To the Moon Review

To the Moon's poignant story and swooning musical score will move you like few games can.

To the Moon relies on a ridiculous premise: Scientists tap into your memories with a special machine and then change them so that you might be granted a deathbed wish. It then uses that premise to tell a bittersweet and thematically rich story about the bond between lovers and the power of childhood memories. Each chapter in the tale reveals more about a dying man's life and further unwraps the mystery of his greatest desire: to visit the moon. To the Moon doesn't tax your brain with clever puzzles or test your skills with a mouse and keyboard. Instead, it moves your heart and inspires introspection. This modest adventure game, with its 16-bit-style visuals and its all-text dialogue, is a triumph of game storytelling, and it will stay with you long after you reach its tear-jerking conclusion.

In To the Moon, you take control of two doctors: Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts. The game is not about them, however; it's about Johnny, an elderly man drawing his last few breaths. Eva and Neil have been hired to give Johnny one last chance to fulfill his dream of flying to the moon. To do so, they must enter Johnny's mind and manipulate his memories with a special machine devised for this very purpose. The doctors may not be able to change Johnny's actual past, but they can alter the past as he has remembered it, triggering events that allow his dream to come to fruition.

From this science-fiction premise evolves one of the most authentic and human stories told in a game in some time. And even this premise starts with a provocative and universal quandary: "How would my life have been altered if I'd taken a different path?" From there, Eva and Neil worm their way into Johnny's past, starting with the recent past and moving backward. With each leap, Johnny's life and personality come more clearly into focus, even as several mysteries complicate the doctors' progress and threaten to potentially derail their success. The mysteries begin with a simple conundrum: Johnny doesn't know why he wants to visit the moon. He just does. From this one riddle arise many others. Many of them revolve around Johnny's wife, River, whose unusual obsessions and emotional distance became increasingly difficult to cope with and understand.

The story is successful for many reasons, one of which is the convincing dialogue. The conflicts you witness feel real, not contrived. When a friend accuses Johnny of being selfish, he lashes back in his heartbreak and insists that he's earned the right to his selfishness. Eva and Neil frequently butt heads, and Neil's casual aloofness is sometimes more than the empathetic Eva can bear. But their witty banter is often laugh-out-loud funny and prevents the poignant main tale from lapsing into sappiness. Another important factor is the story's structure. By leading you through Johnny's life in reverse, To the Moon impresses upon you the idea that some of the most relevant moments of our lives are the earliest. The game's tender finale might leave you in tears, but it isn't manipulative. By drawing you through a single man's life and reminding us that ordinary people can have extraordinary effects on each other, the game earns every tear you shed.

Shh. People are trying to read.

How amazing that effusive emotion pours from a game with such unassuming production values. When you first boot up the game, you might temporarily think you're playing a Super Nintendo role-playing game, due to the 16-bit art style, simple character sprites, and synthesized orchestral score. But any misgivings you have about the dated visuals should quickly melt away once the story moves into high gear. The soundtrack deserves much of this credit. A simple piano theme serves as River's motif; its repetitive undercurrent evokes that character's compulsive tendencies. Another track's few simple notes effectively communicate tension and danger. And one poignant sequence is given more resonance by the softly sung ballad that accompanies it. To the Moon doesn't feature any voice acting, but the written dialogue effectively uses dramatic punctuation and capitalization to communicate excitement and fear.

To the Moon's purpose is to tell a stirring story, not to deliver a compelling gameplay experience. Though it plays much like a point-and-click adventure, there are very few puzzles standing between you and the narrative. Between leaps in Johnny's memory, you solve a hidden-picture puzzle of sorts that has you clicking on a row of tiles to flip them over. But these puzzles are easy, and while you can try to complete them in the minimum number of moves possible, there's no reward for demonstrating such cleverness. You move from area to area by clicking on your destination or using the arrow keys. The controls can be a bit quirky; clicking on an interactive object may not have the expected results if you aren't standing in the right place, for example. A similar lack of responsiveness intrudes in a few other areas, as in an odd shoot-'em-up minigame near the conclusion.

On several occasions, however, To the Moon effectively uses gameplay to serve the story. In one sequence, the game toys with your expectations, pretending to become a turn-based RPG and then subverting the notion with a heavy dose of charm and humor. A visit to a horse farm has you galloping about on horseback while your hapless partner acts like a witless fool. A simple puzzle in which you rotate objects to match them isn't challenging, but it's an appropriate complement to the otherworldly environment in which it takes place. To the Moon is largely a work of interactive fiction, even more so than the traditional PC adventure game. But the interactive elements are nevertheless part of its power, as demonstrated by these and other events. And because these events are so different from each other, they retain an element of surprise.

The easy puzzles are just a way to keep you interacting with this special story.

If you lament the state of story in games, To the Moon is a game you must play. It's available for download from developer Freebird Games' website for $11.99, which seems about right for this affecting four-hour tale. Those four hours pack a real punch, inviting you to consider just how a single event can change your destiny. For now, you should take control of your own destiny and play To the Moon. You'll be glad you did.

The Good
Inspiring story will simultaneously break your heart and warm it
Great dialogue that punctuates deep emotion with wit and humor
Gorgeous music
Certain sections cleverly use gameplay to enhance the story
The Bad
Some gameplay elements flounder
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

Discussion

56 comments
Grodoboldo
Grodoboldo

Just finished it. Absolutely loved it!!!

Tiwill44
Tiwill44

Gameplay is abysmal, story is great. 5/10.

widdowson91
widdowson91

One of the best stories I have ever experienced in a video game.

Cwagmire21
Cwagmire21

Just finished it. Man, I don't think I've had a game actually make me tear up before. This game proves you don't need photo-realistic graphics to tell an emotional story.

chicknfeet
chicknfeet moderator

Gotta say, i'm enjoying the game so far

ogamo_de
ogamo_de

We have just finished playing and reviewing this game. Maybe not that positiv as here, but you German readers can see yourselves. Just visit our website and take a look!

ACMC85
ACMC85

I did not like playing this game. But, the music was incredible and the script pretty good and characters were fun to see. I think this would be better as a movie. I would love to be able to watch this, but playing felt more like a chore when I just wanted to know more about the characters and see where they were going.

Accuracy158
Accuracy158

Umm wow... ....  I just played through this game after having it in my backlog for a couple years.  It's a memorable game.

contraigon
contraigon

A friend of mine said he would never cry over a game and I begged to differ....I win.

Romeric87
Romeric87

I love this game. Played it through twice in two days. Found it on Steam sale and I'm so glad I did. I don't think I'll ever forget it. The trouble is that I can't listen to the soundtrack (excellent by the way) without getting upset!

Brilliant. Now to convince my friends to play it!

The_Red_Shadow
The_Red_Shadow

Also a 10 for me.  I played this for the first time just a couple months ago and I still think about this game from time to time.  I'm now enjoying watching the game on YouTube by some of my favorite Let's Players.  It never gets old!

insignia08
insignia08

this game's a 10 for me. I probably won't forget this game. ever. 

GriffinBalls
GriffinBalls

This is the second Indie game today that has appeared under new releases due out in the next month. This game has been out for ages. What gives gamespot?

cushin
cushin

a wonderful game, i love main soundtrack

ferna1234
ferna1234

this game made me cry like an old woman :(

boreddoom
boreddoom

@EdotheHero Try pressing ALT+ENTER?

EdotheHero
EdotheHero

@Gurzociurlo :O that's really odd... it always just launches in full screen :S but nevermind I've already got over it and so far it's deep :)

Gurzociurlo
Gurzociurlo

@EdotheHero as far as I know, you can't play it full screen.

EdotheHero
EdotheHero

this might sound noob, but how do you decrease the size of the window once you launch it? i would prefer not to have it full screen

Pickleking23
Pickleking23

One of my favorite games. Could be THE best story told in a video game in my opinion.

Shahinkh
Shahinkh

One of the best games I've ever played,

omidsi
omidsi

a brilliant game. such a wonderful story. I cried a lot for River. it's one of my 20 top games that I've ever played!

Kenji_02
Kenji_02

@ riddlerj - I know the feeling. It's why I fell in love with video games in the first place

shah500
shah500

THEY SHOULD MAKE TERROISTS AN AMERICANS PLAY THIS GAME

riddlerj
riddlerj

Playing this game inspired me to start finally making my own. Anything that can make you wake up and do what you've been struggling to do for years is nothing less than monumental.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

@ZackMAck43 I would pity people like him if it didn't make me so angry they exist in the first place. Not only is this my favourite video game story and one of my favourite games ever, it's also compares favourably to some of the very best in American literature, "Our Town" comes to mind. I've never cried at a game, I've never even cried at a film, I've cried once in my life while reading a book, and I cried on TWO occasions during this game. As you said, this guy either has a heart of stone or a brain of s***.

ZackMAck43
ZackMAck43

@stan_boyd guess we found someone with a heart of stone

ZackMAck43
ZackMAck43

@kubatovic You have to ride into Neil , like literately right trough him, good luck : D

NomadofDarkness
NomadofDarkness

@Kubatovic u should ride near other ppls and they should give orb i think. or mmm try going to the road if u are on foot.

Kubatovic
Kubatovic

i cant complete the horse riding level, where do i find all the orbs for momento??

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

Boring, if I want a story with no gameplay I will read a book or watch a movie. This was not enjoyable at all for me, sure the story telling was fine but rather than lying on my comfy couch or comfy bed I had to sit there in my not so comfy computer chair and just read There is no game here.

NomadofDarkness
NomadofDarkness

Best story ever. Spent 4 hour playing but few days thinking. Just amazing never thought that story would twist and finish like dat.

ZackMAck43
ZackMAck43

@lostn it depends on what you value, first of all it looks great even on my 37ince tv. second I would gladly pay 60 dollars for this beause this is like an awesome book, an awesome soundtrack and great art. I will never buy COD for 60dollars, is it worth 60 dollars,probably not. It was probably more expensive to make than "To the moon" but final product its worth a million times more. Do you think Mona Lisa was expensive to make? yet its worth over a 100 mill dollars today.

lostn
lostn

Should release on Android and iOS imo. The PC isn't the place I would go to for a 16 bit looking game. Blown up to full screen it would have to look ugly. It's also a bit pricey compared to the production values found in 99c games on mobile.

Whisperblue
Whisperblue

Absolutely perfect masterpiece. Every human being on this planet should be entitled to play it at least once. BUY. THIS. GAME.

winshot
winshot

It's one game you have to play before you die... It will bring back all your sweet childhood memories, make you smile and chase your dreams and will definitely ignite inspiration to make your dreams come true...Epic game of infinite thrills, emotions, wit, humor and ultimately a game which stays true to the heart of gamers looking for adventures of the third kind....

asapp7
asapp7

Amazing story and music, the best in any game. Play this game if you appreciate good story telling and can let yourself shed a tear, I did. Man its so good

jwk7913
jwk7913

@Accuracy158 I just bought it from the steam summer sale. I had no idea it'd be this great....

Renoo27
Renoo27

@The_Red_Shadow I just finished it. 10 for me, too. If you ask me, THIS is what games should be about. The best games are the ones that tell the best stories, and this one really got to me. I felt closer to Neil, Eva and Johnny than any character in an average RPG. 

marksman101
marksman101

^

In not understanding the message of To the Moon, the game simply requiring analytical, philosophical, abstract and overall "higher" level thinking skills, no insult about you could possibly have been worse than what you just did to yourself.

 

Your post, summed up:

-Boring

-Story + no gameplay = book = movie

-The game wasn't enjoyable at all

-Wait, now the story telling is fine

-You're super angry mad because the super comfy couch and super comfy bed were in time-out or something and you had to use the "not so comfy computer chair"

-You hate reading

-The game is not a game... or the game disappeared... or something

 

 I interpreted, essentially:

-Boring because you lacked the ability to think on a higher level and make an understanding about what is going on

-You say: story w/o gameplay =book or movie. You are wrong. Many remain ignorant of this, but there are actually interactive books *and* movies

-This point conflicts with the next         (multiple

-This point conflicts with the previous          personality

-Written during a manic depressive episode        syndrome?)

-You are uneducated or 15

-You need to work on your abstract thinking. This game you call story ceases being a story when user interactions are made. An "interactive story".... is that not what every video game is? A preface is presented to the user, the user interacts with the environment in conjunction with scripted events, and the story is written. Each game has a story to tell. Often more than one. And yes the size of the user's role changes game to game, but the essence of how it fundamentally works remains the same.

I'm sure it was disappointing playing a game you thought would be one thing but ended up being something different. I would recommend you be more thorough in choosing which games to play from now on.

 

 

play again in ten years . you'll get it .

contraigon
contraigon

@lostn Dude, it's worth it. This game won't just tell you a story, it will change you. It will stay in the back of your mind for the rest of your life.

disneyskate
disneyskate

Says the guy with Pokemon as his profile. Also I don't agree that you should weigh down the game for the gameplay because people who buy this should definitely know that what they are getting into is far more an experience than a game.

To the Moon More Info

Follow
  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    To the Moon is an indie role-playing game adventure about two doctors traversing through the memories of a dying man to fulfill his last wish.
    8.6
    Average User RatingOut of 719 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate To the Moon
    Developed by:
    Freebird Games
    Published by:
    Freebird Games, Lace Mamba Global
    Genres:
    Adventure