Toby: The Secret Mine is a game full of promise and potential, but unfortunately isn't able to reach the lofty heights it strives for. Despite taking clear inspiration from a game that in the past several years has made a serious impact on the puzzle-platform genre, one man developer Lukáš Navrátil isn't able to quite nail the execution.
The story here is minimal, but there's an unexpected amount of storytelling that goes on through the environments you encounter. Here you find that a mysterious group of large, red-eyed cat people have kidnapped your smaller, white-eyed cat people friends and it's up to you to chase them down and free all 26 of them through a combination of puzzle solving and platforming.
The first thing most players will notice about the game is that it takes a healthy dose of inspiration from Limbo for its visual style. In fact, the styles are almost the same, except The Secret Mine adds in splashes of colour to its backgrounds to set itself apart. Even the main character looks strikingly similar despite being an anthropomorphic cat creature. For a one-man effort, the game looks great and there's such a wide array of different locales showcased here, which is refreshing and helps break things up. The heavy use of black could easily become extremely repetitive, so it's a fantastic effort by the developer to make every level feel unique.
The only real misstep with the art style comes in the snowy level. Here you find yourself on mountain blanketed in snow, while also having to battle a blizzard. Because of the game's minimalistic use of colours, the majority of the scenery is white with only small indications of where platforms are located. This provides a decent challenge at first, but you soon find yourself racing away from an oncoming avalanche, which adds even more blindingly white scenery into the mix. This combination completely obscures a lot of the platforms you need to be able to see in order to make incredibly precise jumps onto and overall makes the level a chore to slog through.
Platforming plays a much bigger part in this game than you'd initially think. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in The Secret Mine's favour. Platforming is quite floaty here, similar to LittleBigPlanet's style, which can still be a whole lot of fun when implemented correctly. In the opening few levels, the platforming is kept relatively simple and straightforward, but as you progress deeper into the game you're faced with more complex and twitch based sections. These sections don't mesh well with the floaty jumping and leave you with plenty of frustrating deaths. Many times you'll know exactly what you need to do to pull off a platforming section flawlessly and you'll feel like you nailed everything, but will still fail thanks to how the game controls. We also ran into an annoying bug far too often where I'd jump and get stuck on the side of a ledge, leaving us unable to move.
The puzzle solving, on the other hand, is mostly a much more enjoyable experience. The difficulty is scaled almost perfectly here, with the opening puzzles being relatively simple and a nice introduction to the basics before getting progressively harder. The variety of puzzles on display is also impressive. You'll encounter physics based puzzles and simple switch puzzles, as well as more complex puzzles involving the use of light and a need to pay close attention to your surrounding environment. Unfortunately, there are a few conundrums present that are mostly just left up to guess work. These puzzles can thankfully be brute forced rather quickly, but it still impedes your enjoyment.
The Secret Mine is a short experience and depending on your proficiency with puzzle games it can be polished off in one sitting. The developer has attempted to address this by including a number of different features to enhance replayability, but as is mostly the theme here, it misses the mark. Firstly, you are not required to free all 26 of your friends to finish the game, meaning you can go back later and try to hunt down the ones you missed. In our experience, this added very little to the replayability as there were only a few that were hidden so well we were unable to find them on the first go. There are also two different endings, but these literally just come down to a single choice at the very end of the game and really doesn't warrant another slog through the experience. The choice is also poorly explained and players will very likely be confused about what exactly they're choosing to do.
Toby: The Secret Mine has plenty of great ideas that could make it a great game, but it quickly plummets down a mineshaft thanks to a number of missteps. It generally succeeds as a puzzle game, but the heavy focus on platforming doesn't work well and hampers the overall experience. By following the basic visual style and gameplay from such a highly regarded game like Limbo, The Secret Mine sets itself a standard it's never able to reach.