To the Moon is a point and click adventure from Freebird Games.
Starring two memory doctor-technician-whatevers, the pair specialize in rearranging the memories of the dying to grant them one final wish. To the Moon sees the doctors on their latest assignment with an elderly man named Johnny—to fulfill his dream, they have to backtrack through his memories, and find a way to send him to, well, the moon.
It’s a premise that has more than a bit in common with the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But while that work concerns the destruction of memories, To the Moon is revolves around their creation and ultimately has little of the melancholy that pervades Eternal Sunshine. Really, in stories about final wishes, there’s a danger of going to the extreme opposite of the spectrum and getting overly sentimental and sappy, and To the Moon regretfully does both at times. Possibly to preempt criticism on this count, one of the doctors acts as the voice of reason and cynicism (and eventually—and maybe a little predictably—proves to have a heart of gold), and naturally points out just how sappy things are getting. Self awareness is great, but it won’t fix everything, you guys!
Though admittedly, I may have wept a bit at other times. A lip may have quivered. There may not have been a dry eye in the house. In a desperate attempt to preserve my manly dignity, I’ll say that the moments were brief. But they were there, yes.
So—sometimes a mixed bag, but for the most part, To the Moon hits its story beats, and it hits most of them well, especially for a tale that’s basically being told backwards, Memento style; that takes some doing. You can see pretty much every twist and turn before they happen, but they’re executed well, and the game doesn’t indulge itself overly long on the sentimentality or melodrama or tragedy of those moments; things move along at a good clip. The game’s simple puzzles never block the player from moving through the story, either, so most of the gameplay involves wandering through Johnny’s memories and watching things play out. And while the pixel art is simple, it’s also remarkably expressive—big fan of the side-eyes sprite, myself.
To the Moon is most compelling when it’s thinking about the nature of memories. There is, of course, a brief diversion into whether or not rearranging Johnny’s memories is in his best interest, and that one gets wrapped up quite nicely—a little too pat for my taste, frankly, but there you are. Along with this, though, is a question that never really gets addressed, but I think would be interesting for a future installment: is memory rearrangement in everybody else’s best interest? Johnny’s new moon-memory restores this one particularly charming memory that he’d lost as a child—so he gets closure—but ultimately there’s still the tragic story of his wife and their relationship and the fact that Johnny’s wife dies with an unresolved and closureless question/obsession regarding rabbits, all of which remains tragic because she doesn’t get a do-over. One of the doctor-technician-whatevers notes that she’s not their patient—she is dead, after all—so maybe this is some quick commentary about how what’s done is done and that people have to move past tragedy.
But that feels kind of like a cop out. It’s fine, I guess, if the perfectly rearraged memory exists only in the dying person’s mind—but isn’t there something kind of incomplete and dissatisfying about that? I think the memory-rearrangement-for-the-dying premise has the opportunity to think about some pretty big questions on conflicts between what the dying want and what their survivors want, and (more broadly and less death-relatedly) the doubled-edged nature of memories. It’d’ve been heady stuff to tackle on a first installment, but I hope this a direction that they’re headed towards.
And even if it isn’t, To the Moon makes for a good tearjerker, and a promising start to the series regardless—I’m looking forward to what comes next.
The best of these musical interludes occurs while the player’s running rapid-fire through a series of jumbled, broken memory fragments and catches sight of Johnny seated at a piano, a pair of ghostly dancers swaying next to him, music and hearts swelling in equal measure. ↩
The epilogue of this game basically guarantees that a sequel is at least in the works. ↩
Spoiler alert: Johnny has a wife with a fairly tragic story arc. It ends like all fairly tragic stories. ↩