To The Moon
A piercing meditation on the nature of life and the paths we do and do not take through it
I don’t even know where to begin with this one.
When I was a kid, I remember using RPG Maker to craft small narrative adventures with my friends. They were janky, but somehow their mechanical awkwardness shone a spotlight on other elements—like the story.
This effect is at the centre of To The Moon’s appeal. It’s not a terribly difficult or innovative gaming experience, but it is a triumph of interactive narrative, with more heart and impact than any other game in recent memory. More emotion is packed into these pixels than any blockbuster.
I blazed through it on iOS in two days and came out so deeply affected that Shannon felt compelled to play through it as well to see why. She finished it the same day she started it, unable to put it down.
Telling a compelling story is hard enough. Telling it backwards is just showing off, and To The Moon manages it with aplomb.
Without spoiling anything, this is a game about a pair of scientists working for a company that specializes in creating artificial memories for dying patients. A wish fulfilment service, basically, where patients get to experience something, even if it never occurred in reality.
The story follows the two scientists as they work with one particular patient. His life offers layer upon layer of intrigue as you plumb deeper into his memories in search of motivation for his dying wish: to go to the moon.
It’s a love story, a friendship story, and a science story. There are rabbits. There’s a very important platypus. Somehow, despite all that, it is profoundly realistic, grounded, and relatable.
It is also tremendously sad, on a number of levels, and will make you think.
What makes To The Moon special is how the sadness is balanced with genuine humour, mostly from the two scientists themselves, whose convincing long-term friendship manifests in many goofy exchanges and inside jokes that we become privy to.
It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, with moments of joy and tragedy balanced expertly. You become invested.
Anyone who thinks you need high-end production values to produce emotional impact should play through To The Moon and re-think their position.
Despite looking like a Gameboy-era RPG, the pixel art is very polished, and things are about as sophisticated as RPG Maker allows them to be. There are some moments of quirky translation, but they fail to detract from an otherwise convincing and heartfelt narrative.
As far as game elements go, there are a few “puzzles” that serve no real purpose, and a notebook that offers a place to store hints, funny notes, and a hint at what to do next.
It’s worth noting the role of music in this game. Written almost entirely by the game’s creator, the score also features a song written by Laura Shigihara (of Plants vs. Zombies fame). Both score and song are achingly beautiful, especially in context, with particular cues becoming more and more resonant as you progress through the game.
You’ll probably want to pick the album up on BandCamp since 50% of proceeds go directly toward charities for autism.
To The Moon
Play this game.
It’s available for PC/Mac via Steam, and on iOS.
I missed it when it was initially released, years ago, on PC. The mobile port is a great way to experience it, and it’s brief enough that you can get through it in an afternoon.
I wish I’d played it sooner.