‘To the Moon’ video game review
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
To the Moon took me through an emotional rollercoaster of a story that really did take me to the moon and back.
To the Moon is an indie game developed and published by Freebird Games. It is a story-driven experience that features minimal gameplay, consisting mainly of exploring the scene and investigating items. The premise of the game itself is incredible: Two doctors (Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts) tap into a man’s (Johnny’s) memories and use a special machine to, per previously signed wish fulfillment contract, alter his memories as he lies on his deathbed.
The exceptional plot is unravelled backwards, which is a curious form of storytelling. Playing as the doctors, you go into Johnny’s memories beginning at his most recent memory prior to being on his deathbed. Using the help of this memory, you learn what it is that Johnny most wishes he had accomplished within his life. In this case, he asks the doctors to fulfil his wish of going to the moon. However, at this point he has no apparent reason for wanting to go to the moon.
This specific desire creates the main conflict for the doctors later because without enough information to link his earlier memories together, and without enough information to convince Johnny’s younger self to become an astronaut, the doctors must puzzle together what to do. Either that, or they must find out the real reason Johnny wants to go to the moon—and the answer to that is not even close to what I had anticipated. The thrill of finding out new information as we go back in time and puzzle his life together, with the reasons that led his life one way or another, is an experience like no other.
Johnny’s life is written so well, yet so frustrating is his wish, that it is hard to believe that the doctors can change anything at all. In fact, the doctors Eva and Neil have their own bouts of conflict amongst themselves when challenged by Johnny’s futile wish, with regard to what they personally believe would have made him happier. They face extremely difficult choices often and they must think fast: While they traverse Johnny’s mind, his health in the present is continually deteriorating so they only have so much time.
In addition to the charmingly concocted story, the characters also all have their own endearing quirks. Johnny’s late spouse River is like a world of her own. In fact, most of Johnny’s memories revolve around her, as though she really is strong enough of a force for him to gravitate around. The doctors are a dynamic duo as well. Eva is the even-headed one while still being an occasional goofball, whereas Neil is sometimes hot-tempered and aloof. They both have quick wit and are often caught up in banter, which is always interesting and humorous to read. At one point they discuss the difficulties involved in moving a grand piano to a different floor of the house, concluding that not only would it still be difficult to move upstairs with a TARDIS from Doctor Who, but as Neil says, “It’d probably take an entire episode to get it inside.”
Neil is easily my favourite character because his unfiltered quips at the worst moments are a great form of comic relief amid constant tragedy. Even while watching teenage Johnny stand around in a movie theatre by himself, Neil is quick to say, “Getting stood up? Now that’s a Kodak moment.”
The audio within the game is a tear-jerker. The soundtrack pieces are moving piano ballads that have extreme significance within the game itself. Some of the pieces even have their own evolving backstory as the game’s story unravels, giving the songs themselves much more meaning than initially suggested.
The visuals are breathtaking despite being a 2D pixel world. The colours are beautifully chosen, with very dreamlike hues that represent the amber tone of memories. The simplicity of the visual and audio aspects helps to add that much more emotional depth to the story, as nothing takes away from another aspect. The entire game feels like a perfectly coordinated symphony.
To the Moon explores the large and unanswerable question of “What if I had done this instead?” regarding our past. We can’t change our past and we only have one chance to live our lives as authentically as we can, so this game encourages us to do so. Even just living through the entire human experience in a few short hours makes for an intense, personal connection to the game.
To the Moon is available to purchase for $11 on Steam. It plays for about four hours, and these hours really are worth every penny.