Review by Alyx Jones
Developer: Lukas Navratil
Composer: Matthew Steed
Reviewed on: Mac (Steam)
Alyx Jones audio reviews the puzzle-platformer, Toby: The Secret Mine. Read below to find out what she thinks of the game audio!
Toby: The Secret Mine is a puzzle-platformer game with mild horror elements. It draws heavy inspiration from the game Limbo, in terms of game mechanics and art style, with Nihilumbra and Type:Rider also cited as other sources of inspiration. The use of silhouettes as an art style has become more popular recently, especially since the incredible success of Limbo, and this game is set out in a very similar artistic layout. The main difference being the backdrops use of very strong colour palettes. It is a very gorgeous, art-centred game but there is such a strong comparison to be drawn with Limbo, that it is difficult to separate the two stylistically.
We begin with the kidnapping of some creatures and spend the whole game journeying to save the captured residents and bring them home. Each level boasts different challenges and puzzles to complete correctly in order to progress, as well as varying colour schemes to shape the mood for each section of the game. There are points that may find the player getting frustrated with solving the puzzles or replaying challenges to get timings just right, but overall it’s a rewarding experience.
Sound design features strongly in the same way as Limbo. Soundscaping with the use of buzzing flies, is even lifted directly from Limbo but with many more layers. For example, a bird song that actually takes away from the horror aspect, by using drones instead of more positive sounds like birds. However, the main difference in Toby: The Secret Mine, is that music is much more heavily used, and therefore more prominent in the mix. In the more grey-scale looking worlds where is is constantly raining, the sound of the weather does come through over the music, with soft piano notes playing behind. When it comes to levels set in the desert, the sound design falls back in the mix somewhat. It is still perfectly audible but the music takes precedence in setting the scene. Until Toby gets eaten by the worms in the sand. His deaths in places are much louder and create that distinctive discomfort to the player in letting their character die, since the audio can be such a graphic ripping/tearing sound that cuts through the mix. I would say the balance between music and sound design isn’t 100% consistent throughout the game. Individually on a level by level basis each mix is perfectly fine, yet when looking at the game as an entirety; some levels feature louder deaths or a different ratio of music/sound effects that doesn’t always make perfect sense.
Matthew Steed created the musical worlds for Toby: The Secret Mine, setting the scene across the game with a stripped back orchestral sound of strings, piano and percussion. He describes himself as creating AAA quality soundtracks for various visual media and his work on Toby does live up to this. His music does really help to set the game apart from its comparison to Limbo. Sonically, the music for Toby is completely different. Lukas Navratil describes his game as dark and eerie, though the music works against this description. Steed’s AAA puzzle-platformer soundtrack helps to separate the game from Limbo but perhaps fails to reinforce the intended horror aspect. In levels such as the winter scenery when Toby is involved in a chase it crosses over very much into AAA territory. The pounding of drums, staccato strings and rumbling of the mountains collapsing, takes us away from the softer puzzle aspects of the game and into a dramatic “run for your life” space. As we progress towards the end the threats ramp up adding to the drama and tension of the game, still the music then falls back into a more melodic puzzle vibe, adding some flute layers and pads that tend to be more likely to create a relaxing mood. Even the final level, where we face the kidnappers, bombs and lots of rotating blades, the music never picks up to the same intensity created in the earlier winter level. This just adds to the subtle inconsistency of the audio. I am definitely a fan of when music tells the player a different message to the visuals, it can be a clever way of changing the mood of the game or hinting at what is to come. However, the winter chase stands out too much and never manifests in the final levels, where it would have made more sense to have dramatic music. None of this really impacts on the game too strongly, it just hints towards a slight communication gap between the music and visuals, and indeed perhaps the developer and composer. Steed’s music is crafted with skill and produced to a high standard but was it right for this game?
Limbo’s composer Martin Stig Anderson did an incredible job of creating that eerie, dark and unsettling soundscape that really heavily shapes the game. It would be unfair to compare Steed and Anderson too much but if a developer describes his game as “an eerie adventure in a dark and creepy world full of dangerous situations” the composer plays a really important part in shaping that atmosphere and I think sadly this soundtrack falls short in that aspect.
Overall, the audio shapes Toby: The Secret Mine to feel much more like a magical, puzzle-platformer than a game with any horror aspects at all. The sound design of birds song, matched with the twinkles and strings of the soundtrack, plus the “Yippee” from the small creatures when saved, is a very different vibe to that of Limbo. The game is fun to play, and if you did enjoy Limbo but are less into experimental soundscaping and drones, but more a fan of “AAA sounding” games, this is probably perfect for you. I certainly enjoyed playing the game and overall it is still a well crafted product but don’t expect it to push any boundaries within the indie scene.
To see my Beta Review:
The Sound Architect