Mainly thanks to the pioneering gents at Rock Paper Shotgun, I’ve been exposed to some news about To The Moon, a creation of Freebird Games. Not much news, mind, because those same gents warned me the play the game first and read about it second, a warning I’m all but happy to take. But from what I did read, it’s supposed to be an emotionally charged, story-focused, SNES-era sprite-style adventure game. There’s literally nothing in that description I don’t like, so my playing it was a pretty foregone conclusion. It’s gotten some high praise; I hope it’ll be deserved.
I launch the game into an intro. As the camera, first looking at the moon, slowly pans down to reveal a lighthouse on a cliff, a demure two piano tones give way to a beautiful music piece. Upon which three menu options appear, the active one illuminated by an errant beam of moonlight.
Color me impressed. I hope the rest of the game has standards like this.
Normally I spend this opening quart of Indie Wonderland talking and complaining about menus and configuration options, but To The Moon boldly subverts my whiny routine by not really having an options menu to speak of. There’s Begin, Load and Exit. Well played, Freebird Games, well played. In that case, let’s just jump into the game proper and see what all the glowing critical appraisal is about.
The game starts off with a panning, sans-dialogue overview of what I assume will be an important cliff-side house, showing me two children inside playing piano — a lower-fidelity version of the same song as the introduction, which I’m sure won’t be relevant later on. Then, the sound of a car crashing, and the game begins in earnest.
This early part of the game seems to serve mostly as an introduction to the characters and the overall plot. First and foremost, there’s our protagonists for today: Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. Theirs is a peculiar job, which firmly plants this game in the near-future timeframe: they give people a chance to live their lives again.
In short: In To The Moon’s world, there exists a technology that allows people to fully, completely change the memories of their life; they can literally remember having done anything they want. However, because the new memories would conflict with the accumulated evidence of an old, now un-remembered life, this process is only used on people on their deathbed. Doctors go in, change the memories, the patient awakens, experiences in full the memory he or she wanted to experience… and dies. And this brings us to Johnny.
Johnny, you see, is an old, dying man. He’s the one that hired Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts in order to give him the memories he desires before his imminent death. And what, exactly, does Johnny want to remember?
There’s more characters here, but I don’t want to spoil too much. Suffice to say that Eva, Neil and Johnny are, for now, front and centre in this story. The plot kicks off with a simple twist: Johnny cannot articulate why he wants to go to the moon. He’s absolutely certain he does, but the reason eludes him. Eva and Neil, and by extension me, have to find out this lost reason, and use that information to change Johnny’s memories the way he wants to.
I’m seven paragraphs into the review and I haven’t talked about the actual gameplay once, have I? The reason for this is that there’s, at least currently, not a whole lot to talk about. To The Moon is, at the core, a sprite point-’n-click. You need to talk to people and find objects to progress a scene and get to the next part of the story. The game seems acutely aware that this may sound boring, and occasionally tries to subvert your expectations with some faux-action scenes.
For the most part, though, it seems content to just play the interactive story card straight. And that’s alright: it’s what I expected and what I came here for.
Alright. I’ve explored the house and the nearby lighthouse, found everything I can find and learned everything I can learn. It’s time to fire this machine up and dive into Johnny’s memories; he doesn’t have much time left, and it’ll be a lot of work to get him to the moon.
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