To The Moon is an incredibly difficult to game to review because it’s one of those things where any criticism of it at all will be countered by “you just didn’t get it” by its fans. Especially since it’s an incredibly story driven experience, with a story that appears to have a lot of holes in it.
You play as Dr Eva Rosalene and Dr Neil Watts, utilising technology that allows them to explore and change people’s memories. With this technology they seek to grant to wish of dying old man Johnny, who wishes to be sent to the Moon. Where the game is ambiguous about all this is whether Johnny wants to actually be sent to the Moon, or if he just wants his memory rewritten to make himself think he went to the Moon. Why anyone would want their memories entirely rewritten minutes before they die is baffling enough, but how changing one thing in someones memory completely rewrites their account of how they’ve lived their life is another mystery.
So the concept kind of falls apart if you think about it…at all. But that’s not where the true heart of To The Moon lies. The real experience is tracking backwards through an old man’s life, through some of his tragedies and more importantly through his relationship with high school sweetheart River. The game even touches a little on dealing with mental illness which is interesting if not thoroughly followed up on.
The back of the box claims that To The Moon will make you cry through its story. Let’s get this straight, there’s two things in this world that make me cry, the fact I woke up this morning and that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa and Maggie say their first words, To The Moon is not one of them however. The game in general seems to have a questionable morality, the whole rewriting memories before death thing is a big offputting in itself, but there’s other confusing moments throughout the story as well.
One example occurs when Johnny uses money that could have covered River’s medical bills to finish building a house because that meant a lot to her, so River DIES and the game seems to present this as Johnny making the right decision. The explanation for why the house was so important to River later on is a bit weak and doesn’t really expand much further than “she was a bit screwed in the head.” Letting mentally ill people cause harm to themselves for dumb things that they want is not a moral thing to do, some mentally ill people want to see what the insides of their organs look like or spend their lives constantly rearranging their DVD collection, you tell them NO.
All of that is just opinion and you may experience the game differently, one thing that is truly horrible about the writing is the comedy aspect. In a game that is trying to tell such a mature and emotional story, it’s baffling why there’s so much attempt at comic relief. The banter between the two scientists is entirely forced and overwritten like it was scripted by Joss Whedon after he drank 5 gallons of paint and energy drinks. The game just isn’t funny, and the fact that it constantly tries so hard makes it embarrassing to play at times.
Eagle eyed and likeable readers looking for a structured report on the game’s content and not just glancing at the score out of 5 before they shoot back off to Reddit will notice nothing has been said of the gameplay so far. This is To The Moon’s biggest failure really, not the fact that it pushes story over gameplay, but the fact it does nothing to tell the story through gameplay. You only control characters pretty much to move to the next scene, so you may as well be hitting the skip button on a DVD remote. The game has a weird habit of giving you pointless choices that can be summed up as “Do you want to continue the game or wander around aimlessly?” Which seem to only be there to make sure you don’t feel too left out. This is understandable as the fact that you play as two scientists merely watching these memories play out can give a feeling of disattachment to the story.
That’s not entirely fair, there are some elements of gameplay to keep you active and give you a reason for being there. When you transition from memory to memory, you have to play an incredibly easy tile flipping puzzle! Wait, that’s a ludricous idea, that would be like if Heavy Rain ditched it’s quick time events and instead made you watch every scene and do a 4 x 4 sudoku puzzle before you moved on to the next one. The truth is To The Moon has a cute little story, but we’re reviewing a video game here and as a video game it’s just not very good, even as an interactive storytelling experience it doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t discredit the product, but the fact is there’s absolutely no reason why To The Moon couldn’t have been a book or a flash cartoon.
This review may seem like it’s full of bile but To The Moon certainly has an indescribeable charm to it that carries it along through it’s faults. It’s generally well paced, doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, has a good soundtrack and there are definitely some really nice moments to the story. It you’re looking for a short story and aren’t as jaded as this reviewer then I can comfortably recommend To The Moon, those looking for a video game however are going to be disappointed.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.