Walking around an abandoned mine with dark figures running amok who kidnap people seems like a good idea, right? I don’t make it habit, but Toby: The Secret Mine had different plans in mind. A cute little side scrolling, puzzle platformer made by developer Lukas Navrati. A little background: Toby originally came out on Steam back in 2015, so it’s a little late to the game coming to the PS4, the version I had the pleasure of playing. Clearly inspired by similar titles like Limbo – a one this author happens to be a fan of – I was eager to see what Toby brought to the table.
Toby’s nameless village has been attacked by red-eyed figures with lashing tails and a penchant for kidnapping people. He chases them into an abandoned mine filled with carnivorous plants with picky appetites and sharp spikes waiting to pierce his flesh. I’m assuming the kidnappers also had time to set-up the ridiculous amount of puzzles Toby encounters to slow him down so they can escape. Not one of the tactics I would have taken when kidnapping virtual villagers, but then again mildly inconveniencing someone is my idea of classic revenge.
The preceding levels gave me key moments of excitement and boredom in the same breath. Eager to encounter the new puzzles awaiting me and wondering if I’d catch a glimpse of the kidnappers. When one of the kidnappers would appear on screen the music would crescendo, urging Toby to move his curled toed feet in fast pursuit. When he came close to capturing them, a well-placed trap or the integrity of the mine is compromised for the kidnapper to escape temporarily.
Ever the optimist, Toby is an adorable heartless look-alike who takes it upon himself to find remote corners and reveal hidden rooms. He finds levers to pull to activate hidden platforms and finding creative ways to push a large box to reach a higher area. These mini explorations will yield either a nasty surprise or a comrade trapped in a cage Toby can rescue.
A creeping sense of uneasiness was par for the course, thanks to the artstyle of Toby’s world. Dark silhouettes and glowing eyes are the only way to detect a character on screen or seeing the outline of a creature slowly sliming its way to devour our plucky hero. I wanted to be scared and to feel uncomfortable when from staring at the screen for too long or question whether the black silhouette against the wall was a creature out to get me.
The elements for an uncomfortable experience are all here, but they’re never brought to their full potential. This is one of the cases where the appearance of Toby and his little world combined with the playstyle mesh well together while also working against each other.
Toby is cute in his own weird little way, but beyond that there isn’t much else. His silent journey is rather lackluster and there’s few elements of being ‘scared’ present. I wanted to reiterate that developer Lukas Navrati did a decent job with the material, but his game felt like it had a missing ingredient. I kept wanting ‘more’ of something with every level I completed, but I never got it.
Still, besides a few levels, Toby: The Secret Mine does have its own merits to stand on. It’s simple and to the point without giving players bunches of narrative to sort through. There’s also an openness to it that can be appreciated; I liked being able to come to my own conclusions of why the population of Toby’s village was kidnapped. Decent for a lazy afternoon, Toby’s adventure should keep platforming fans satisfied while it lasts.