One of the most common complaints about video games today is the quality of the story. Often, a game’s story is accused of being too long, too short, not immersive, poorly paced…the list of complaints goes on and on, with each criticism being as unique as the individuals making them.
And it should be noted that story writing in gaming is no easy task to attempt. Pacing can be difficult, dialogue is sometimes hard to work with, and among myriad other complications, it’s challenging to create a strong, captivating narrative that can resonate with players.
But in response to that, I’d like to turn the attention of the critics to a small PC title called To The Moon.
The game follows the story of Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, two experts who deal with memories in a very peculiar fashion: much like how Leonardo DiCaprio’s character looks to infiltrate and influence the mind through dreams in the film Inception, the doctors go through the memories of consenting clients and alter them to help the individual live out their greatest wish they never saw realized in their life.
In this instance, Drs. Rosalene and Watts are working to help a dying man named Johnny achieve his goal of becoming an astronaut and traveling to the moon. But it’s as they go through his sad, unrealized life that they find there’s more to his wishes than even he remembers.
To The Moon is essentially a point-and-click adventure, but not by any conventional or familiar means. It’s presented in a beautiful and interesting pixelated art style, looking not unlike retro games of the SNES era. It’s a game in the loosest definition of the word, instead feeling more like an interactive experience that requires little more than a bit of item gathering, puzzle solving, and exploration in order to help move the story along.
Using this method, players will help the doctors enter into Johnny’s memories, learning more and more about the man retroactively as they find key items in his memories and use them to link together the desires of his past. The story is told in such a way that players learn about the man from drawing conclusions and gradually discovering more about him and his relationships in a piecemeal fashion that feels unique and engaging. It gave the game a “just one more level” draw that kept me hooked, constantly searching through memories in order to get to the next cutscene.
What little actual gameplay mechanics are in the game are varied, but all work very well to help keep you engaged. Puzzles are quick and satisfying, there are some moments when you’ll use directional keys and actions in order to travel the world and accomplish tasks, and exploration is interesting and aesthetically pleasing as you encounter a unique amount of life in this pixelated world.
No stone is left unturned throughout the game’s narrative, and every element and question you encounter early on will connect gradually and wrap itself up nicely in an incredibly satisfying fashion. The game uses masterful dialogue to take you on twisting ride throughout the plot as it changes your perception of characters and the way they interact with each other in Johnny’s memories. At some points, you’ll be angry, sad, and even jovial. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the exchanges between the two doctors, and I won’t deny that the ending was moving enough to give me goosebumps.
Composed mainly of light, airy piano tracks, the game uses its soundtrack to emphasize times of emotion and to highlight certain points within the story. The soundtrack is beautiful and never gets old, breathing life into this already well-realized world and helping players feel a certain affinity for the characters within the game, even if only on a subconscious level.
To The Moon tells a story that not only managed to captivate and inspire, but also leaves one questioning the value of memory and experience in life. While the doctors will change the memory of the dying man, it won’t mean that his real-life experiences will change; only that he’ll remember doing what he wanted as he lays on his deathbead. Gameplay is implemented well in its very simplified form, and the game’s overall presentation amazed me with how much life can be given to pixels. It’s a fascinating look at psychology and a master course in storytelling not only in video games, but in any form of entertainment media. This is not another run-of-the-mill adventure game. Rather, To The Moon is an engrossing experience with enough heart and personality to take you to the moon…and back.