To The Moon review

Posted: February 29, 2012 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

I’m not making any jokes.  They’re dancing in the lighthouse after their wedding.  It’s not funny, it’s f*cking touching.

I often start my reviews with a preface saying that I am either rating a game in comparison to its’ peers or based on how it made me feel while playing it.  For To The Moon, it’s hard to write a review based on either.  Very few games have ever had the emotional impact of this game and if they did, it was handled far more crudely.  I think back to when I first finished Skies of Arcadia and the bliss I felt when the credits rolled accompanied by the full story of what happened to every character.  Objectively though, I have to admit that Skies of Arcadia was a very Walt Disney-esque, PG-rated affair that never had to wrap up plot ends like this.  Or I could look back at the mind-blowing plot twists of Xenogears and how much they got me back at age 14.  Then also, I have to admit that those plot twists were pretty contrived and not nearly as well written as any 10-minute chunk of To The Moon.  To be fully honest, To The Moon is the greatest story ever told in a videogame.  It’s better written, better executed and more ultimately satisfying than any other in the past.

Unfortunately I can’t talk about a single word of it past the first 20 minutes.  You’ll only understand if you play it, but basically the plot twists and experiencing them yourself are the entire game.  The basic premise is that in the near future there is a technology that will create false memories and implant them into a dying person to make them happier about their life.  Pretty avant garde there for a videogame and it’s only going to get more so from there.  A man named John has dictated in his will that he wants the company that offers this service to give him memories of going to the moon.  Our two protagonists, Neil and Eva, are the employees sent to John’s house as he is dying to fulfill this contract.  That’s where I need to stop, but let me just tell you there is a lot more than a story about some guy’s NASA fantasy.  A large number of hot topics from modern psychology, psychiatry and medicine are in the plot of this game.  Oh yeah and love, there’s also a love story that makes Forever Young look like Disney’s Tarzan.  By that I mean it blows right past the mundane issues like trust and faith that every single other story fixates on and goes into the territory of how mental illness and death can affect a life long relationship.  Pretty grown up for a medium that just decided it no longer likes Duke Nukem.

One review caveat I will impose is that I will not evaluate the gameplay compared to other games.  To The Moon was made mostly by one guy on what appears to be RPG maker and I will not sit here and knock it for having simple gameplay.  The game engine basically admits it’s own fault and pokes fun at itself throughout the game, while making a number of gaming in-jokes that hit dead on.  In my not-so-humble-opinion, that’s the best choice the developers could have made in this circumstance.  I personally got right past the low budget and found the game to be nostalgic and satirical in a very charming way.  This is a weird review as I can’t really talk about the game much without spoiling it, but the gameplay I can go over.  Playing To The Moon basically involves going on a scavenger hunt through a series of John’s memories in search of totemic items that will open the next memory.  To unlock the next memory, you solve a simple tile-puzzle which should take less than a minute to solve.  Besides a few minigames and an extremely literal (and funny) Plants vs. Zombies joke, that’s the whole game.

I almost forgot to mention that the music is excellent.  I may be the only one, but after 10 years of digital Final Fantasy soundtracks, I’m a little over the solo piano in games.  The piano is a central part of the plot though and in this case it fits perfectly.  A lot of people have made much ado over the song done by the same artist as the Plants vs. Zombies theme.  Yeah, I turned that one down.  The few recurring main pieces, much like a John Williams soundtrack, carry the story overall.

Even though this game is not even remotely challenging and only barely even qualifies as a “game,” you have to play it.  It’s not like Braid or Limbo, where it’s a brilliant indy game that may not appeal to everyone, based on genre taste.  If you play games and have a human heart, you need to have played To The Moon.  Because if you walk into a game store 6 months from now and tell people that Aeris dying or the end of Halo 3 was your most emotional videogame moment, they will laugh in your face.  The sophistication of the gaming medium has just been raised and killing the white mage no longer qualifies as a plot twist.  Also, you should just plain play it because it will make you feel good.  Not like I beat a Call of Duty game good.  Like I finished the best book by my favorite author good.  I could keep wasting text kissing this game’s ass or I could just admit I think it’s perfect and score it.



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