I never thought I would play a game that reminded me of 2004′s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I also never thought I would play a game about a dying old man’s final wish, or play a game that made me come pretty damn close to breaking down in tears. To The Moon is that game, and it’s probably the most charmingly unique game I have ever played. This is not to say it’s the greatest game I have ever played, but in an industry obsessed with creating the next blockbuster action franchise, it’s an amazingly refreshing experience.
The story of To the Moon follows two doctors, who are “memory technicians”. Their job is to edit the memories of a dying person to grant them their final wish (in the form of new memories). This particular patient is an elderly man, whose wish is to travel to the moon. The catch is that he doesn’t know why he wants to travel to the moon. The player has to work their way through his memories to find one to edit in such a way to motivate the old man to pursue his wish. It may sound complicated, but the story doesn’t get bogged down with any techno-jargon and moves along smoothly, never seeming too far-fetched.
When I read that To The Moon had a play time of about four and a half hours, I decided to devote my Saturday to playing it through in one sitting. It’s a tribute to the game that I actually did this. Start to finish I was fully engrossed and while it is a relatively short experience for a game, it felt like the perfect length. Any extra would have just been unnecessary padding, and would have detracted from the touching story.
The music is stand out in To the Moon, and probably the prime culprit for inducing teary eyes. Although there’s only a handful of tracks each perfectly sets the scene for what’s going on in the game. This is also probably the first game where I have been thoroughly creeped out by a room filled with folded paper bunnies, the tense soundtrack helping add to this. It’s a beautiful soundtrack and it really ties the packages together.
Although the story is very emotional and adult, the entire game is laced with humor which helps prevent it becoming too earnest. The jokes ranging from snide remarks between the main two characters, to self referential nods to other games. At one point a character starts a final fantasy random battle against a squirrel, much to the embarrassment of his companions. It may sound silly, but peppering moments of humor really add to the charm.
The actual game play is incredibly basic. Don’t let the 16 bit RPG era appearance fool you, this is very much an adventure game. You move from scene to scene collecting items that correlate to certain memories, completing each scene is a little picture puzzle. It’s never in any way challenging, which is a good thing, because you will want to just get to the next scene to unravel more of the plot.
A lot of the time I caught myself thinking, sure the story is good, but could this have worked better as a movie or an animation? Does it add anything extra to the experience by being a game? Is this a story that can only be told through a game? Unfortunately most of the time I found myself answering, probably not. This story may have been told in any other medium and perhaps even better. That said I’m still very happy to have played it through and found it a very interesting and touching experiment in storytelling. It’s also a very important game, because it shows that gamers have a heart too, we aren’t just ray-gun shooting caffeine junkies the media makes us out to be.
I look forward to the next episode and urge everyone to play To The Moon.