Toby: The Secret Mine reminds me of a favorite quote from one of my favorite shows, Mythbusters. For in a myth about someone trying to avoid certain doom, one of the Mythbusters looks to the camera and goes…. “You will die in the elevator! You…will…DIE!!!!”
Game Name: Toby And The Secret Mine
Platform(s): iOS, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Android, Wii U (reviewed), Macintosh operating systems
Publisher(s): Lukáš Navrátil
Developer(s): Lukáš Navrátil
Release Date: October 2015-January 2017
Price: $9.99 (Wii U version)
Yeah, that is pretty much how I can sum up Toby: The Secret Mine, death, and a lot of it, with very little context as to why I’m dying. If frustrating doesn’t describe Toby well enough, maybe “jarring” will work. Why? Because you’re thrown into the story the moment you hit the start button on the Wii U menu. Only after you side scroll for a bit do you get the main screen, and then technically start the game.
What comes next is a series of 21 levels that will test your patience and ability to rage quit to its limit, and beyond. Now before someone calls me out for “not liking challenging games”, that’s not what’s happening here. I’ve played, and loved, challenging platformers before. One of my favorites being Glare, which was brutal in its challenge, however, I WANTED to finish the game to show that I could beat the world. Here, I HAD to finish the game so that I could give a complete review, that’s a big difference.
I will say this, Toby: The Secret is beautiful in many ways. The art is simplistic and will resemble games like Limbo, and yet it has the depth of worlds that you’d find in games like Donkey Kong Country returns. At times, I was blown away by the use of depth of field, even so much as there were things that were clearly “close to the camera” and they partially obscured the camera as I walked by. There are various areas in this world that you have to explore, and they’re each very detailed in the backgrounds and colorful when needed to be, it’s a nice visual to behold. Then, there are the music and audio cues, which are actually well done here. In fact, you NEED to listen to the game in order to pick up clues on how to advance through levels at times.
However, there’s a tradeoff. Because of the style, which mainly various shades of black (and yes, there really is shades of black) you’re sometimes confused about what to do, only to roam around and randomly find what you’re looking for. Sure, by the end of the game, you KNOW to look around, but, even then, the paths or items can blend in so perfectly, they’re easy to miss.
Which brings me to the other big problem, no tutorial. Or at least, not a very good one. Yes, you do get some indicators on what to do, but the rest is trial by fire. Quite ironically, a very late level does give you a tutorial of sorts to show off a new gameplay feature, but it’s so simple that it’s easy to misinterpret what you’re supposed to do.
To be blunt, this game is way too harsh in its traps and desire to “test the player”. Random kill traps will spring up before you even know what to do, and if you’re not perfect in your execution of the visible traps? You’re dead before you can even blink. Like I said, “You….will…DIE!!!!”, and the game seems to mock you for that because it keeps track of how many times you die!
Finally, there’s no context in Toby: The Secret Mine. I have literally no idea what’s gone on. Yes, it starts out with you chasing a guy/thing that clearly has stolen one of your kin, but that’s all the story you get until the very last level. Why is this person doing this? What’s the motivation? Why are some locked up and needed to be saved? Why is “Toby” the one going after him? I don’t know. Funnily enough, the Steam page for the game gives more context to the story that the entire game does! And that’s sad. Because the point of a game like this is to inspire you to try and save the creatures that are apparently from your home village (even though I think they all look like Heartless from Kingdom Hearts…but that’s just me…), but I felt no such connection.
Which brings me to the ending….which is a boss fight…that is VERY easy compared to everything else in the game, and…makes no sense. You apparently have a choice, you can take the crown and become an “evil king”, or, just straight up kill the evil king that apparently caused this whole mess.
Why doesn’t that make sense? Well, why would I want to become an evil king after I’ve spent this whole game trying to rescue my kin? Furthermore, where was the guy I was chasing this whole time, with the kin member on his back? Wasn’t he the focus of all this? And where did the Evil King come from? See my point?
To truly finish this off. It’s 21 levels, but you can beat each level in a couple of minutes even with a lot of kills. I don’t think it took me more than 3-4 hours to be this, and if you’re good at avoiding death? You can probably beat it in 2 or less.
Toby: The Secret Mine Review
While beautiful in some aspects, Toby: The Secret Mine fails to grasp its potential, and leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s short, way too challenging, and way too random at points that will frustrate even the most patient of gamers.