Headup Games has released Toby: The Secret Mine, a new puzzle platformer, for the Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program. The game begins with Toby as he witnesses one his friends being kidnapped. According to the publisher, “… Brave little Toby didn’t want to just sit and wait to see what happens next, so he has set about on his own to solve the mystery.” So, what kind of journey can we expect as we set out to find Toby’s missing friends?
There’s really no intro to the game; we just see one of Toby’s friends carried away and the game begins. The first thing one will notice is the beautiful visual style. The foreground is always silhouetted in black (reminiscent of Limbo) against wonderfully colored backgrounds that change as you progress through the game’s twenty-one levels. The developers make especially nice use of light, and the music fits the game beautifully. The changing backgrounds keep the game visually interesting and, at times, add even a haunting quality to Toby’s journey.
Gameplay is easy to pick up with only a few moves to learn. You run and push blocks with the left stick, jump with the A button, and interact with objects (such as activating levers) with the B button. Your goal is to find your missing friends, and you will find twenty-six of them scattered among the levels, each of which provides new and increasingly difficult challenges as you progress. As with any decent platformer, you’ll need to be proficient in the well-placed jump. Missed jumps will see you die in any number of gruesome ways.
Dying in the game doesn’t cost much. You’ll re-spawn right where you died unless you die in water, which will send you back to where the water began. Toby doesn’t swim, so any dip into water is instant death. Toby is frail in general. It only takes one hit of anything to kill him, and poor Toby…he dies often. He can be shot with arrows, impaled on spikes (from above or below), eaten by beasts, trampled by others, smashed by pillars, attacked by bombs, sawn in half, and more. The game could fairly have been subtitled Let’s Kill Toby. You honestly die that much, so don’t be concerned if you find yourself dying…a lot. There are no hearts or life bars to keep up with – one hit and Toby goes down, but he jumps right back up and carries on.
Most of the puzzles aren’t difficult to solve. You have to push blocks to reach a friend, turn power on to levers, find a hidden key, etc. It’s a game that rewards searching. Sometimes jumping up and down will break through floors where a friend has been hidden. Hazy places often indicate a hidden room or path. Dropping off a ledge then turning back into it could lead to a cave you would have missed had you simply kept going forward. The more difficult places are in the later levels when you must time your jumps in order to miss the saw blades or pendulums intent on your destruction.
You know how the phrase “fun little game” can be seen as something of an insult? Unfortunately, in this case, it’s perfectly accurate. Toby’s a fun puzzler/platformer, but it’s very short. It can be finished in three or four hours with average skills. People great at platforming could probably finish it in two. The game’s brevity makes its $9.99 price tag seem a bit high. The only other real complaint I had with the game is that I found myself wishing for a dash button now and then. Of course, without it, one is forced to be more precise with the timing, which might be the point, but there are a few places where a quick dash would have been most appreciated.
Finally are the achievements. There are ten total, which aren’t many, but considering the length of the game, I suppose that’s fair. Most of the achievements occur naturally as you proceed. You’ll even receive an achievement for all of those deaths! You will have to play the last level a couple of times to obtain both endings (each with its own achievement), and you may need to backtrack to find any missing friends, but overall, the game is an easy completion.
All in all, Toby: The Secret Mine is a fun platformer that suffers only from being a bit brief and a bit overpriced.
Score: 6 out of 10
Price: $9.99 / €9.99
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Platform: Xbox One
Written by B1ueSeptember