Saturday, April 27, 2013

#13: To The Moon - I Hope They Have Kleenex There

Borrowed from the Wiki page!
If you've ever wished your video games made you get weepy more often, then To The Moon is the game for you. We're going to cover some ground similar to my Dear Esther review here, but rest assured that I think To The Moon stands on its own two feet as an enjoyable experience. Just make sure to play it alone and in one sitting, because it's like a movie both in structure and length.

To The Moon is a touching story about fulfilling a dying mans wish to, you guessed it, go to the moon.. It's got a sort of science-fiction tint to it since it's done through a device that allows traveling through memories and modifying them in a manner similar to a combination of Inception and Memento. As with any tearjerker story, a romance is involved. Considering the game uses a retro pixel-heavy art style, you've got to have at least a little bit of imagination for it to work, but I think the creator has done an admirable job.

To The Moon's gameplay is shallow at best. It can be played with a gamepad, arrows and spacebar, or a mouse as a point and click adventure, but it makes little difference because there is no skill element whatsoever except for a simplistic panel-flipping mini game you encounter in order to progress. Essentially, the story is stapled to a skeleton of a game that sometimes feels utterly unnecessary except to keep the player directly involved in what's going on. The story truly carries it all the way from beginning to end, to the extent that sometimes it feels like segments that are player controlled would be better off as cut scenes. Whether you feel cheated when you play To The Moon will be determined largely by whether you're in it for the story or for depth of mechanics. Luckily, I knew what I was getting into when I played it, and the narrative was more than enough to make me happy (and sad).

Image credit: MajorMitch at Giantbomb.
My Steam overlay wasn't playing nice for taking snapshots. 
I don't think it's possible to talk about To The Moon without mentioning the soundtrack. The score truly sets the mood. The music is haunting and beautiful, particularly the "main song" of the story. You'll know which one I'm talking about when you play, because it's played so much it almost (almost) loses its effect.

I must make a few comments on the narrative while hopefully avoiding anything too spoiler-y. I do not think that the story was well served by the "sci-fi memory diving machine" aspect. It was almost entirely separate from the true story being told, the dying man's life story. I also found that the dialogue was sometimes painfully unrealistic or awkward, particularly between the two doctors working through his memories. There were too many moments that felt like the writer was saying "Look! This character is a nerd! You are probably a nerd! This makes this character cool!" I found that particular character obnoxious because he was inconsistent with the tone of the story.

Despite my narrative bashing and dislike of cliches, my cynical self was shedding manly tears by 2/3 or so through the game. I cry when things are sad, so your results may vary, but there's a certain twist that left me pleasantly surprised.

To The Moon is a good peek at how narratives in video games could develop in the future. Between Bioshock: Infinite and this, I am optimistic (though I think I've had enough stories with lighthouse motifs for a while.) It's nowhere near perfect, particularly in the "game" aspect, but it's a step forward. For that, To The Moon was totally worth $2.50, and I'd recommend picking up the soundtrack as well if you've got the cash.

Thanks for reading. Please comment below, follow me on twitter @CraigCainkar, and follow, share, bookmark, staple, or lick this blog if you enjoyed it! And if you have any suggestions for what you would like to see in future entries, please leave that in the comments as well. . . If you suggest a game and I own it, I will most likely play it for the next entry.