Developer - Freebird Games
Publisher - Freebird Games/X.D. Network
Platform - Windows, Linux, Android, iOS [version tested]
Price - £Variable
Genre - RPG
The plot of To The Moon sounds like a mix of the film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and the wonderful TV series Quantum Leap. You play as two scientists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, whose job is to ease a dying person into the next life by altering their memory. Instead of the life they lead, you change it so they can fulfil an ambition that they never got around to. The game focuses on one client: a gentleman by the name of Johnny, whose stated wish is "To go to the moon". Title Drop!
As the game starts, your characters have been doing their job for a while and are hardened professionals. But memory is a tricky and delicate thing: the team enter Johnny's memoryscape through a relatively recent recollection, one which will not allow their magic to work. That forces them to travel further back in memorytime. In the story, this is achieved by collecting some sort of essence from various objects in the memory and imbuing an item that has special significance to Johnny with it. In game, it means tapping on a lot of objects and completing a tile-swap game to confirm the link to the older memory. As usual, things are not as straightforward as they might at first appear.
To give away much more of the plot would be wrong, because it is central to the game. Everything is just a vehicle for the story. Even the recurring tile-flipping minigame, the most game-like part of the whole piece, seems to be there to remind the player that they are playing a game. It's not a bad thing, as such; it serves as a welcome break from the controls of the main game. The 'D-pad' appears on the left of the screen once the screen has registered your touch, in common with most iOS RPG's... but as the game also depends on you tapping objects, the engine can get confused. Early on the player characters would frequently move to a spot I'd never indicated when I wanted to tap on a likely looking piece of level furniture. Not game-breaking, just a bit irritating.
Actually, let's get all the criticisms out of the way right now: To The Moon is not much of a looker, and some scenes, gameplay shifts and dialogue can be a bit jarring. As an example, Dr. Watts is quite a snarky soul, so his lines can puncture a mood in the strangest way. However, to be blunt, none of this really matters that much. All of To The Moon's gameplay, mechanics and the like pale into insignificance when compared to the two brightest points of the game: the music and the storyline.
The soundtrack, by lead designer Kan Gao (with the exception of the theme song), is brilliant. Normally video game music passes me by with barely a twitch of the eardrum but turning the sound down on this one means you'll miss a good chunk of the appeal. The title screen says that headphones are recommended. Ordinarily that might feel snobby, but it is justified for this game. Then there's the story. Oh boy, the story. Avoid spoilers at all costs - the game is six years old now, older than my youngest relatives, so you could find out exactly what happens in the comfort of your own browser. If you want to experience the game, though, you must go in unspoiled. Invest in the characters, think about their fates... and be prepared to get quite emotional by the end.
Final Verdict: To The Moon's charm does not lie in its combat, as there isn't any. The visuals belong in the 16-bit era, albeit in a cute way. Nothing you actually do in the game will make that much of an impression on you, either... but let the soundtrack and the story wash over you and take you away.