Do you have any regrets? Any what-ifs, missed chances, or maybes? If you do, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts of Freebird Games' indie adventure game To The Moon might be able to help. They work for a company that developed a technology which will allow them to enter the memories of someone on their deathbed and modify those memories so that the person believes whatever they wish and are able to die happy and peacefully. Tonight, they've been called to the home of an elderly man named John, whose wish, to go to the moon, may sound odd, but should be easily fulfilled... at least until they begin digging deeper into his memories and find out the truth. Emotional, funny, creative and well-written, To The Moon at times feels like it's light on gameplay, but stellar writing and an effortlessly likable cast make this one to check out.
Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene may have bitten off more than they can chew since not even Johnny himself is entirely clear on why he wants to go there. You'll need to travel back through Johnny's memories across decades, exploring important moments in his life, and unravel the reason behind his wish, and why it never came true sooner. To move through his past, you'll need to find memory links by exploring that can unlock mementos in each scenario, which will allow you to travel back further once you've "prepared" the object... by playing a little flip puzzle, naturally. The game can be played with the mouse, clicking to interact and move around, or with the keyboard, with [WASD] or [arrow] keys for movement, and [spacebar] to interact. Right-clicking opens the menu, which lets you review notes and save the game at any time when you're not speaking with someone.
Analysis: Like a lot of people who read the description on the main site, you might feel that in playing To The Moon you're in for some touching, fluffy, Disney Channel or Lifetime Movie stuff. Make no mistake, despite the somewhat overly goofy first hour or so, the story here deals with some heavy material. Selfishness, loss, love that isn't always perfect... it's really the sort of thing you have to be in the mood to play, and if you're looking for something light and exciting, maybe with some dinosaur laser battles or light bike races, you might find To The Moon both too slow and too heavy to get into. Fortunately, the frequently funny dialogue and involving mystery serve to draw you in and keep you there, with moments of levity, tenderness, and honesty helping to carry you through the more serious bits.
The characters are expressive and animated, the environments are beautiful and well detailed without becoming cluttered, and the soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous, bringing the whole thing together in a way that makes it seem leagues more professional than its peers. If you've ever tried to create something with any RPG Maker software, then you can probably appreciate the skill, talent, and dedication that went into turning out something like this.
In fact, if the game has any real flaw, it's that the actual gameplay often doesn't feel as strong as the story. Rather than driving the narrative yourself, you start to feel as if all you're doing is triggering cutscenes. The flipping puzzle to unlock mementos quickly gets boring, and with little thought or action on your part required to find and gather memory links other than simply walking around, the feeling of steering our protagonists around on dolleys intensifies. It makes you wish more had been asked of you, that you'd been able to make some of the pivotal decisions our two doctors do.
By turns eerie, touching, sad, and hilarious, To The Moon is an impressively mature adventure game that deals with loss, love, regret and fulfillment in an engaging manner. A playtime of around five hours may sound short to some people, but the story here is so carefully paced that any more and it would have seemed drawn out and lost a lot of its impact. As it stands, I can personally tell you that To The Moon is one of the best indie titles I've played all year (if not ever), and came seriously close to making me tear up a few times. Sit all the way through the credits and you'll be treated to a short scene that implies we'll be seeing a lot more of Eva and Neil at some point in the future, and we may just have uncovered the tip of the iceberg in their story. In the meantime, however, we'll just have to content ourselves with this... and the knowledge that there are FREE PONY RIDES IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE!