This is definitely one of the odder reviews in my time, not because of the game itself, but because I never actually played the game I am reviewing. This would normally mean that any review I could possibly write on the subject would be completely null and void (for what is the point of reviewing a game you haven’t played, that doesn’t make any sense). However! I would like to suggest you read on for reasons which I will explain momentarily.
The game in question is the indie, story-based, self-styled “Adventure RPG” To The Moon, developed by Freebird Games. The game uses pixel arts and pixel sprites for graphics, is £6.99 on steam and has received numerous awards for it’s outstanding nature. The game’s protagonists are the Doctors Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene who work for a company which grants dying people their final wishes. In a blend between Inception and Total Recall this company sends it’s Doctors into patients minds to give them false memories of whatever they choose so that they can die happy (in the game lore these artificial memories clash with the real ones and so cannot be done with a person still alive). The game follows the two of the Doctors as they travel through the memories of one Johnny Wyles, slowly jumping backwards in time through his mind in order to plant his final desire to go to the Moon into his mind so that he can die happy, in the process they are privy to some of the biggest and most stand-out memories of his life.
I was unfortunate in that I was only vaguely aware of the release of this game on Steam back in early September (despite having actually been released last November) and I was only recently made fully aware when I watched Pewdiepie’s playthrough of it. Again, I ought to reiterate, I only watched Pewdie playing the game, which is essentially the same as watching over someone else’s shoulder for the entire thing without trying it out. Despite that, I believe that I have developed an extremely fair and pretty accurate description of the game. Seriously… Read on!
It is, quite simply, one of the most wonderful stories I have every had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time. It is in equal measures both tragically, and I mean ridiculously, sad and depressing but still comes to, somehow, a fulfilling and glorious outcome. It was an experience that I don’t think I will ever forget, even though I wasn’t the one playing it.
As an MMGamer I ought to describe what is wrong with it first (which is difficult to make myself do, I tell you what). First off, it’s nearly impossible to describe this as a “game” really. Play-style wise it reminded me of the Stanley Parable or Dear Esther more than anything else. You can move around the small environments you are placed in and you can interact with a few bits and pieces around you, but that’s about it. You are given the same type of puzzle (admittedly with different components and locations and some a little more difficult than their predecessors) each time you wish to progress, and really every single one is really easy and doesn’t really take much thought. As a game, you move around an area, solve the small puzzle and then repeat, and if it were only that then it would be a really rather dull and boring game (the puzzles aren’t ever particularly imaginative either).
Also, despite styling itself as an Adventure RPG, in reality there is no adventuring done and there are definitely no RPG elements, that I could make out at least. Overall, as a game, it isn’t all that special, and is in fact rather pointless.
However, like Dear Esther or the Stanley Parable, it is far easier to see the game from another perspective. It is, in fact, far better to describe the game as an “interactive story”. Sure there are puzzle and game elements, but the point of you being there is to experience the absolutely breathtaking story they have created. And this is the main reason why I don’t feel bad for reviewing it despite not having played it because, really, it’s not really something you NEED to play to experience in it’s fullness.
Before I get onto the story, the by far and away strongest element, I should point out the other good elements of the game, because they require a little less raving and worshipping (but only a little). First off is the soundtrack for the game. The music is both absolutely lovely and perfectly atmospheric, always doing exactly what is necessary for the scene. In scenes where it is not the focus the music drifts quietly along in the background, providing a beautiful soundtrack to play along to, and when the story gets intense and reaches important and life-changing moments the soundtrack soars into a magnificent crescendo which captures the scenes absolutely perfectly.
As well as this, the graphics of the game, as Pewdie puts it “graphics don’t have to be realistic or 3-D to be beautiful”. And this is entirely true with To The Moon, the pixel art is absolutely lovely and completely charming, every single part of the game looking as excellent as the last and is a delight to behold.
But enough of that, I want to talk to you about the story. I want to put something in perspective for you. I am cold and cruel bastard, it takes a lot for a book, film, game, whatever, to make me cry. The end of the Titanic didn’t even bother me. The death of Bambie’s mother was brushed aside with my memories of the rest of the film. Sure, I can appreciate that these are sad moments, but I never really felt that complete overwhelming emotion to make me shed a tear. In fact I can name three things which in my memory have made me come close to tears. The death of Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring usually upsets me. The end of Mass Effect (and the deaths of some of the squad members) did cause a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. And even that… Even my favourite series of all time couldn’t really compare to this.
At first, the story is engaging, there are funny, genuinely laugh-out-loud, moments and sad moments (nothing too overwhelming and relatively easily brushed off). The characters are well written and it is as enjoyable to watch as it is to play, I imagine anyway. But then the big plot twist came. The moment when finally ALL was revealed, the moment we spent so long waiting for in came and I was left absolutely speechless. And I cried.
I had heard before watching the videos (background research, you know how it is) that it was impossible to play the game without crying and naturally I laughed it off. “Pfft! Never cried for any story! Never have, never will!” And To The Moon broke me as easily as it broke all the others who have played it. I won’t lie and say I bawled like a baby, but I did cry. And I don’t just mean tears in my eyes, I literally had them flowing down my face, a fact which shocked me as much as the story itself did. It was one of the most horribly sad and upsetting moments I have ever experienced and I was completely overwhelmed by it. After this I watched Pewdie continuing through the game, and the end was so satisfying, that despite the upset I couldn’t help but smile with joy.
It was, without question, a story I will never forget and I can’t express just how wonderful, saddening and uplifting the whole experience was. I am having trouble finding the right words to describe it because honestly it was just so fantastic and beautiful. “Beautiful” being a word that I think sums up the game entirely.
With this new knowledge, the knowledge of just how amazing this story was, I feel absolutely gutted that I decided to watch Pewdie playing the game rather than buy it myself. If I had known what I do now about how I would feel, I would have bought this game in an instant and I would never have looked back. I can only imagine just how heart-rending the game would be to the one playing it, and not just someone watching it from the sidelines.
Now I want to make it clear, as a “game” this honestly doesn’t have very much going for it. It is approximately four and half hours long, for £6.99 which is a little steep and as there isn’t really any choices in the game there isn’t really any replay value at all. So if you are after gameplay and repeated amusement then this game is definitely not for you. However, as a story, I don’t think I’ve seen something to match it in quite some time and it is for this that I will give the game: