There are some ‘Indie Gems’ that manage to elude me. For every Gish there’s an FTL. In the lead up to Christmas the Mature Gamer Podcast Forum members set up a secret Santa thread that essentially allowed members to sign up to buy a Steam game for a selected forum member, and in turn receive a game from your wish list. I received Dead Pixels and To The Moon, both of which have been on my radar for ages but I’d never made the jump to grab either. Big mistake. Especially when it came to The The Moon.
To The Moon tells the story of two doctors – Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts – who visit the home of Johnny Wyles to provide a service that their employer Sigmund Corp. offer, essentially wish fulfilment. Using a machine they go into the memories of the patient and create an alternate cognition in which they achieved their life’s wish. This service is provided on a patient’s death bed as the creation of an extra set of memories would result in cognitive dissonance.
Johnny’s wish is to go to the moon, but when the doctors set up their machine and enter his memories they struggle to find this desire in a complex plot of love, loss and regret. Now at this point it would be unfair of me to say any more about the plot, but I will say that it is funny and moving in equal measure, taking a set of real world issues and laying them over a flight of fancy. It poses questions of morality and ethics while also portraying their characters as intrinsically flawed due to issues they are dealing with. The heart of the story is a character who it is suggested has Asperger’s Syndrome. This affects her ability to interact with other characters and her attempts to reveal a long lost desire come across as ever more confused, while in actuality the only confusion comes from others missing the point of her efforts, the player included.
Created with RG Maker XP – and the combat system is used in one small moment of hilarity. Visually it is presented much in the form of old 16-bit RPG type games like Chrono Trigger and it really works well as an aesthetic, and pixel art as a whole is always welcome when it comes to gaming. The world centres on the location of a lighthouse – something that is a key theme throughout and representative of the lost desires – while also using themes such as building a home and striving for individuality in life. The soundtrack is also worth a mention, composed by the director of the game Kan Gao and featuring a song by Laura Shigihara (the awesome lady behind the awesome Plants vs Zombies end credits music video ‘Zombies on the Lawn’).
Ultimately there is not so much of a ‘game’ in To The Moon, instead it is a very strong narrative told via an interactive format and it is all the better for it. The devices used push the story along and despite the occasional moment of confusion caused by a vague progress path – for example a section involving horses can be quite bewildering – but these are minimal issues in a great game. Available from many sources including Steam, the game is a great example of how to tell a story in an engaging and inclusive fashion. By the end of the game I had laughed (properly out loud) and cried (again, properly and out loud… sobbing like Bridget Jones) and smiled as my heart was wrangled by Kan Gao mercilessly. I simply cannot recommend this enough to folks who love a story. Go get it.