Reviews// To the Moon

Posted 17 Jul 2012 14:03 by
I've just finished playing To the Moon. Normally right after I've finished playing a game is a brilliant time to start writing about it. The only way to make a review fresher would be to dictate as you were playing, but that would inevitably lead to more swearing than SPOnG's editorial guidelines allow.

In this instance, however, it's probably not. I'm a little sad by the whole thing. All you're likely to get's a big gush, and no-one but developer Freebird Games and publisher Lace Mamba wants that.

Thanks. You can't tell, but I went home and had a whole 15 hours away from the keyboard before I got to this bit.

To the Moon is a game about memory, the mind and the relationship they have with reality. It's a blend of point and click adventure and RPG elements, delivered in a very retro 8-bit style. I feel mildly uncomfortable calling it a 'game', however. Given the media labels we have, it's certainly the best categorisation going, but if you're looking for fascinating, intricate gameplay mechanics you'd best look elsewhere. To the Moon isn't about that. Instead, it plays out more like a story you can wander around and poke at - in a very, very good way.

It's set some point in the future (around 50 years from now, at a guess) when doctors are able to alter people's memories. Because implanting false memories in someone is likely to cause all sorts of problems for a person when they're trying to work out whether or not Emma Stone is actually their girlfriend, this is an activity that only happens near the point of death, so the patient can look back on a life in which they fulfilled their greatest wish.

We join Dr Eva Rosalene and Dr Neil Watts as they journey back through main character Johnny's memories, trying to fulfil his dying wish of becoming an astronaut and flying to the moon. Using the doctors' machine the player is dropped into choice memories throughout Johnny's life to try to work backwards, ultimately seeding the desire to get off Earth at an early enough age for him to generate the false memories.

It has a whiff of Inception about it, but this is a much gentler, more personal, tale. It functions as a detective story. The doctors serve as proxies for the player, working backwards through the clues to piece together the root of Johnny's desire to travel to the moon and figure out his strange relationship with his wife, River.

As I noted above, To the Moon isn't about challenging gameplay so much as it's about giving you a way into the narrative. Through the bulk of the game you have to collect 'memory links' by exploring each environment, then complete a visual puzzle to move on. There are a couple of sections where it gets a little more action-oriented, but it really is just a couple of sections that are the exception rather than the rule.

The game mechanics won't tax you at any point and the they're not designed to. Rather, they serve to engage you with the story, enabling you to control the pace and to poke around the narrative at your leisure. Indeed, the mechanics sometimes feel a little tacked on, making use of somewhat contrived internal rules to give you something to do. While there's definitely some room for improvement there, to dwell on that would be to miss the point.

The narrative becomes incredibly engaging. The science fictional premise carries a sweet, sad, poignant story about human relationships, individuality, the mind and the experiences that shape us. The 8-bit graphics, much like a really simple cartoon, serve as a great mechanism for allowing the player to project themselves into the story.

The music (which, in the boxed version, is also available on a separate CD) complements it beautifully. It's a little on the nose at times and can get a little bit repetitive, but for the most part it generates a sad, soft, intimate mood.

Freebird, evidently wary of taking itself too seriously, delivers the dialogue with a light, humorous touch. At times it can be a little clunky and attempts to give it a Whedon-esque pop sensibility can occasionally feel forced, but for the most part it's very enjoyable.

Now, it's tempting for us games journalists/critics to get a bit over-excited when we're presented with a mature narrative that contains actual subtlety, nuance and craft. To the Moon isn't Tolstoy and we shouldn't get carried away. It is, however, a deftly-woven, moving narrative that makes innovative and interesting use of the adventure game/RPG format to deliver a lovingly-told, emotive story.

+ Delicate, moving story
+ Innovative use of games to carry its narrative
+ Excellent soundtrack

- Gameplay mechanics feel a little tacked-on
- Could offer greater interactivity

SPOnG Score: 9/10

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