Fly me to the moon, and let me play amongst the stars….
Let me review indie games and find out if they’re arse…
ahem…. anyway… I reviewed To The Moon, Full text below, link to original piece here.
In a huge secluded clifftop mansion, beside crashing cliffs and an old yet beautiful lighthouse, two scientists have arrived to ease the passing of an ageing man. Their work, using technological wizardry to instil desired memories of a false past into the man’s mind during the final moments of his life, to fulfil a lifelong ambition of travelling “To the Moon”. To do this, they must physically walk through a virtual construct of his memories, uncovering the strongest moment of this desire and fixing his will to that point.
With a premise that falls halfway between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Total Recall, it’s not surprising that tonally To The Moon has a little difficulty finding its feet. It’s a curious beast from every angle; more story than game, more game than realism and with it’s writing rooted firmly in the style of a classic 8-bit RPG. That said, whilst the game looks like an RPG it fundementally is a point & clicker but with little puzzle element to it. It’s more of a linear step-through of Johnny’s memories, with inevitable clues and hints of there being more than first presented.
You can’t argue with the indie pedigree of To The Moon, written and designed by indie developer Kan Gao and constructed using the RPG Maker toolkit. The game is a clever piece of design and as the ‘visual novel’ it purports to be, it does a great job of telling a bittersweet and very human story that will reduce most players to moistly welling eyes at the very least, if not full on body-rocking sobs. The story of Johnny, his wife, the lighthouse, and the mystery of the origami rabbits is both touching and believeable without ever feeling contrived. What’s more, the game’s music is wonderful and the soundtrack is both available online, and bundled on a CD with the boxed release. So you can easily enjoy the heartstring tuggingly repeatitive refrains of soulful piano music and synthesised orchestral soaring after the credits have rolled.
The only flaw with To The Moon is in the means of telling the story, Gao has fallen on clichéd characters that have no place in a serious game & never once act like professional adults. Doctors Rosaline and Watts bicker like, well like teenage characters in a bad anime series. The concept of these two being long standing colleagues, and scientists seems ludicrious in the extreme, which is a shame, as the rest of the cast are either subtly or at least cleanly drawn. It wouldn’t be such an issue were it not that at several points, the churlish dialogue becomes legitimately grating and towards the end acts only to facilitate an utterly unnecessary shoe-horned in arcadey ‘action’ sequence.
Despite such cribs, To The Moon is still a very enjoyable experience. More recently this trend in creating interactive stories rather than games has come into its own right and in this case Gao has fashioned a high bar for others to follow. With the hinted opportunity of a sequel, or a following episode there is the opportunity for the concept to grow and evolve into something that knows truly what it wants to be.