A wise man once said, “Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” With that being said, and as hard as we may try, things still don’t always go the way we intend them to. It’s too often we feel regret; whether it’s throughout the course of our life, or as we approach our end. However, if you still had one final chance to change everything, would you take it?
In the not too distant future, Sigmund Corp operate as specialized company that use technology to provide “wish fulfillment” as a service to people on their death bed. It is a form of artificial memory replacement that allows doctors to examine a persons memories and implant a desired wish into their past, triggering a whole new series of life events. However, the effects of this procedure are permanent and can conflict with their true memories when they awake. It is for this reason the procedure is reserved for those who do not have long to live.
Johnny doesn’t have long to live, and his dying wish is to go to the moon. He doesn’t quite understand why he wants to go there, but it’s all the same to them. However, everything doesn’t go as planned, and Doctors, Rosalene and Watts, quickly find themselves caught in a deep mystery surrounding his deceased wife, River. The clock is ticking, and they will have to unravel his complicated past if they have any chance of getting him to the moon.
Playing as both Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts, the player will explore Johhny’s memories starting with those most recent and begin to work their way back. The premise of the exercise is to reach an early moment in the client’s life where they can implant an idea that will allow a change of events leading to the desired wish. In order to proceed from one memory to another, a series of mementos will need to be collected to form a memory-link and allow the player to continue moving backwards.
When the Doctors are engaged in an active memory, they possess an omnipotent power that allow them to manipulate and interact with the environment. It is disappointing that the player is unable control these abilities as it serves as a missed opportunity for some compelling puzzles. However, it does not detract from the experience and in it’s stead the player will be faced with a memory based puzzle each time a memory link is formed. These are straightforward and entertaining, but ultimately become redundant as there are no clear penalties for the number of moves used to solve the puzzle.
Despite the complex themes explored throughout Johhny’s life, the game doesn’t always have take itself too seriously. The Doctors, whilst professional, have clearly become a little desensitized to the whole process and act accordingly. Dr. Watts never appears to be short of a pop-culture reference to fire out when forming a memory-link, and in one particular instance the game parodies the genre by pretending to engage in a turn-based battle against a squirrel. It’s these moments that help to balance the two sides of the game between the heart wretching story and the omnipotent perspective of the Doctors.
The game primarily plays out using point and click exploration and interactive puzzle games. It doesn’t consist of gameplay that would be considered incredible, but it is both functional and essential. It’s clear that gameplay only serves as a way for the player to interact with the experience, which will be sure to divide some players opinions. However, I don’t feel that the narrative would hold the same impact if told through another entertainment medium, and whilst there are some clear changes that could improve the current mechanics, it would provide only a small improvement to the reception of such an incredible story.
It is sometimes too easy to judge a game on it’s appearance, and in the case of To The Moon it would not be difficult to look at the 16-Bit graphics and pass it off as a waste of time. However, don’t allow the visuals to discourage you, this game is the real deal. Yes, the graphics are simplistic, but they are presented in a fantastic way and the lack of voice acting serves to emphasise the quality of the writing and stimulate your imagination. The experience is also accompanied by a truly inspiration soundtrack that will not be forgotten quickly. If you are purchasing via Steam, I highly recommend you spend the extra couple of dollars on the edition which includes the soundtrack. It is worth it.
To The Moon approaches many difficult subjects that have not been explored in a game before and does so with an amazing level of grace. It is a tragic romance in reverse that explores the complexities of mental illness and childhood trauma, whilst also serving as an inspirational look at what could have been. This is not an experience that needed high powered graphics and complex game mechanics to be successful, and Freebird Games should be commended for an outstanding effort. To The Moon shines as a perfect example of how excellent writing can overcome so many obstacles, and for $9.99 on Steam there is no logical reason to pass on this game.