To The Moon is most easily described as a point-and-click adventure game. It's been around for a few years on desktop systems, and has recently made its way to mobile. Although I've played a lot of adventure games, I've never played one like this. In fact, this game defies categorization. Yes, the interface and mechanics of To The Moon will be quite familiar to fans of the genre, it is much less a game and more an interactive story. As I write this, I have real concerns that this description will cause traditional gamers to stop reading and move on to something else. I urge you to stay with me as I do my best to pitch this as being worth your $5.
The premise alone takes a bit of explaining. In To The Moon, you control a team of scientists whose job it is to fulfill the last wishes of the dying. They accomplish this through technology that enables them to experience the memories of their subjects in reverse chronological order. Once they find the perfect point, they plant the seed of a new memory and in so doing, give their subject their desired experience; but only in the past tense. For a dying man or woman, the memory of an experience is enough to give them peace and closure in their final hours.
For the purposes of the game, our subject is Johnny, who has only a few days left to live and wants to go to the moon. Each chapter of the game represents one stage of Johnny's life. Once there, you will have to find the mementos necessary to unlock the next memory block (chapter). There are (very) light puzzles to solve, and some exploration to do, but To The Moon is clearly not meant to be challenging. I know, so far, I'm not doing a very good job of selling this to our gaming crowd. However, here comes the part where I tell you why it's special. As you move through Johnny's memories, you will come to learn all about him, but unlike a traditional story, this one is told in reverse chronological order so you will have questions, make assumptions as to their answers, then find you are wrong as the story surprises you again and again. In the end, thanks to expertly crafted storytelling and a perfect soundtrack (more on this later), you will be emotionally connected to Johnny in a way that few games are able to achieve.
Graphically, To The Moon is a simple game. Boasting modest 16-bit era graphics, this game will not overpower either your devices or your visual sense. Yet, To The Moon is able to evoke wistfulness and nostalgia, and not in spite of the graphics. Somehow, they work perfectly for the story, actually enhancing it for me, perhaps by taking me back to the visuals of my gaming youth. If intentional, it's a clever trick. Regardless, I'm certain that the modest visuals are completely intentional and not due to budget constraints because the music is nothing short of exquisite. Co-written by Laura Shigihara, the singular talent responsible for the Plants vs Zombies music (among other things), it packs a lot of emotion without resorting to simulated angel choirs or 400-piece symphony orchestras. I've written a number of reviews where I've given the music high praise, but To The Moon is the first game I've felt that the music was absolutely essential in order to enjoy it on any level. Yes, it's that good. Yes, it's that important. It's time to put on your headphones, folks.
To The Moon is not quite a game, but much more than an interactive story. Whatever it is, though, there's nothing like it, and is absolutely worth the price of admission. I'm not crying, you're crying.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - 16-bit style graphics, but somehow they are perfect for the story. Sound: - 5+ - The music is essential. Get your headphones. Controls: - 4 - The touch controls were just a little fiddly now and then, but overall, they work quite well. Gameplay: - 5 - Even though there's not a lot of traditional game here, I'm still giving it a 5 because this story couldn't have been told using traditional means.