Look, I understand that it’s somewhat unfair to compare one game to another. I really should treat any game as it stands on its own merit. Try as I might, it’s impossible to talk about Lukáš Navrátil Games’ “Toby the Secret Mine” without comparing it to the very popular game, “Limbo”, because it’s very obviously influenced by that property. While the game has some promising moments along the way, it never quite reaches the level of atmosphere or satisfaction of similar games. You have a silhouetted main character with contrasting, bright eyes. Said character moves in a two-dimensional plane from left to right. There’s no dialogue and the “story” is told completely in the actions on-screen, and you must solve puzzles in order to advance to the next area. Sound familiar? Well, it should.
The story is very minimal. Your character is chasing after an unnamed villain who has imprisoned your friends whom you attempt to rescue. You follow the antagonist, solving puzzles along the way and discovering hidden locations of your friends (who are imprisoned in cages) until you reach the final area to confront your friends’ captors. What’s missing here is any real intrigue. I have no connection to the “friends” I’m rescuing, so I’m only motivated by my incessant need to collect everything I can in most games. I want to be somewhat invested in my experience, but I sadly felt very little while playing this one.
As far as the gameplay goes, the mechanics work just fine, but the puzzles and learn-by-dying approach feels more frustrating than satisfying. Most of my deaths felt very cheap and more like “gotcha” moments instead of clever or intriguing. While I appreciate the trial and error approach in a game like this, sometimes I like the feeling of seeing something coming before it actually happens, and that feels like a literal impossibility for many sections. On top of that, there are some very abstract puzzles that require you to first figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do before tackling the solution. One in particular put the added pressure of a time limit, which is maddening when you don’t have a clue what you’re supposed to do. To me, the mark of a good puzzle is one that makes me feel like I outsmarted the game and feel like a genius for discovering the solution. Here, I merely felt like I was getting lucky with trying random combinations instead.
I had the opportunity to play this game on both Xbox One and on iOS. While it worked just fine on both platforms, I would highly recommend playing where you can with a controller. Although it’s not a twitch style platformer, some of the navigation can be frustrating with out a tactile controller to ease the frustrating bits. It looks great either way you choose to play.
If it seems like I’m being harsh on this game, it’s only because I was hoping for a better experience. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had played this before other games that, in a way, set the standard for the genre. “Toby the Secret Mine” isn’t a bad game by any means, it just falls a bit short of its potential. Speaking of short, it can be completed in around two hours, which might make its price tag a bit hard to swallow. It’s still worth a look, as the art style is very pleasing to the eye, and it does have some satisfying moments. Still, I would wait for a price drop before jumping, unless you want those easy to get achievements earlier than later.