Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2016. Please disregard this original review.
Games can just go out and be whatever the blazes they want to be. As far as I’m concerned, as long as there is a margin of interactivity and form of an objective, games can expand into any entertainment programming processed by some form of computer. I bring this up, because after playing the title this review is very clearly named after, I can already hear the potential excuses, and I feel the need to address them in any game that doesn’t involve combat or some other very prevalent form of gameplay.
To The Moon Review
Release Date: 01/11/2011
Developer: Freebird Games
Publisher: Freebird Games
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit
To The Moon is one of those out of nowhere titles that cost about as much as it did to feed its staff. With digital being the only fathomable option, stylish visuals being the best way to create something that doesn’t look like hogwash, and you can do anything you can realistically complete before you’ve run out of ramen. It also is right out of the gate a prime contender for one of my favorite stories in games, which is unsurprising due to how it basically amount to a graphical adventure.
The game follows two Doctors in the not-so-distant future who specialize in building artificial memories for people, namely ones about to pass away, and desire to have their final wish fulfilled before kicking the bucket. Which just so happens to be the case for John, a man at death’s door whose life is explored invertedly. Beginning with him as an old man, and ending with his distorted childhood memories. Crafting a tale of loss, love, and regret that shrouds all other aspects of life, due to the endless possibilities of the could’ve and should’ve mankind often ponders in their free time.
As with many narrative heavy titles though, explaining why it is so darn good without sounding overly vague can be a bit tricky, but I’d say that it is a very well balanced series of the odd, contemporary, sad, and ever so silly. Not that those words necessarily describe much, but let’s just say that Animorphs, the very severe end of the Autism spectrum, and antics between the two Doctors going through the same type of story they’ve seen many a time given their profession, but never necessarily mocking or showing disinterest in John’s life.
Said life happens to be one that deserves kudos right out of the gate for being pretty darn unique in this industry. With even more being awarded for having a cast with just enough characterization and depth that I was a hint melancholy when I realized they’d be gone for good, or at least a few more years. Something that I can’t attribute wholly as a story, due to how the game seemingly values the musical score just as much.
An aspect that I sadly such at describing, so I’ll just try my best. A series of emotionally driven tunes that feel as one with the story itself, which is unsurprising, seeing as how the game was also designed by the primary composer. With the pieces during the more gripping or tragic moments being amplified several fold by the music around it, as are the tracks themselves by the context they are presented in.
But naturally there are two other big checkboxes on the to be expected aspects to critique, which is where the game arguably sinks in quality. The game was made in the RPG maker engine, a very interesting tool for people getting started with games, but not particularly interested in the systems as much as a story. That I myself have been more than a tidbit tempted to delve into. And while the game tries to hide away the fact it is very much working with a toolset made primarily for one genre, I’d argue that it does a lot to avoid the whole sloppiness that I can’t help but squint at whenever I look at any project from that engine.
In terms of gameplay, there’s honestly not a ton to talk about. Most of the game is pointing and clicking around the environment looking at places where the cursor changes. While occasionally going through a sort of puzzle. The most common of which involves a flip puzzle where you need to manipulate an image through the clicking of various nodes. Not that it was ever especially hard let alone able to strand you in an unwinnable state, but the inclusion of a listed optimal number of turns to complete the puzzle in seemed very questionable. Upon doing some research, there is no noticeable benefit to getting the puzzle done in three or five turns, so the inclusion of them seemed to be soley to add in something different to the game. Kinda like what happened with Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead.
With the visuals being something very clearly custom made, still with sprite based characters, but more akin to, say Chrono Trigger than it is to FInal Fantasy IV. With large and detailed character sprites that are in themselves able to do a perfectly adequate job at detailing their emotions. Thrown into at times wonderfully detailed backgrounds, though many of which happen to be repeated, or have certain mainstays that look a trifle bit odd no matter how many times I see them. Like the cars or that one scene with a horse. Though the primary setting and its tileset are certainly pleasing enough to justify them being recycled for most locations, with maybe a film grain filter applied over them to stylishly indicate the fact that they are memories.
Going back to what I said at the start, I’d actually also like to throw in that regardless of the medium, if something is entertaining, than its origins do not really matter, because it causes a positive emotion that you like to have. To The Moon is a bit tricky to defend, due to how despite being very cemented as a game, the actual story and most of what makes it good could easily be transplanted in other mediums. But I suppose the same could be said for many great films, as they could be or have been novelized. Not that it would ever prevent the original source material of being a quality product, and that is exactly what To The Moon is. An albeit short, but lovely tale that is likely among the best narratives I’ve seen in a game.
An exceptional product that is hindered by a few issues to the point where they are barely worth noting for this superb title. Definitely worth both your time and money.
Oh, and the game is just $2.50 on Steam right now. Go buy it, please. Also be sure to grab that soundtrack for an extra $1.24.