To The Moon [$4.99] is an experience that depends almost entirely on the way its story unravels, and the exceptional music backing it. Spoiling the story, any bit of it, beyond the premise would be doing any potential player a tremendous disservice. And while I can offer up all kinds of praise for the audio, it's not as though that's easy to convey through text. So what should I write here? Let's start with this: To The Moon is an amazing journey through the memories of a man who has reached the end of his life, and as long as you don't mind the fact that the gameplay doesn't involve much more than walking around and clicking on things, you really ought to play this.

To The Moon has been around for a while. Originally released in 2011, the game was created for PCs using RPG Maker. You would be forgiven for thinking the game is an RPG, but other than a knowing wink to the whole idea early on, you won't find any of the usual genre staples here. No, like the horror game Corpse Party, To The Moon used the RPG Maker tools to make something in another genre. In this case, an adventure game with some light puzzle elements. The team in charge of the mobile versions of the game re-wrote it from the ground up in Unity, giving them the opportunity to re-write the UI to make it more touch-friendly.

If you're just here wondering how that port turned out, I can tell you that it's mostly good. The new interface works well, the presentation is intact and even mildly improved, and certain puzzles and mini-games work even better here thanks to the touch controls. The downside is that basic navigation is somewhat unwieldy. The controls remind me of the fussy nature of early Kemco games that had trouble distinguishing whether you were trying to use the virtual pad or trying to click somewhere on the screen. It's annoying, but nothing too serious. Certainly something to keep in mind, but it doesn't stop this from being a good way to experience the game.

In case you aren't familiar with the premise of To The Moon, I suppose I should fill you in. In the not-too-distant future, there exists a technology that allows people to reshape their memories. The company behind this technology offers it as a service to grant wishes to those who are near the end of their time, allowing those people the chance to virtually address any regrets they might have or fulfill dreams they never got around to. This technology can't remember it for you wholesale, however. Rather, a copy of a person's memories is made and specially-trained agents simply give the person a little nudge at the right point in their life.

To do this, they need to travel backwards through the person's memories from their most recent to some of their oldest. Once the agents have found the right way to create the desired outcome, those simulated memories are copied over to the person, giving them the experience of achieving their wish without actually changing their objective reality. For a dying person, it's probably enough. To The Moon starts off following two agents as they arrive at the location of their latest assignment: a man named Johnny who only has a day or two left to live. He's already slipped into a coma, but before that happened, he was able to contact the company and express his wish. Johnny wants to go to the Moon, and your hapless heroes need to figure out how to get him there.

From a mechanical perspective, what you're looking to do in each area is to find five special mementos that will help you open the way to the next memory. Once you've done that, you'll have to solve a simple tile-flipping puzzle that will lead you to the next time and place. The areas you need to explore are relatively small in most cases, and important items stand out because they're typically among the few tiles that don't repeat. There are a couple of mini-games to spice things up, but you won't be doing much more than walking around, tapping, and reading for most of the game's relatively short running time. Basically, this is only mildly more interactive than a visual novel, so come in with the appropriate expectations.

The story is really good overall. Some of the dialogue can be dicey, and there are typos scattered here and there throughout the script. One of the main characters can be a little obnoxious at times, but if nothing else, it helps establish him as a distinct personality in this world. The main plot is fantastic. It's deeply emotional, thought-provoking, and manages to keep a lot of balls in the air without dropping anything major. The story structure basically has the plot coming out in reverse chronological order. It's a tough trick to pull off, but To The Moon handles it well. You'll be wondering the how and the why of various things, only to pull back in time a little and get maybe an answer or two along with another question. You might think you've guessed where things were going only to have a new explanation reveal itself. And when you've finally woven everything together and it all comes to a head, it's hard not to feel something for these little clusters of pixels.

Of course, it helps that the music is there massaging your emotional state the whole way through. To The Moon has a wonderful piano-heavy soundtrack that knows when to bust out the strings for maximum effect. Make sure you play this one with the sound on, because you'll be cheating yourself out of an important part of the game's world-building if you can't hear the music. While the graphics are quite simple, looking like something out the 16-bit/32-bit era, I've often maintained that that kind of simplicity can actually stoke the imagination and generate more compelling performances than you might expect. It allows the player to project some of themselves onto the characters, which makes everything feel that much more personal. That said, it does use some interesting techniques with the sprites. Some characters will look a little fuzzy, showing that Johnny doesn't remember them well. Some will be mere outlines, as Johnny never bothered memorizing their faces at all.

To The Moon doesn't offer much in the way of mechanical depth, and there's really only one way to experience the story, so its replay value is not great in theory. It's certainly one of the jobs of a review to inform readers of things like that. But the ultimate goal of a review is to tell you if something is worth your time and money, and in that capacity, I can't recommend To The Moon enough. The mobile version has some issues with fiddly controls, but don't let that stop you from playing this superb adventure. It's beautiful in the most human way possible.

TouchArcade Rating

  • dancingcrane

    This is the kind of game and review that I am always looking for. I got the game the moment it released, but I was happily waiting for your review, because I knew you would. Whether I've played a game or haven't yet, a Musgrave review is always a welcome part of the experience. Thanks!

  • nkx

    I was on the fence with this - but reading the praise I'm glad I got it it! Really good game and triggers a good emotion in all users that play it

  • Gurney Halleck

    Another hugely informative and engaging review Shaun! Thank you. I picked this up on steam years ago, but it got lost in the backlog. Reading your review now makes me want to play through this story and now with a great port tuned for the iPad I believe I'll be dipping twice (only this time I will finally play it heh)!

  • DeNappa

    I finally got around to playing the steam version a few months back while working on my backlog, and I agree it's a great experience. Definitely recommended! It's more an interactive story than a game, though, so it may not be everybody's cup of tea.

  • Doctor Malcom

    4.5 stars? I definitely wouldn't recommend this game. The attempts at adding gameplay were really poor. I could have powered through that for a good story, but that too was really, really bad. The story and writing was on par with something you'd find in the back of an old high school notebook. It was painful to get through the game. There's certainly better ways to spend $5.

    • dancingcrane

      Ouch. Don't sugarcoat it Doc, tell us how you really feel. What kind of games/stories do you actually like?

      • Sebastian Gomez

        Timers and consumable IAPs, perhaps.

        10,000 gems for $4.99 sound like a bargain.

      • Doctor Malcom

        Yep, don't like To the Moon but still playing Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. Had to get a second phone to hold all my idle clickers and city builders. Hoping to get a promotion so I can afford more gold chests and gems.

  • ra51

    I played this game back in 2011 when it was making rounds on the indie scene back in the day. It definitely was a standout game, in the sense that it told a story that really hits you emotionally in one of those sad...but fulfilling type ways. Some gamers may end up shedding a tear or two. Me personally, was just taken back at beautiful combination of story telling and music which all fit together perfectly.

    The game is short about 4-5 hours long. There's not much gameplay in terms of typical RPGs. But then again, it's not really needed. You're mostly "exploring" the read-only memory of a dying old man and philosophical concepts of it as you sorta travel back in time to his earliest memories. As most RPGs, there's a bit of a mystery that you have to solve. But the puzzles are quite easy as you uncover more of the dying man's life and wishes. It's all really interesting and works really well for a short meaningful experience.

    Now, this game is not for everyone. If you're expecting heavy gameplay or timebased combat, you're not gonna like this game. This is purely a storytelling experience with minor puzzling. But I personally think it's worth it. Pick it up when you get a chance and give it a try.

  • I'm fn matt damon

    I rarely cry but as the ending unraveled I definitely got teary-eyed 🙂 Such a touching heart warming story. So sad but in a beautiful way. Love it! Highly recommend!

  • Yaelle G

    I had this already via Steam but I bought it for iOs anyway because apparently I like to cry.

To the Moon Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4.5