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Toby: The Secret Mine in Review – What’s Not Secret Is This Game Is Fun

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Once you start playing Toby: The Secret Mine you might think to yourself that it feels a bit like Limbo.  Don’t worry, that’s to be expected.  Even the developers admit the inspiration in the first line of their iTunes description.  What makes a game like Toby worthwhile is that it stands out despite the similarities, not because of them.  I’ve run into a few games that try to emulate these two visually, but so far I’d say they are best in class in terms of the game play style.  The most important thing is that they are proof positive that a platformer doesn’t have to be all about shooting every bad guy or collecting coins and power ups.

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Toby is a scrawny little critter with a disproportionately sized head that just wants to free all of his friends from a creature that looks a lot like him but is way bigger.  I guess you could say he’s the class bully, though he seems a great deal meaner than any that I ever remember.  The problem is that the bad guy seems to have a lot of territory that is filled with plenty of obstacles that can really put the hurt on you.  Poor little Toby doesn’t seem to take kindly to getting impaled on spikes, pummeled by random arrows or led down a really deep pit (which is often laced with more spikes).  Throw in pendulums with big blades, platforms that fall out from under your feet and rejects from Tremors and the party’s just getting started.  Thankfully Toby’s extremely resilient and will keep coming back for more punishment, but assuming there’s some way to see your stats once the game is complete your death toll might not be something to brag about.

Along the way you’ll have to activate switches, find keys and ride various objects including boards suspended in the air for no good reason and the mine cart that you see in every transition screen.  Of course the most important thing is that you need to locate all 26 of your captured friends, who typically have been stashed away in hidden areas of the level.  While they aren’t usually too hard to find, it will help if you discover early on some of the telltale signs of an “invisible” spot.  Besides, in addition to your missing companions, there will often be items like keys and levers in these hidden areas.  There is some skill involved in this game, as a lot of the puzzles involve precise timing and keen observation.  You’ll also need to think a bit to beat some of the obstacles, which makes it different than many of the platformers out there.

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The game is divided into 21 levels.  Many of the levels have one or more save points, but if you have to exit the game for some reason you’ll need to start the last uncompleted level over from the beginning.  It also seemed like some of the save points were oddly placed, though I was never unhappy to run across one.  The frustrating thing was that the heavily action oriented levels often had no save points, which made a couple of the levels in particular a lot more difficult than they might have been otherwise.  Also, while the controls worked fairly well for the most part, the jump button seemed overly sensitive at the most inopportune of times.  Not that any of this made the game insurmountable, but it feels like some of these features could have been tweaked just a smidge.  Oh, and on the off chance you missed one or two of your friends (not that I’d know what that was like, mind you), the ability to know which levels you’d need to revisit would have been nice.  The game does offer 5 achievements via Game Center, though most of them are simply side effects of progressing through the game, rather than items you truly have to work at.

Toby: The Secret Mine is a really fun game, but one of the highlights is definitely the visuals.  The backgrounds are nicely detailed when they need to be, with the main characters a nice contrast as simple silhouettes.  The animation is good, and there’s just enough going on that it doesn’t feel like a static universe.  This is one of those games that handle weather effects quite well, and you get a nice variety between rain, snow and desert storms.  While the colors aren’t all shades of grey, they designers did a fantastic job of using a limited color palette to their advantage.  Throw in some decent sound effects and you have a world that doesn’t look and sound just like every other platform game.  The music is good from what I can tell, but it doesn’t seem to be playing very much.  Either that or the sound effects are drowning it out for some reason.  Either way I would love to be able to hear the score a bit more prominently.

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Unfortunately this is only the second game from Headup that I’ve had the chance to review, but on the plus side I seem to be picking the winners to spend my time with.  I’ve enjoyed platform games since the dawn of home consoles, and I’m glad to see that developers still love to make them, but more importantly they still want to evolve them.  Sure the experience wasn’t perfect, but if all the platform games I played on iOS provided this level of satisfaction I wouldn’t complain at all.  I would actually consider picking this up for one of the consoles it exists on (assuming I had any of them), and while I’m not sure I’d want to see a direct sequel, I’d love to see another platformer of this style with the Headup logo on it.

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App Summary
Title: Toby: The Secret MineDeveloper: Headup Games GmbH & Co KG
Reviewed Ver:1.61Min OS Req: iOS 8.1
Price:$4.99App Size:174.56MB
  • Not your typical “shoot everything and collect coins” platformer
  • Puzzles are challenging but usually fair
  • Controls work well
  • Visuals and sound effects are wonderful
  • Need indicator of what level(s) missed friends are on
  • Multiple endings seemed frivolous
  • Music is underutilized

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