Toby: The Secret Mine starts out with a chase scene, one that will be replayed multiple times throughout its 21 levels. An evil creature (that looks much like you, but bigger and with red eyes) has kidnapped most of your friends and family from the peaceful mountain village where you live. As you approach, he stuffs another villager in a cage and runs off, the music changing to a fast-paced gallop. You'll encounter this same creature throughout the game, the chase beginning, again and again, the music swelling, until the final standoff.
Much like my review of Fiest, it's nearly impossible to play Toby: The Secret Mine without comparing it to Playdead's Limbo. Both are puzzle-based platformers. Both share a similar silhouette aesthetic. Both share a plot that finds your character making their way across trap filled level trying to retrieve your kidnapped loved ones.
Where they diverge, though, is just as important. While Limbo's bleak black and white graphics span across all of its levels, Toby's levels are filled with color. The games initial stage is even quite bright and sunny, although the constant lens flare might have been a bit overdone. Lens flare aside, the levels are gorgeous, with vibrant shades of orange, yellow, blue, and purple acting as the background to the all black silhouette foreground, culminating in the final level set in a hellish fire scape. There are even a handful of fun snow based levels that help mix things up in the middle.
While the sound design in the game isn't up to the level of recent games like Inside and Abzu the music in many of the levels was downright catchy, with fun sound effects. The only vaguely unsettling aspect of the sound for me was that every time Toby's head hit a platform, you were met with a dull thud. It left me constantly wondering about Toby's overall intelligence and the effects that his journey might have on it, as I thunked my way through the levels.
Probably the biggest difference between Toby and its inspiration were the puzzles that make up the main gameplay. Like Limbo, many of Toby's levels are divided up into small vignettes that you need to solve before you can move on. When playing Limbo or it's predecessor Inside, I always felt that failing to progress through these stages was because I was doing something wrong. The developers had given me all of the tools I needed, but I just wasn't putting them together in the right way. This led to constant "Ah ha!" moments throughout the game, which pulled you forward through the game in a very positive way.
Toby does have some puzzles that give you that feeling. Unfortunately, it also has quite a few of them that will leave you confused. That is until you realize that there is a small, hidden room that you missed and that it contains the lever you need to pull or the box you need to enable you to jump up to that high platform. These puzzles take a lot of the fun out of the level progression, leaving you feeling not smart but cheated.
Unfortunately, those puzzles aren't even the worst ones in the game. There are a small number of sequences that require you to enter unexplained secret codes or solve arbitrary mazes to move forward. For the most part, they don't even make sense and require the use of a huge amount of trial and error, or more likely the use of a YouTube walkthrough. Every time I hit one I groaned a bit inside, not understanding the inclusion of such a momentum killing feature.
The only other complaint I have about Toby really is just the completionist in me screaming out. Throughout the game, you'll find people from Toby's village trapped in cages that you can rescue. I managed to find 24 of the 26 villagers, but the game doesn't give you any indication which levels the remaining two are in and I have no interest in replaying potentially entire game to find them. Some indication on the level select screen would have been really helpful.
So where does this ultimately leave Toby: The Secret Mine? If you are like me and enjoy a fun puzzle-platformer like Limbo, you aren't going to be disappointed in Toby. It's graphically beautiful, with vibrant, diverse environments. It does a great job of mixing together it's puzzles and platforming segments, which keeps things interesting. Unlike a lot of other similar games, it has a very clear ending, even letting you choose between two separate and very different endings. I would have preferred that some of the puzzles had been handled differently or made not quite as obtuse and honestly some of them could have been removed entirely. But overall, if you are looking to spend three or so hours in a beautiful world that presents some challenges but that isn't every going to challenge you to frustration, Toby: The Secret Mine won't disappoint.
Our Recommendation: Buy it
Toby: The Secret Mine may not innovate in the puzzle-platformer genre, but it's beautiful graphics and solid gameplay make up for some missteps in it's puzzle design. Fans of the genre should enjoy an afternoon or a few evenings of fun.