A small village in the mountains has been thrown into disorder. Someone with a big head and red eyes has kidnapped most of the residents, and rescue attempts have only been met with more disappearances. Who’s going to save us…? Well the young boy called Toby of course.
Toby: The Secret Mine is developed by Headup Games, and it’s safe to say they must be incredibly confident about Toby’s chances. As you’ll see from the screenshots, Toby: The Secret Mine displays more than a passing resemblance to Limbo, so it’s only natural that the comparisons are going to be as black and white as the art direction.
Toby is a young boy from an unnamed village where residents have been going missing. The game starts and you immediately take control of the lad. As you move forward a tall menacing figure stands over one of your fallen friends in the distance. Once he’s spotted you, he grabs your fellow villager and makes a run for it. You give chase, but soon enough you lose him, and thus, the adventure begins.
Spread across 21 levels, 26 of Toby’s friends are trapped inside little cages. Releasing them is as simple as touching the cage, but often they’ll be hidden away in the shadows… We’ll get back to that later.
Just like Limbo before it, The Secret Mine uses a very sharp contrast between the background and foreground. It’s as simple as black and white, making platforms, obstacles and enemies easy to spot. The movement of many obstacles isn’t as easy to judge, and you’ll often fall to your death as you misread the situation. To give you an idea of the level of deaths, I was about half way through my first play-through and I got a whopping 200 gamerscore achievement for achieving my first 100 deaths!
While it’s all very simple looking, the black silhouette style is effective, and looks impressive in action. The game runs perfectly smoothly at all times and with the help of some well suited music and sound effects there’s a pretty substantial atmosphere around proceedings. However unfortunately it’s all a little too familiar, and side-by-side there just isn’t the suspense, atmosphere or quality of puzzles that you’ll find in Limbo.
Besides the usual platforming challenges, there’s a handful of puzzles that require a selection of symbols. By paying attention to your surroundings you’ll make these short work of these, but it’s a pleasant distraction from the all too familiar jump on a weak board trick.
The main thing you’ll need to pay attention to is the shadows. 90% of the time you won’t be able to distinguish a shadow from a rock face, so you’ll end up pushing poor Toby’s forehead against every flat piece of land you come up against. More often than not Toby won’t get a nose bleed and instead he’ll waltz into a shadowed area hiding one of his caged chums. Freeing Toby’s friends is the key to unlocking what, for most, will be the last achievement. Completion sadly took less than four hours, meaning it’s not a long game, and while there are two endings, the second is pretty clear, and can be achieved simply by replaying ‘The Final Showdown’ level making different choices.
Thankfully while short, The Secret Mine’s campaign is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s enough of a challenge to kill you off a few hundred times, but it’s always leaving you within reach of the next area with some kind checkpoints, meaning every death still feels like progress.
Deaths do happen, and I believe the art to Toby is in variety of the punishments which await him. There’s no varied animations, Toby just falls to the floor like a sack of spuds. However with falling platforms, rotary saws, spikes, rabid dogs, mine carts, water and gloop to succumb to, even without multiple death animations, it still doesn’t feel stale.
Once you’ve completed the game, you’re likely to have the majority of The Secret Mine’s achievements, with only ‘all friends’ left to find. This means there’s just the chore of back-tracking through the levels to find your compatriots. A task made harder by the fact there’s no indication of their whereabouts on the level select screen, meaning you’re probably going to have to replay the entire game. Outside of this, there’s sadly nothing else to do: no leaderboards, timed challenges or extra bits, so it’s an regrettably short experience.
That’s not to say it isn’t good, because I’ve really enjoyed my time with Toby, however it’s not quite up to the standard of Limbo, and with nothing to prolong its lifespan the overall package just doesn’t feel quite as impressive.