Review: To the Moon

Developer: Freebird Games | Year: 2011 | List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Steam

To the MoonTo the Moon is another one of those indie games that I hear tell of and then ignore, only to try months later and realise what the hype was all about. Developed by Freebird Games, this story-rich 16-bit adventure puts you in the shoes of a couple of scientists as they modify the memory of a dying old man and grant him the memory of having been to the moon. Along the way they uncover the events of his life that spawned his desire to go to the moon as well as discover the tragedies that caused him to die unfulfilled.

Like other story-based games, such as Telltale Games‘ adventure games and the indie hit Gone Home, To the Moon isn’t so much a video game in the traditional sense, so much as it is an experience. During the 4-hour narrative, it feels more like you’re a finger prodding the story to move forward, rather than a player in the world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, because To the Moon tells a story that manages to be sad and heartwarming at the same time. There are a couple twists and turns here and there, and possibly due to the fact that it is so short, you’ll find yourself curious the whole way through. And when it is over, the story is wrapped with a neat bow that ties up all loose ends.

The visual style emulates the bygone era of 16-bit classics such as Earthbound and Chrono Trigger. Despite this, the sprite animation doesn’t detract from the cinematic experience that is To the Moon. In fact, on more than one occasion, I actually laughed out loud, something I don’t often do when playing video games. But where To the Moon really shines is in its soundtrack. Composed by Laura Shigihara, the composer of Plants vs. Zombies‘ music, every theme is carefully crafted to work with the feel of the moments, and there are recurring motifs that don’t mean much at the beginning of the story, but come back packing an emotional wallop when you learn what they signify in the context of the story.

To the Moon and its brethren of interactive story-telling games won’t be for everyone, but those who have an open mind and a couple of hours to spare won’t regret giving it a try. It really is a great omen for the industry that little indie creations can sit alongside big budget Ubisoft and EA titles and receive the same love from fans and critics alike.

Design: 10/10 To the Moon is a delightful romp that incorporates design choices from the best 16-bit classics with a story that shares similarities with 2010’s Inception. The characters are well-written and likeable, and the narrative is cohesive and thought-out. To the Moon isn’t a title that tries to be too much at once, but what it does it pulls off with aplomb.

Visuals: 9/10 The 16-bit retro style may seem cliché for an indie title, but To the Moon uses it well, managing to give the sprites and backgrounds a character. This is thanks in part to great animation that is as comical as it is powerful. The many cinematics are enhanced with interesting techniques, such as blurring and sepia, that are effective, if a little overdone at times.

Sound: 10/10 The soundtrack is nothing short of beautiful, with tracks ranging from cinematic orchestrations to heartfelt piano themes. The game plays with motifs and they evolve as the story does, even playing a small role in the story as a whole.

Gameplay: 7/10 There isn’t really much gameplay to speak of, with the player spending most of their time collecting orbs called mementos that really serve only to ensure the player doesn’t skip important plot points. That said, while bare, it doesn’t get too repetitive and doesn’t impede the flow of the narrative that is the main draw of To the Moon.

Value: 6/10 The game normally goes for about $10, which is a little much considering you won’t get more than about 4 or 5 hours from it. That said, I got it on sale for under $4 and at that price, it’s a no brainer. Also, there isn’t a whole lot of replay value, though I’d consider giving it another go the same way I’d rewatch a movie. The story’s that good.

Total: 42/50 (B)

Have you played To the Moon? If not, there’s a Steam sale going on from now until 2 December wherein it’s 65% off. Tell us what you think of the game in the comments!

I have an apocalyptic backlog of games to get through, exacerbated in part by my rediscovery of Steam. Here’s a list of all the games I have bought but not yet finished (in no particular order):

  • Borderlands 2
  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss
  • Persona 4
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Pokemon Alpha Sapphire Version
  • The Walking Dead: Season One
  • Half Life 2
  • Parasite Eve
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Child of Light

I really do plan of finishing every single one of these games in the coming months, so keep an eye out right here on Kantaloupe.

In the meantime, why not check out our other videogame reviews here. I play mostly (handheld) console games, but who knows? I just ordered a DualShock 4 controller which I’ve heard works with Mac, so I may be playing more computer games in future (keyboard and mouse has been a problem for me lately, having played a lot of console games in recent months). To celebrate my first computer game review in years, I’ve created an always up-to-date ranked list of my favourite computer games of all time. You can find my console game ranking here.

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