Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To The Moon (Review)

To The Moon cover art
Among the large number of indie titles that have been published the last couple of years there have been a few special games which provide a genuinely captivating experience. To the Moon is without a doubt one of those cases; created mostly by one person, game designer and composer Kan Gao, the game is the first title to be published by Gao’s indie development team, Freebird Games.

To the Moon has been marketed as an Adventure or RPG, but the truth is that the game is mostly an interactive story similar to the nature of Heavy Rain or Dear Esther, as only a few actions are necessary to be made by the player. In order to fully appreciate the title it is important to understand that the game’s main goal is to tell a story, which is unsurprisingly its strongest point.

As the game begins we are introduced to the two main characters, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, who work for Sigmund Corp., and are heading towards the house of their newest client, Johnny Wyles. It is not easy to describe the game’s story without revealing too much; Just imagine that in the near future humanity has developed a new technology allowing one to enter someone’s memories and altering them as they wish making them believe that certain events occurred in a different way or never occurred at all. Sigmund Corp. uses this technology in order to fulfill their clients’ dying wishes, allowing them to achieve things they never did during their lifetime. This time around Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts have the task of fulfilling Johnny Wyles’ final wish to go to the moon.

As they arrive to Johnny’s house he is already in a comatose state and pretty close to death, so our two characters enter his mind and begin their work. Initially we are not given much information about Johnny, and we are left wondering why he would have such a wish. We start visiting Johnny’s memories, looking at his experiences backwards, revealing step by step more information about the man’s life from his elderly years to his childhood. At first when exploring Johnny’s mind we come by objects, names and people that do not make much sense, but as we go further into his past everything comes together. One can see pretty much from the start that besides the seemingly carefree appearance of the game - which is mainly due to its retro graphics – the title deals with a pretty serious subject. Even though such a plot might not be everyone’s cup of tea, To the Moon has a captivating story to tell and it does so brilliantly. Even though backwards storytelling is quite a tricky thing, and often leads to pitfalls, the game is more than successful in wrapping up everything superbly in the end.

To the Moon has been created using the RPG Maker software which makes it look like a role-playing game right out of the SNES era. Nonetheless, the graphics still manage to look quite charming; using a diverse colour palette the creators have produced a large number of different locations; the game never feels repetitive even though we get to visit a few areas more than once. This is mainly due to the small details added to (or removed from) each area making it appear familiar but yet different, depending on which part of Johnny’s memories we are visiting. A very positive point concerning the graphics is that they look perfectly smooth in very high resolutions, which is great considering that many new games using similar graphics look somewhat pixilated and suffer when they run in full screen.

When it comes to gameplay there are only a few things that the player is required to do in order for the story to progress. Most of the time we control both main characters at once and we only have to go from one place to another, interact with a certain character or observe the interactions between other characters and then move on in Johnny’s memory. Even though the game feels like an adventure, there are no complex puzzles to trouble the player. In fact, the only puzzle we get to solve comes when we have to find certain items, which hold a special meaning, in order to activate the next memory-jump in Johnny’s mind. These items are usually extremely easy to find but serve in understanding certain things about the story.

The lack of interaction might put some people off but the title makes it pretty clear from the start that it focuses mainly on the story. On the other hand, the game’s nature is such that any complex and challenging puzzles would probably prevent the player from focusing on the storytelling and be little more than a distraction.  The whole process of travelling from one memory to another, experiencing specific parts of Johnny’s life in reverse, is done quite well but it does tend to get a bit tedious and repetitive as most of the time we have to make the exact same steps of finding the items and then solving a simple puzzle in order to proceed. The puzzle we have to solve is basically the same sort of basic slider-puzzle every time, with only a few minor variations to make it a bit more challenging as we progress. Even though some more interactions and a larger puzzle variety would have been welcome, overall the game runs smoothly with no glitches, bugs or any other issues.

The title has no voice acting whatsoever, and even though it looks and plays like a game which is a couple of decades old, it is easy for the player to become familiar with its mechanics pretty quickly. Maybe one of the best aspects of this title is its soundtrack. Composed mainly by Kan Gao with a contribution by Laura Shigihara (of the Plants VS Zombies soundtrack), the music compliments the game’s story superbly and helps the player to be fully immersed in the whole experience. In fact, if you end up buying the game it is well worth paying the extra few in order to also get the soundtrack as the price is not that high to begin with.

This unique indie game manages to tell a story about a man’s life, his choices, his regrets, the people that meant something to him, and the impact all these eventually had on him. We get to see Johnny’s life experiences unfold in reverse and finally find out whether he gets to fulfill his dying wish and how. In the end, every detail and fact wraps up brilliantly and the story reaches a touching and thought provoking conclusion. Without a doubt that any fan of the genre and anyone who enjoys a good, deep storyline should give To the Moon a chance.

Overall: 88/100

Originally written for New Game Network

To The Moon (Review)

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