To The Moon

8.5 Overall Score
Presentation: 7/10
Mechanics: 6/10
Narrative: 10/10

A very grown-up story that saddens and inspires thought long after you shut down the game.

Game mechanics are rudimentary and sometimes clunky.

On the surface, To The Moon by Freebird Games seems like an unassuming indie title that came out in September, 2012 to little fanfare. However beneath the surface lies a real treasure. The premise is simple enough. Johnny is on his death bed and wants his final wish fulfilled: to go to the moon. Although To The Moon doesn’t offer the player much in terms of visual glitz or game interaction, progression through the story leads to an ending more emotionally powerful than most game endings I’ve experienced in the past decade.

The game has the look of a 16-bit RPG. The simple color palette and sprite-based animation have a retro charm that’s never distracting. That is to say that at no point did I wish for a more modern look.  Following that retro-chic aesthetic, all the dialogue is text.  The music, however, isn’t limited to the compressed MIDI arrangements from the SuperNintendo era.  Not only are the full piano pieces a pleasure to listen to, a few of the tunes are downright moving.  They provide the perfect audio backdrop to the overall theme of the game.

Johnny wants to go to the moon.  Exactly why, he doesn’t know.  Since he can’t go back in time, he hires scientists Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts to help him out.  With their high-tech helmets, they can travel into Johnny’s memories to change them. The theory is that the newly created events in his mind will lead him to believe that he actually traveled to the moon. As the scientists travel backwards through Johnny’s life, they discover the twists and turns of his childhood and his complex relationship with his troubled wife, River.

Without giving away too much, To The Moon‘s story progression entices the player onward with its cutesy RPG look, silly exchanges between the two doctors and simple game mechanics that are no more difficult than pattern puzzles. However, the game’s simplicity is a double-edged sword. The bulk of player interaction is little more than navigating characters around small, two-dimensional environments to talk to other characters or pick up objects. Small puzzle segments offer little challenge. From start to finish, the game clocks in at a little over four hours, which some may find too short. But the quality of the story more than makes up for its brevity.

To The Moon ultimately succeeds because of the developer’s bravery in tackling the heady subject matter at the story’s core. Simple graphics and equally simple game mechanics leave the player unencumbered by modern gaming expectations. Without these distractions, emotions are more easily drawn to the surface. The carefully structured narrative gradually feeds conflict and drama into each step of the tale, leading to a grand finale where the player realizes the significance of the game’s title. Although I will never openly admit to shedding any tears, I suggest keeping a tissue or two handy.

In an industry bloated with million dollar budget games that are long on spectacle but short on substance, it’s refreshing to experience a gem like To The Moon. It’s available on Freebird Games’s site, Good Old Games, and Steam for $9.99, and on Origin for $11.99.  For the impact that it delivers, the game is a steal. To The Moon is a must-play title that has earned its tear-soaked place in my top ten favorite games of all time.

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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