Games… They’re brilliant things. They have the power to make us feel things like no other medium. From the heights of adrenaline, through the bleeding edge of tension and to the bubbling realms of humour, games can do amazing things to our senses. We can all remember the time a game has made us whoop with glee at pulling off something brilliant, or the time we shed a tear to something truly moving.
And why? Because a good game is defined, at least in part, by its ability to immerse the player in what is going on. This can be achieved in many ways, be it the creation of a palpable atmosphere of dread like in Bioshock, the constant drive of action like in Call of Duty or the emotive depiction of characters and situations like in Mass Effect. Whichever way it’s achieved though, the immersion is the thing that elevates the game from being merely good to being truly great.
Regular readers may be aware I harp on this a lot, but that’s because in my opinion immersion and the establishment of a sense of disbelief; getting the player to buy in if you will; is the most telling and important aspect of a truly special game. Without it a game is just that; a game. With it, though, it becomes an experience; something that speaks to you in a different, more profound way.
Now this may sound like overly elaborate bluster; the waffling of someone with an overinflated sense of grandeur and perhaps it is, but I ask you this one thing: think back to the games you hold most dear. Think back to the games that over the year you come back to time and time again, the ones you’ll never forget. Think about why it is you hold them so dear? Now odds are that they’re great games on a technical level, but there’s plenty of good games out there. Why are they so much better than the others? Most likely it’s because those games had some defining aspect that resonated with you; that you identified with. Be it a character, an atmosphere or a narrative; there will have been something that made you care, that you bought into. And that, my friends, is the essence of immersion; the point at which you begin to care on a personal level about the proceedings, which makes you invest emotionally in the activity at hand.
All this pretentious prattle (or prescient observation, depending on your view!) brings me to today’s topic; To The Moon; a game that caught me unawares and stole my heart away.
Released in 2011 by Freebird Games, an indie development team, To The Moon is, on the surface, an unremarkable prospect. An RPG with apparently fairly streamlined mechanics with a distinctly SNES era-style visual presentation, To The Moon came to my attention when I picked it up as part of a GOG.com special offer bundle. As a fan of RPG games I chose it as the last of my picks on the available package, essentially as a filler choice to take up the last slot. So unremarkable did the title seem to me it remained un-downloaded for some time, languishing in internet limbo until I eventually remembered its existence.
Once I did give it a chance, though, To The Moon certainly made the most of the opportunity. Now, I must admit the game managed to get a huge foot in the door with me from the off with its fantastic piano-based musical score. I’m a sucker for beautiful and haunting piano tunes, so the main theme used in the opening scenes of the game really did make me sit up and take notice from the off.
From there on though, To The Moon proceeds to set a high bar and never look back. I’ve said before in articles that a great story and great implementation can elevate a game beyond its natural level and nowhere is this the case more true than with this game. The actual mechanics are extremely basic, with the point & click process being streamlined greatly. You can only use one pre-defined action on any give object, meaning that the process of experimentation is more-or-less removed. This certainly removes a lot of the natural challenge from the traditional template. All in all when taken at face value from a gameplay perspective, To The Moon is an extremely basic and limited game.
Where it comes into its own is in the sheer amount of character and charm the game exudes from every pore. As stated before, the score is top notch, changing and developing to suit the situation at hand, an often under-appreciated part of gaming atmosphere creation. The narrative premise, while initially a bit un-intuitive develops nicely and is genuinely touching and compelling.
The crowning achievements of the developers, however, are the characters themselves and the genuine feeling of humanity and humour in their interactions. The two main protagonists develop a truly remarkable sense of realism in their interactions; they genuinely feel like they’ve been working together for years and their good natured bickering is truly endearing. The fact that both characters are depicted as well-rounded and substantive personalities is key; all too often characters are defined by an individual characteristic or trait and are little more than two dimensional caricatures or stereotypes. With the characters of To The Moon, you progressively learn more about their personalities and histories and the journey of the narrative is as much about seeing their development as it is with the overarching quest. This is even more remarkable when you consider that all the dialogue is in a text-box format.
Combine this with regular moments of genuine humour and you have yourself a game that, while limited in its actual gameplay, is fantastically immersive and compelling.
To The Moon doesn’t have eye catching visuals (though personally I love the look) or a star-studded cast list. Indeed, it really doesn’t have anything to really draw your eye other than a retro-look. What it does have, however, is the power to capture your imagination and charm you, to pull you into its world and entertain you, if given the chance.
I’ve played better games. Hell, I’ve played many, many better games, but as a gaming experience, To The Moon is up there with the best I’ve ever come across and will have a place in my heart probably for the rest of my life.
To The Moon is something a little bit special and if you’re any kind of fan of RPG games or point and click adventure games, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. It will pull you in and never let you go.
If you want an idea of the quality on offer, I urge you to have a look at my video impressions below. If you can get past my inane chatter, you’ll get a feel for the game as I play through a short part of the beginning of the game. No major story aspects are spoiled and I basically play through the introductory act.
Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org