To The Moon

 

Genre:   Interactive story - Adventure

Developer & Publisher:   Freebird Games

Released:  November, 2011

 

 

 

by Becky

You have reached the end of a long life and you have one serious, overwhelming regret: is there a chance that life can provide a do-over?

In the world of To the Moon, the answer is yes.

Scientists at Sigmund Corp. have invented a machine that enables technicians to enter your memories and refashion them, allowing you to experience what it would have been like if you had played in a rock-'n'-roll band. Or climbed Mount Everest. Or travelled to the moon.

The End is Where we Start From

The game opens as Dr. Eva Rosalene (Senior Memory Traversal Agent) and Dr. Neil Watts (Technician/Specialist) race to the home of a client -- an elderly man named Johnny, who has only days to live.

Drs. Rosalene and Watts set up their equipment at Johnny's bedside, and ask for details of his life. They must identify mementos that can be analyzed and activated to chain together Johnny's memories, starting with the recent past and going back to his childhood. They enter each memory as it is accessed, looking for another memento to link them back further and further until they reach the earliest memories. Once the memory links are established, they can travel back through Johnny's life, changing his memories to emphasize a burning ambition -- overriding everything (and everyone) else -- culminating in a memory of achieving the one thing that eluded him.

Viewing Johnny's life backwards, then forwards is a humdinger of a story. His memories are unusually challenging for a couple of reasons; one of which is that, in the past, he seems to have had no interest at all in going to the moon. Creative tweaking and a bit of luck finally uncover the clue that might make it possible to launch Johnny into outer space.

Surly Bonds of Earth

This is a third person, point-and-click adventure in which you sometimes play as Dr. Rosalene and sometimes as Dr. Watts. As you learn more about Johnny, you also learn more about the two interlopers in the landscape of his memories. Eva and Neil's longstanding relationship -- with its ups and downs -- emerges during their ongoing, often amusing banter. They are clearly fond of one another on some level, and exasperated with one another on another. There's a sense of collegiality, but also of competition.

Certain memory changes are "by the Sigmund Corp. book." But other, less conventional alterations aren't. Eva and Neil brush over ethical questions on their way to giving Johnny what they think he wants. The game builds toward the climax as the moon starts to look like an impossible dream, and Neil and Eva disagree sharply as to how to make it possible.

Music of the Spheres

Dialogs come in short chunks which can be clicked through. Dialogs reveal character or advance the story -- very little is wordy or gratuitous. The game contains unabashed pop culture references with occasional spicy language. Some childhood and teenage references are corny but real.

The game contains no voiceovers. The only voice I heard was that of a vocalist (Laura Shigihara) who sings during one of the most moving parts of the story. Music is more important in a game without voiceovers; here it varies from classical piano to techno instrumental. The musical themes are thoughtfully adapted to each environment and support the plot events well.

Placing the cursor at the top of the screen reveals a timeline with Johnny at different life stages, giving a sense of his current age. Right-clicking brings up a menu that displays Johnny's heart monitor, indicating how he is faring in the real world, plus a list of some of the items found in the game and how they relate to the story.

Gameplay in To the Moon consists partly of finding objects that are spread throughout the environments. These are used to power the mementos. (There are no traditional inventory item puzzles.) Once the mementos are powered, they are activated through a computer screen with a grid on which some squares are grayed out. Clicking along an axis turns the squares on or off, and you strategize the moves that will end up with all the squares at the "on" position. You are allowed an unlimited number of moves, though the screen lists the fewest number of moves that will be required.

Other gameplay includes a matching puzzle, and a few mildly timed sequences in which you ride horses, evade moving obstacles, and play whac-a-mole. Though there's enough gameplay to make To the Moon feel game-like, it is definitely not aimed at gamers who cherish frequent, deviously difficult puzzles.

Man is a World in Miniature

The graphics in To the Moon are colorful and cartoon-like, and pleasant to look at. The gameworld is viewed from an overhead, top-down perspective. Although occasional use of this perspective can be an interesting contrast (for a particular puzzle, for instance), I don't favor it as the sole graphical style throughout an entire adventure game. Being "in" the gameworld is more immersive than perching above it.

The top-down view initially makes the environments seem miniaturized and disorienting. I did a lot of trial-and-error maneuvering because only small portions of each environment are visible at any one time. The angle occasionally makes it difficult to identify structures -- what looks like a stack of logs is actually a staircase, for instance. As the game progressed and because the story is so riveting, I adjusted -- so much that, by game's end, I knew the characters well, even though I had never been close enough to identify their faces.

Shoot for the Stars

To the Moon is a unique, effective way to tell a story -- backwards, then forwards with amendments. The emphasis on passages from Johnny's life -- used as landscapes to interact with/act upon -- gives the game a highly personal, biographical tone. The idea is so intriguing that I wonder if, in the future, a similar technology might actually be deployed in "real life."

The game encourages the gamer to ponder deeper themes. Is it acceptable to manipulate a co-worker's foibles if that makes it easier to complete the job? Is a lifetime of career achievement more fulfilling than relationships with friends and family? Is it advisable to "think different" when the difference puts your life at risk?

The story in To the Moon is entirely self-contained, though the epilogue makes it clear that Eva and Neil will see further adventures. I am definitely looking forward to more.

Quick List for To the Moon

A story of traveling through one individual's memories in order to refashion events in the past. Lots of character interaction. Plot twists, engaging dialog, a thoughtful resolution of the game's mysteries. Occasional mild expletives. No voiceovers. Unusually effective background music.

Colorful cartoon-like environments, viewed from a top-down perspective. Multiple grid puzzles, three mildly timed challenges, searching the environments for meaningful items. Puzzle difficulty is on the easy side. No sliders, no sound based puzzles. A couple of the locations are large enough that, from the top-down view, they are maze-like. You don't need to distinguish colors, but you do need to distinguish color intensity.

Third person perspective, point-and-click interface. About six hours of gameplay. No problems with installation, no glitches. Three save game slots plus an autosave feature. The game is appropriate for teens and up. You can't die.

Aimed at adventure gamers who like a well told tale and are willing to step off the beaten path.

Final Grade:

As an adventure game: B

As an interactive Story: A

To the Moon is an Independent production of Freebird Games, and can be downloaded from the game's website.

 

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January 2012

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