To the Moon tells a powerful, moving story that is punctuated by a beautiful soundtrack to successfully achieve what many games try to do – leave a lasting impression. A downloadable PC indie title developed by Freebird Games, To the Moon is not only a remarkable and memorable game, but it challenges the way storytelling is done through the medium. It's a point-and-click adventure game that is dialogue-heavy with very little gameplay to speak of. But to overlook this unique game due to that would be a shame because you’ll miss out on an evocative, interactive storytelling experience. This bittersweet tale is a journey that is well-worth taking; it will make you laugh, and maybe even shed a tear or two.
Above: The game is as magical as this setting
You play as a pair of doctors, hired to navigate the memories of a dying old man and fulfill his last wish: to go to the moon. As if that wasn’t unorthodox enough a concept already, the old man – Johnny - doesn't even understand himself why he wants to go to the moon - he just knows that he does. In order to grant this final request, the doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts hook Johnny up to a machine that enables them to venture into his childhood memories and encourage young Johnny that he wants to go to the moon. If they succeed, they will have altered all of his memories so that in his mind, he could pass away without any regrets.
Because they don't know what Johnny's motive to go to the moon is, they must move backwards through his memories, one small step at a time. They begin with his most recent memories and jump to various stages of his life where he had to deal with love, loss and face some of life's most difficult situations. You spend the majority of your time clicking around the limited areas of Johnny's recollection, in search of memory links. As you come across these often bizarre but key items, it'll leave you with more questions as to their significance. These links are the key to activating mementos of Johnny's past in order to move to the next memory. His life story is unraveled carefully in this manner, revealing just enough information to keep you hooked.
Above: The doctors have arrived
It's a good thing that the story of this memory-hopping adventure is engaging because it's light on gameplay. You move around by clicking the mouse, and there are times where it doesn't always register exactly where you want to go. Tile-flipping puzzles in between memory leaps are extremely basic and offer no reason to complete other than continuing on with the next phase of your journey. Though it’s presented in a way that fits the context of the story, this minigame seems more like a diversion – it breaks up the gameplay and gives you something new to do, but it ultimately keeps you from the much more enticing narrative. A shooting sequence appears later in the game, but again, doesn’t feel necessary and could have been left out. The compelling narrative is what you’re here for anyway, and these segments are infrequent enough that it doesn’t take away from the experience.
What makes To the Moon's story especially enjoyable is the hilarious banter between the two doctor characters, who bicker endlessly at one another like brother and sister. Eva is the more responsible, level-headed one and Neil's the goofball just along for the ride. If their snappy and cheeky exchanges don't make you laugh, they at least help alleviate the otherwise heavy subject matter. Having them there keeps things in balance, and not just with their contrasting personalities, when things start to get really cheesy, Neil will point it out in humorous disgust. There are also plenty of amusing videogame, literature and pop culture references to find if you’re paying attention. Some are obvious, like when Neil decides to hadouken a memento, or when an RPG menu appears out of nowhere, but there are some more obscure ones to find as well. This isn't a long game, so it's worth taking the time to interact with every item of interest, because the tidbits of information that you find will help answer the questions that have been building up.
Above: Unraveling Johnny's past is the key to success
Also helping To the Moon’s well-crafted story soar are the tender musical melodies from the soundtrack. Wistful piano themes come in at the right moments and set the mood perfectly. Even the few tense moments in the game are accompanied by appropriately dramatic music to change the atmosphere entirely. Available to download, the music is worth listening to on its own and the soundtrack features a song by composer and song writer Laura Shigihara who worked on Plants vs. Zombies. To the Moon's 16-bit art style makes you feel like you've gone back in time, but when paired with the right music and great dialogue, even animated character sprites can convey enough emotion for you to connect with them.
To the Moon's excellent storytelling never veers off course and is one of the best we've experienced this year. While the game may not offer much in terms of a challenge, or even gameplay, it does offer a rich and thought-provoking narrative that will make you want to share it with someone. The melancholy setting and touching piano refrains may leave you misty-eyed, if not drowning in your own tears, but the short four hour adventure is absolutely worth it. To purchase and download To the Moon, head to the developer’s official website.