In This week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I went back in time through a man’s memories and felt something along the way.
Much like Jazzpunk last week, I came to To The Moon with no idea what I was getting myself into. Turns out, like Jazzpunk, it is little more than a walking-around simulator but I wasn’t left disappointed. Quite the opposite, actually. To The Moon exceeds its limited ‘game’ boundaries and becomes something far more interesting.
Now it isn’t much to look at. It looks like a product of the 90s only a bit muddier. I mean, To The Moon isn’t even in HD as it runs in a resolution of 640 by 480. The landscapes are very ‘autumnal’ and way too similar to one another. However, it does have moments of beauty whenever the lighthouse and the sky are shown. Also, the characters are very expressive despite being very small and basic. You can really see the sadness in one of the character’s face and they don’t even have to shed a tear to show it. The basic gameplay gist is that you explore various locations in this dude’s mind and click on objects when it prompts you to. You then collect some facet of the object and then use it on an something that links you to the next level. You then do a very basic puzzle where you have to make sure the entire picture of the object is filled in. That, along with talking to people, is pretty much it. Nothing to write home about.
But all these shortcomings are made up by an absolutely fucking amazing story. The premise is: you play as a couple of scientists who go into dying people’s minds in order to fulfil their dreams just before they die. They do this by manipulating their earliest memory so that they think it has happened and die happy. Think ‘Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind’ mixed with a bit of ‘Inception’ only less…interactive if you get my meaning.
You then leap through each of Johnny (the dying man’s) memories looking for the right moment to make sure he goes ‘to the moon’. What you end up seeing is Johnny’s life backwards. You see his wife die, his confusion at his wife’s mental problems (it is strongly implied she is mildly autistic), his worries, his happy memories and even points which make him seem like a piece of shit. There are several revelations about items that recur throughout the story and a couple of twists near the end that damn near blew my socks off with surprise. It was emotional, often funny and, yes, the ending made a manly tear roll down my cheek.
Along with the story, the soundtrack was the other highlight. It never felt manipulative and just added a lot of emotional weight to the already dramatic scenes that wouldn’t necessarily hit as hard if it wasn’t there. One particular refrain, called “For River” really got me choked up when it was used, despite its simplicity. The music in this game is so bloody good I actually bought it. It sits with other greats of gaming soundtracks like Braid, Fez, Super MeatBoy & Ico.
It is a shame that there isn’t more game in To The Moon. I don’t understand why developers feel that they can’t put heartfelt and emotional stories into games with actual gameplay. Ludo-narrative dissonance be damned, I want to actually play my games not click about and read.
To The Moon is short but packs so much pathos and emotion that it feels a lot longer. Much like Jazzpunk, it is a game that doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. If you want to see just how far a story in a game can go, I can’t recommend To The Moon enough.
Next up on Breaking Down the Backlog: Gunpoint.