to its art style brethren?
Upon booting the game up for the first time you are thrown right into the action, walking around and so on, no menus, no nothing. As soon as you walk to the right you witness one of your friends being kidnapped. Turns out many of them have been! Toby sets out to rescue those who have been incarcerated by a red-eyed monster. If they’ve got red eyes, you know they’re a bit naughty. While you’ll come across plenty of your friends along the way, a decent amount of them are slightly hidden and so Toby: The Secret Mine rewards a small amount of exploration and inquisitiveness. If something looks suspicious, it probably is. All in all there are 26 friends to rescue and on my first play through I found 21 of them. So unless you’re absolutely thorough on your first go, I’m pretty sure you will also have to head back and clean up the rest.
The story is incredibly minimalistic, almost like a silent film, it’s told through action rather than words. I don’t mind this since the premise is simple and you don’t really need a story in a platformer like this. I wish there were a few more cutscenes or set pieces though. I think it would have added to the overall presentation of the game,
The gameplay is a fine mix of platforming and puzzles, both of which play an equal part in the game. There’re plenty of dangerous jumps to take, timing your run to avoid dangerous things like spikes slamming down, and of course the standard ‘running away from encroaching hazard’ which tests your reflexes. There’s nothing revolutionary in the platforming since there’re no mechanics aside from jumping but it’s still solidly done. It’s not particularly challenging, especially if you know what traps you’re facing but you may take a short while to get used to the physics. The thing is, Toby doesn’t jump as far as you think he can. It leads to mistimed jumps and overconfidence, so there is challenge in that. Toby’s more of a vertical jumper than a horizontal one.
The puzzling aspect is also rather simple. There are lots of small puzzles rather than grand elaborate ones. They’re particularly obscure either, thankfully. Most of the time you’ll be hitting switches, pushing boxes or even doing some password inputs of sorts. Sound can play a vital part in solving puzzles, something I didn’t realise until I was stuck on one slight puzzle of how to avoid light rays which triggers arrows to fly out. After about five minutes I noticed a small area of the ground creaked while walked on. After I jumped on it, it fell through, leading to a tunnel below.
It’s simple on simple. But don’t let that put you off. I said it’s not challenging, but neither is it a walk in the park. I really think the balance is on point. I think one issue many people will have with Toby is that it’s one of those games where you learn by failing. It almost comes across as unfair, because every time there’s a new trap or enemy, you’ll always die from it the first time. There’s no possible way of knowing in advance of the countless instant death hazards without dying from them. It’s a little sad the game plays out this way, but surprisingly it doesn’t detract from the experience, at least not for me. It’s incredibly lenient when dealing with failing as respawning is almost instantaneous and you’re often right back at the place you just died. After completing the game my stats told me I died 101 times. Baring in mind, I was rather reckless due to how lenient the game was.
Another point that should be noted is the length of the game. It’s less than 2 hours. My play time came in at one hour and 47 minutes to be precise. Although if I went back to 100% complete it with all of Toby’s friends saved, that would push me over the second hour, for sure. The length didn’t bother me at all. There’s nothing worse than a game out staying its welcome. I also think it’s priced accordingly.
This game is beautiful, it’s one of the nicest looking games I’ve played. The style is incredibly strong. Although it uses the now-tiresome silhouetted foreground, it still looks beautiful. And don’t let that fool you into thinking this is just another grim, dark, depressing art style. Toby: The Secret Mine is actually rather colourful. Sure, it does have the occasionally moody area (which by the way looks incredible), but for the most part vistas are bright and use the whole spectrum of colours to wonderful effect.
Head Up Games have done it again. From my eShop game of the year 2015, Typoman, they’ve published yet another wonderful, stylised puzzle platformer in Toby: The Secret Mine. Although it’s not breaking any ground with it’s balanced gameplay, it’s just nicely done and mimics the games that inspired it well. The ‘learn by dying’ route may not suit all gamers tastes, but it deals with that with its leniency. Maybe I’m being overly positive, but after a rather awful 2016 on the eShop for me, it’s so nice to play such a well made game.
Game provided by publisher