Recently, I experienced one of the best stories in modern video games with a graphical style that brought me back to my childhood.
When I say experienced, I mean it. To the Moon is not so much a game as it is an experience. In many ways, it’s the model interactive story adventure – heavy emphasis on narrative and light gameplay thrown which allows it to be called a game. To put it plainly, if you dug The Secret of Monkey Island, The Longest Journey, or Syberia, changes are good that you’ll really get a kick out of To the Moon. If you like actually playing your games…well, you may want to skip this one.
The story is about a man named Johnny who is close to death and hires a company to grant him his final wish: To go to the moon. You never directly control Johnny and instead control the two doctors sent to make Johnny’s wish happen – Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene. Dr. Watts & Rosalene use a device (complete with helmets!) to travel through Johnny’s memories and make modifications which change what Johnny believes has happened in his life. It’s gripping stuff and I know I’m not doing it justice in this limited space, but since the primary focus of To the Moon is the story I would be doing anyone who reads this journal entry a huge disservice by revealing too much more so I’ll leave it at that.
Gameplay definitely takes a backseat here and consists of moving one of the doctors around small environments finding items which trigger memories. Once all the items are found in a particular area, you’re tasked with completing a simple puzzle which you cannot fail. I’m ok with the minimal gameplay, but I do wish that the controls weren’t so wonky. For a game that has such simplistic mechanics, you’d hope that walking around and interacting with items (aka pressing a button) would be smooth, but unfortunately something feels off throughout the duration of the game. If you click a certain item with the mouse, your character will often not approach it correctly and movement never feels solid. It’s bothersome but ultimately forgivable the deeper you get into the story.
I love the graphical presentation in this game. It has that 16-bit vibe I grew up playing and reminds me of classics such as Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. This graphical style is timeless and holds up incredibly well after 20ish years (much better than the following generations of games). Surprisingly, despite the pixilated artwork, emotion is conveyed extremely well and just goes to show you that a game doesn’t need HD-resolution in order to be easy on the eyes. Lastly, I can’t overstate how great the soundtrack is in this game. It’s simply beautiful and I can probably attribute an hour’s worth of gameplay time to leaving the game running to listen to the soundtrack. This is one of the few games I’ve considered purchasing the soundtrack to and still may. Yes, it’s that good.
To the Moon is touching in ways few games are and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who shed a few tears by the finale. It deals with some heavy, real, relatable subjects such as loss, grief, selfishness, and loneliness in a tasteful manner without trivializing them which is something I can’t say many games do well, let alone modern movies or books. While this may sound depressing, To the Moon also sprinkles in some lighthearted moments and characters (Dr. Watts in particular) which keep it from throwing you into wrecked emotional state by game’s end. I was sad when it ended and thought about the possible meaning behind it for days after playing. While it’s not much of a game, I hope there continues to be room in the game industry for incredible experiences like this.
Final Rating: 8.5/10
Console Played On: PC
Time to Completion: 4-6 hours
Gamerscore Earned: N/A
Price Bought At: $2.50
Current Price: $5 (Steam Holiday Sale), Normally $10
Recommended Purchase Price: $10
Why You Should Buy It: To the Moon features a beautiful story and old school vibe that is sadly missing in today’s gaming environment
Why You Shouldn’t Buy It: It’s light on actual gameplay