They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the world of gaming, we often see that. How many times have we seen a game blow up in popularity, only to be quickly followed by several other titles mimicking it? I would never begrudge a studio for doing this, as the industry is harsh and it makes sense to go where the money goes. But by doing this, you’re inviting comparisons to not only the original innovator, but also every other subsequent release. Such is the case with Toby: The Secret Mine, which wears its influences on its sleeve.
It’s almost impossible to talk about Toby without talking about the titles it is heavily influenced by. The shadowy, but occasionally colorful visuals are reminiscent of both Limbo and Nihilumbra, while the basic platforming is similar to Playdead’s popular release. It would be unfair to specifically target Lukas Navatil’s project, but it’s hard to ignore the inspirations behind the game while you’re playing The Secret Mine.
For those who aren’t familiar with literally any puzzle-platformer, the gameplay here consists of both tough platforming sections and slightly challenging puzzle elements. Most of the time you’ll just be moving boxes around, or looking for hidden paths, but there are a few context based riddles to solve. One has you looking to the environment in order to angle shadows, while another has you picking a lock to avoid a spike wall. There aren’t too many of these puzzles in the game, but it’s a nice change of pace when they do pop up.
The platforming elements of Toby are frequently difficult, but don’t stray from the norm. There are a few wrinkles in the formula in the latter parts of the journey, including a mine cart segment, but you’re not going to be surprised here. What I did like about the game, though, is the fact that being aware of your surroundings is key to survival. There are traps all over the world, and while you’ll most likely die the first time you come across one, you’ll eventually learn how to spot them.
Even with the visual cues, the difficulty of the game frequently veers into the realm of bullshit trial-and-error. You’re going to die a lot, and sometimes, there’s not a lot you could do to avoid it. Not being told that something can come out of the ground and kill you isn’t challenging, it’s just unfair. It also doesn’t help that our titular hero moves like he’s stuck in a pool of molasses. That’s not a criticism of the controls, which are fine, but just an odd decision designed to artificially inflate the difficulty.
It would be easier to deal with the frustrations created by Toby if there was something pushing you through the BS, but the title is lacking in that department. There’s technically a story here, one about Toby having to rescue his friends from a dangerous group of enemies, but it’s basically non-existent in the game. There’s no development for any of the characters, and due to this, there’s little motivation to be found for wanting to save all of the captured friends. Limbo was immensely frustrating at times, but there was a narrative hook there that made it worthwhile. The Secret Mine lacks that emotional resonance.
I harped on Toby’s familiar visual style, but I’d be lying if I said the game wasn’t at least nice to look at. The mixture of black and white tones with splashes of color is definitely eye-catching. The winter stretch of levels, which really only encompasses three stages, look particularly great. The animations are a little stiff, but with the limited amount of frames needed for Toby, it’s not the biggest issue in the world. It does mean though that the game avoids significant technical mishaps, except for one problem. Near the end, if you’re killed by a buzzsaw, once your character responds, you won’t be able to move him unless you completely restart. It’s an annoying bug that somehow only pops up in this one specific moment.
On the surface, Toby: The Secret Mine appears to be the latest indie platformer in a long line of similar looking projects. The visuals are great, and there are worse things in the world than cribbing from the bests of the genre. However, it’s only once you begin your adventure with the titular hero do you realize that Lukas Navratil’s game can’t match the greats. The puzzles are sub-par, and the frustrating gameplay isn’t challenging so much as it is cheap. These problems, combined with the lack of any compelling narrative and minuscule length (sub-2 hours), make this a platformer worth taking a pass on.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided for us.
Toby: The Secret Mine isn't a bad game because it's so similar to other titles. It's bad because it can't even come close to matching the strength of releases from five years ago.