To the Moon Review
*Light spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned*
A few months ago I gave my first impressions of Free Bird Game’s upcoming Indie Adventure game To the Moon. Not that anyone cares, since nobody read that. Unfortunately, before I could buy the game a little thing some have called Gamevember occurred and my attention shifted from To the Moon and writing about games to just playing games. That’s not to say I wasn’t still looking forward to the game or forgot about it, I just had a change of priorities. But now that I’ve finally got some time to play through the game I think it’s about time I finally gave my thoughts.
I said back when I was giving my impressions of the game that To the Moon, despite the numerous people claiming it was an Adventure/RPG hybrid, seemed nothing like an RPG and was an adventure game through and through. I don’t feel like I was wrong saying that. There is no grinding, only one instance of true combat that I’ll get to later, and the choices you make only effect the smallest of things in the game’s story, but I believe this is for the best. There are likely 1000 different turn based RPGs made with the RPG maker, only a few of which are truly worth one’s time, and seeing the engine used for something else feels refreshing.
Gameplay remains simple enough and pretty similar to what can be seen in the trailers. You play as Dr. Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, two scientists hired to access the memories of a dying patient. To do this they end up jumping further and further back into the life of their patient Jonny, by collecting special items and examining scenery related to their patient’s past. Once you’ve collected each item and examined every area necessary you break down the barrier separating you and the next memory, solve a tile flipping puzzle, rinse and repeat.
The scavenger hunt for different items to link together your patient’s memories does remained fun thanks to the fact that the game cleverly keeps the importance many of the items have to your patient’s past a mystery until later in the game, but I personally found the tile flipping puzzles to be more tedious than entertaining. There is some challenge to be had in trying to solve each one using the minimum number of turns, but to the best of my knowledge there’s no extra reward for doing so and even then they’re easy to breeze through. The game does however, mix things up with other scenarios like: a horse riding segment and a level where your co-worker throws a swarm of zombies at you that you must fend off with potted plants, proving that everything, even narrative heavy, Indie games can be improved by adding zombies in it. Speaking of narrative, while the gameplay to To the Moon will keep most Adventure fans satisfied, the story is probably what will interest players the most.
It’s the future and mankind has created a way to alter people's existing memories, replacing them with artificial ones. Unfortunately this causes people's artificial memories to clash and contradict their reality, often leading to the complete hindering of brain function. So this brain invasion surgery is only used on people who're on the verge of death to grant said people the life they never had and the wish they always wanted to have fulfilled, but never could. The wish of one particular patient named Jonny is, as the title implies, to travel to the moon, and as Doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, your mission is to give him the chance to do just that.
As you go further into Jonny’s memories you see every aspect of his life from his retirement, to his earliest childhood memories. There are plenty of stories that jump forward and back from one point in time to another (Pulp Fiction?) in order to give the feeling of something elaborate, but I cannot, off the top of my head, name a story that follows a character’s life from their end to their beginnings or at least not one that does it as smoothly as To the Moon. Far and away the greatest strength the story has is the great chemistry Jonny and his tragically deceased wife, River share throughout it.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the two characters are one of the best couples in video games. Throughout the game you venture through the character Jonny's memories and see just about every happy moment (and struggle) he and his wife/girlfriend go through. There isn’t much impact when you first see River pass away, you’ve only known her for 5 minutes after all, but as you go further into Jonny’s past, see all their happy (and not so happy) times, and remember the game's objective is to destroy these memories, you’ll end up questioning your goal more and more. Not to mention that scene where they talked to one another as kids and Jonny gives her a stuffed platypus was absolutely adorable.
Speaking of which, I understand that the moral conflict to the game was supposed to be based around whether or not replacing your patient’s memories with artificial ones was the right thing to do, but I felt something came up later in the game that made it incredibly obvious replacing Jonny’s memories WASN’T the morally proper act. I’m trying hard not to spoil it, but let’s just say something is learned later on that completely changes the context of Jonny’s wish to, ‘go to the moon’ to the point that it ends up defeating the very purpose of your objective. *SPOILER* It involves his wife River.
I was seriously annoyed by this at first, but don’t worry about it too much. The game completely wimps out in the end by giving a happy ending, and while I’m all for the occasional tragedy, I’d have it be no other way in this game’s situation.
The rest of the characters do their part, but I became very annoyed by Rosalene and Neil’s ‘banter’. Neither of the characters were terrible separately, but save for a few moments at the end, I never got the impression either character really cared for one another and for as hard as the game tries to make it be, very little of the two character’s bickering is all that funny. I've got no problem with conflict and to the game's credit when Neil and Rosalene begin trying to decide what would be the right thing to do to Jonny's memories they're dilemma does become interesting. It just took me a REALLY long time to take a liking to these two characters and their 'humor'.
A prime example of my annoyance is in several of the levels where you’re required to break down a barrier separating you and the next memory Neil will end up shouting a battle phrase before it’s about to shatter (HULK SMASH, Hadouken, KAAAA…MEEEEE…HAAA…MEEEE...HAAAAA!), which is quickly followed by Rosalene complaining about how unprofessional he is. This was kind of cute the first time, but got old fast.
It’s kind of a shame several repetitious jokes like this were in the game, because the rest of humor was really good. For as ‘retro-ish’ as the in game visuals are, the moments with a lot of physical humor like: Neil going into his ‘RPG battle stance’ (which you can see in this trailer), him falling off a lighthouse, and Rosalene giving Neil the ‘cold shoulder’ when the two are sitting on a bridge together were truly funny. They also did a good job at both showing off how great the game looks and relieving some of the drama. Complaints aside Ienjoyed most of To the Moon’s jokes and its story, just be prepared to deal with Neil acting like an unentertaining ass for a while.
Of course no review of this game would be complete without talking about the music. Kan ‘Reives’ Gao and Plants vs. Zombies composer, Laura Shigihara did a great job composing this games music and making sure each song gave their respective situations the perfect mood and ambiance while remaining memorable. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; I’ve listened to each preview track currently available and will gladly listen to them again. If this game doesn't sound like something that would interest you, at the very least give the soundtrack a listen to, I certainly plan to buy it when I get the chance.
The mileage someone will get out of To the Moon depends on how much they care about the story in their games, but even looking away from the good writing and story, To the Moon remains well paced, fun to play, and just plain enjoyable. No one has anything to lose by giving the game $12 and 4 hours of their time and I look forward to the future installments Freebird Games has planned.
In fact, and keep in mind when I say this I'm not trying to tell Freebird Games how to do their job or what they should/should not write, but if there's a chance someone at Freebird Games does read this (which I highly doubt will happen), I'd like to recommend an idea for a future installment. Make a game that follows Neil and Rosalene (or a completely new cast) and have their newest assignment be to alter the memories of an ex-Sigmund Corp. employee who hated his/her job and wants to forget about all the lives he/she altered before dying. Imagine, entering the memories of someone entering someone else's memories.
Does anyone else think that's a good idea? I'll take no offense if someone says it isn't.