While it does seem like I go gaga over every video game I have ever played (there are notable exceptions such as Prototype; that was a lousy game) To The Moon evokes this strange warm feeling reserved for a wonderfully narrated book, and on occasion, a lovely artsy movie in which Jim Carrey plays a serious role. Yes, To The Moon reminds me strongly of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than, say, Memento (whose influence is also reminiscent in this video game) and I will tell you why.
To The Moon is an example of how a video game does not necessarily need to be graphically impressive, or stylish, or violent or anything of that sort. It’s an essay on why video games must be considered an art form. It’s a story of a dying man, John, and his last wish. In the future technology to alter memories and experiences exists and two doctors, Dr. Neil Watts and Dr. Eva Rosaline who are alternatingly the player controlled characters work for a firm that grants dying men and women their last wishes. The two doctors traverse through the memory of every patient and at a particular moment initiate a key driving thought that changes their life (in their memories). Of course, none of this is real, but for a dying man it does not matter, for he is very happy to have lived through his dream.
The problem with John is that he really does not know why he wishes to go to the moon. As Drs. Watts and Rosaline traverse through his memories in reverse (from an old man to a teenager), they find that there are no impulses to go to the moon except towards the end, and that too quite randomly. Interconnected through his entire memory is his wife, River, who suffers from a mental condition that is hinted-at but never quite explained throughout the game. This came off as letting the player fill details in as he or she sees fit, and not spoonfeeding the entire story.
The gameplay itself is quite simple, with the player characters walking around and collecting small pieces of memories (visualized as colored orbs) that unlock a very strong memento that links to an earlier memory to which they can jump. The memento needs to be prepared’, which is a simple tile-switching mini-game that is no more than a minor annoyance to further the story. Some small mini-games pop up here and there (with a tongue-in-cheek reference to both Plants vs. Zombies, because the musician involved in PvZ was also involved in the making of this game, as well as traditional Japanese RPGs) but for the main part, this is pretty much what the gameplay is like. In effect it allows you to immerse yourself into this game without any complicated schemes to optimizeyour gameplay.
The characters of the story itself are marvelously written up, with the constant bickering between the geeky, unsentimental and boyish Dr. Neil Watts and the officious-yet-warm and forward thinking Dr. Eva Rosaline forming a hilarious and lovely backdrop to what is essentially a tragic story that will drive you to tears in many parts. The extremely strong narrative pace repeatedly made me laugh at the innocuous and geeky humor of Dr. Watts while Dr. Rosaline looks on with emotions ranging from severe disapproval to abject dismay at his actions.
The story of John, however, was very well presented with some parts of his life akin to many things that we, normal people, might have felt.
To The Moon is a game of regret, love and dreams that is both unconditionally beautiful with its low-res graphics and at once heart-wrenching with its excellently crafted story. I implore you to play this, for this is the greatest video game I have played this year.