The dying wish is a powerful tool in storytelling. Almost everyone has thought about something they would change about themselves before they die. What if you were given the power to control the memories of somebody on their deathbed in order to grant them this wish? And what if you disagreed with what they wished for?
In To the Moon you control Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts, two scientists who have been tasked with altering the memories of Johnny, a man who says he always wanted to go to the moon. Johnny doesn't know why he wants to go there, it's just something he feels he needs to do. In order to help Johnny fulfill his life-long dream, you jump into his mind and start working backwards through his memories in order to find the right point to insert the fabricated experience.
The gameplay elements are so basic that I almost hesitate to call this a game in the traditional sense. You enter into a scene from Johnny's past and explore the meager surroundings to discover objects that connect to a further point in time, and then perform a simple puzzle to advance. There isn't much to do in terms of dialogue choice or exploration. Finding objects sometimes feels like pixel-hunting, but never takes longer than a few minutes.
Despite the fact that To the Moon lacks most of the elements that make a game...a game, it's still an amazing story and keeps your interest throughout the entire adventure. In an industry where too many reviews decry the lack of a motivating story tied to a fun game, this is an intriguing mirror image. As you control Watts and Rosalene you will meet up with characters from Johnny's past and present and you start to connect with everyone involved. This is even more incredible because the simplistic, 16-bit style sprites lend little to characterization. Somehow, it all works anyway.
In an emotional tale of lost chances and forgotten regrets, To the Moon possesses an emotional strength that few games can match. There are times you may not want to continue because of the seemingly obvious consequences of your actions. I can't remember the last time I was so invested in how a game turned out; I wanted to get in there and shake things up myself.
The game's creator, Kan Gao, deserves much praise for his ability to weave such a touching tale through such limited means. The use of a clever premise is matched by the soundtrack which helps to enhance many moments. If you see fit to give this game a try, it won't be an experience you easily forget.