To The Moon Review

Reviewed on PC

Patient: Digital Fix games reviewer Dean Love
Memory sector: thoughts on To The Moon

...Accessing most recent memory...

So to score a game like this is nearly impossible. If I put on my theatre/comedy/film reviewer's hat for a moment, this is a five-star production. Based solely on how much I enjoyed it, connected with it and the experience it gave me, the game is top of the class. But it's not a film, it's a game. As such, it requires a score out of ten. And while five stars should be 10/10 the metrics of games reviewing are different. I should be considering the fact the controls are damn annoying a lot of the time, that the action sequences seem totally out of place, and the puzzles entirely superfluous. With these flaws, a perfect score shouldn't be possible.

Then there's the part of me that wants to give it 3/10. In no way does it deserve that score, as anyone who has read the review will see clearly. But the sort of person to skip right down to the score and not bother reading the review is also the sort of person who'll get nothing out a game like To The Moon. A game that requires you read, pay attention and take your time.

It's an odd dilemma to have, but To The Moon abandons so many game design customs that attempting to review it using traditional game journalism techniques seems futile.

...Memory link found, accessing older memory...

The game looks like a traditional SNES RPG. Anyone looking at the screenshots here might think they have a good handle on how it plays. They don't. It's an aesthetic that works for it, but in an entirely different way. It's far more akin to a point-and-click adventure game, but one pared down to the very basics, with the puzzles removed. Your characters explore the memories of a dying man, attempting to navigate from his most recent memories back to his childhood by locating objects within them that link back to previous ones. You, the player, walk up to and interact with everything on the screen and watch the results, until you've done all five things at which point you solve an utterly unrelated puzzle and move back to the previous memory.

It doesn't sound like much. It isn't much. From a mechanical viewpoint the game is very simple. But it's enough interaction to make you feel like you're part of the story, that you're driving it forwards, not just sitting back and observing. Indeed, despite the lack of choices or influence you have on the direction of the story, I actually felt more engaged than with most Bioware RPGs, with their lengthy, fully-voiced conversation scenes. The game really makes an effort to let you in, as while it's clear that it is essentially just telling you a story, it makes you feel like you're an integral part of it, not just a passive observer that may as well be watching a film or reading a book. It's a wonderful sleight of hand, achieved through keeping each interaction fairly short, so you're constantly engaged with it, even if all you're doing is moving to the next item and clicking. But in many ways, that isn't where the game is. The majority of fun you'll have is in your head - with the backwards narrative, Memento is the obvious touch-stone here, but any so-called 'puzzle film' is a good comparison. Many things are set up early on that don't make sense, and then slowly hinted at, the game almost challenging you to figure out what's going on before it tells you. It's not 'real' gameplay, as it's happening in your head, not on the screen, but figuring out the plot is certainly a far more engaging puzzle than, well, the actual puzzle bits of the game.

...Memory link found, accessing older memory...

To The Moon is essentially a game that tells you an engaging story. Over the five or so hours that story takes to unfold I laughed, I cried, I was delighted and I was distraught. It's a very emotional story, but as a geek I'd be remiss not to mention its solid sci-fi credentials. The central conceit driving the plot is a device that allows people to enter and manipulate other people's memories. One company uses this to visit dying people and travel back through their memories to their childhood. Once there they will instill in the childhood memories of their client whatever their utmost desire was, in this case, to go to the moon. Then the brain will re-write the memories in the dying brain to reflect this actually happening, and the person dies happy. The game doesn't actually touch much on the moral or ethical questions this whole idea raises (though To The Moon is the first in a series, so there would seem to be plenty of time to explore it) but there is a solid internal logic to it that the game sticks to, giving it a really solid science-fiction feel.

The interaction between the two doctors is light-hearted and often comical (and, crucially, actually funny) which adds an oft-needed touch of lightness to the game as they travel back through the patient's memory and untangle his history, much of which is quite bleak. It's a haunting tale of love, of loss, of dealing with autism, of tragedy and of confused desires. It's wonderful, and it's fair to say it's one of the best tales told in this medium. Though to give away much more would be to ruin it.

...Memory link found, accessing older memory...

The first thing that struck me about To The Moon was the music. A haunting, simple piano refrain is introduced early on that recurs throughout in various ways, and it's a hook through which the creator is able to manipulate the emotions of anyone that’s susceptible to that sort of thing. It made me cry in places, though the game is getting a certain reputation for that amongst critics, and it seems unfair to focus on that given that it’s also one of few games to make me really laugh, or properly think about things beyond the context of the game itself. It’s terrific, and anyone with any interest in games as narrative experiences owes it to themselves to check it out.




out of 10

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