IE Grapevine Updates

Kevin’s Arcade: Narrative is best part of ‘To the Moon’

Happy 2014! It’s a new year, and at the beginning of the new year, it is tradition to start off fresh and create a New Year’s resolution to better yourself.To_the_Moon_cover

In keeping with tradition, I have made a resolution to keep my articles up to date and topical, keeping with the times and never reaching back for new material.

Also in keeping with New Year’s traditions, I am now going to immediately break my resolution and review a game that came out in 2011. Though it was recently ported over to OSX and Linux, so I guess that still makes it somewhat relevant. Anyway, here’s “To the Moon”, an interactive story from Freebird Games.

One of the first things I noticed upon booting up “To the Moon” was the menu music, a mixture of orchestral strings, piano, and a little dose of midi keyboards which created a sensation like snorting pure happiness while having your high school crush tell you they’ve always had strong feelings for you, by which I mean it sounds nice.

After ingesting a solid dose of pure auditory elation, I decided I’d better start the actual game part of this game, because this wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t.

So I started up the game and was met with an image of two children playing an upbeat song on a grand piano. Just as I was beginning to notice a theme here, a car crash is heard and we are introduced to our main protagonists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts are employees of Sigmund Corp., a company that specializes in altering the memories of the dying to make them believe that their innermost dreams and goals had been accomplished in their lifetime.

Their patient for the day is Johnny Wyles, an elderly widower who wants to go to the moon. The problem is, Johnny doesn’t know why he wants to go to the moon, which sends Rosalene and Watts on an adventure through Johnny’s memories to figure out why he wants to go to the moon, and how they can get him there.

Along the way, though, a story is unfolded that there is much more to this man and his deceased wife, River, than meets the eye.

The actual gameplay elements are very simple. So simple, in fact, that they are practically non-existent.Gameplay in “To the Moon” involves little more than guiding Rosalene and Watts through one of Johnny’s memories, looking for various memory triggers that will unlock a memento.

These mementos are then activated through simple tile flipping puzzles, which allows the two scientists to move further back into Johnny’s memory.

There are a couple small mini games littered here and there throughout the story, but they’re so fleeting and simplistic that they don’t really warrant a mention.

Though the actual gameplay elements of this game are contrived and simplistic, it’s only because it is simply acting as a vehicle for the game’s narrative, which is where “To the Moon” really shines.

The story is an absolute roller coaster ride of emotions from beginning to end, and it hooks you in quickly. Because the story is told in reverse chronological order, the story plays out very much like a mystery novel. You know the ending, and the rest of the story is about fitting together the beginning, finding out what was happening with Johnny and River that caused events to play out the way they did, and act the way they do.

The game does a fantastic job of painting the tragic story of these characters, and it can at times be quite a tear jerker. These moments are made all the more poignant when juxtaposed against the games sense of humor.

The banter between Rosalene and Watts does a great job of fleshing them out as characters, making them seem more realistic, and adds some much needed levity in times when the game’s story can get a bit overbearing.

However a good portion of the game’s humor comes in the form of parody and reference, with nods to such things as “Dr. Who” and Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and also poking fun at various video game tropes.

This is all well and good, but often can leave some players scratching their heads if they aren’t “in the know” as to that particular topic. The jokes are hit and miss, ranging from laugh-out-loud hilarious to eye-rolling goofiness.

Still, the humor serves its purpose, and even when it misses the mark, it’s never so bad as to pull the rest of the game down, and still allows the game’s story to be one of the best I’ve played through in a long time.

So that’s “To the Moon” in the nutshell. A simple game that serves only to tell an absolute roller coaster ride of a story that will pull you through a wringer of emotions until it ultimately builds to an ending that will leave you feeling nothing but satisfaction and a giddy feeling in your brain that says “I’m glad I played that.”

Really, there’s nothing else to say. Just play it. Now. Go.

“To the Moon” is available for $10 on Steam, Origin, GOG.com (DRM-free), or can be bought directly from the developers at freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/.

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