(Review archived from January 8, 2018)
To the Moon is one of those critical darlings of the indie scene from a few years back that I always seem to finally play well after the hubbub has died down. While its RPG Maker roots are still pretty apparent in terms of graphical assets, I feel that it successfully elevates itself from many of the cookie cutter RPG Maker clones out there, primarily by way of inventive world building, some solid plotting, and good dialogue. The story borrows a few plot devices from the likes of Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I got some pretty strong vibes regarding this latter), but it all unfolds in such a way that it doesn’t seem particularly derivative, IMO.
Is it a perfect distillation of the form? Well not quite. The main characters are fairly unlikeable throughout the proceedings, and there were a couple of moments where I felt like this was to the detriment of the story. It also bears mentioning that there’s not a lot of actual gameplay to be had here. Outside of a few simple puzzle elements this game unfolds a bit like a ‘walking simulator’ with 16-ish bit graphics. And having played this game on PC some of the gameplay that is present seems to be implemented strangely. You’re limited to mouse-click navigation or arrow keys with no utility to change key configuration, and no controller navigation whatsoever (or at least not without resorting to a 3rd party tool). Providing no means of WASD navigation in a PC game limited to KB+M controls is a real head scratcher to me.
Having said all of that, chances are you didn’t show up for the gameplay (and if you did, you were grossly misinformed in terms of what to expect). Chances are you’re here for the story and in that regard I feel that the game succeeds with aplomb. I’ve seen accusations that this game is ‘pretentious’ and ‘self-important’ but honestly I think that reaction is more driven by the subsequent critical praise for To the Moon than any intent of the authorial hand. For my part I found the game to be a somewhat simple and humble experience that largely accomplished what it set out to do, which was to tell a story through the medium of a video game. Recommended for those that enjoy (almost purely) narrative experiences in gaming and those open to emotional investment in video game characters. Not recommended for those seeking a ‘manly-man’ type of game, lol.