Having recently acquired a beast of a computer, one that can handle all the pretty things that I’ve dreamt of playing for the past ten years at max detail with detail to spare, I’ve subsequently lost myself in the money pit that is Steam.
If Robocop coined “I’d buy that for a dollar,” Steam turned it into an actual business model.
And holy shit do I have a lot of games I haven’t even been able to play yet.
However, there’s one I actually got the chance to play, and it’s pretty great so far. And, it’s also indie. And it’s called To the Moon and I’m going to write about it now.
Developed by Freebird Games To the Moon is the brainchild of Kan Gao and his team of game-building elves. Judging from their website, they make artsy 16-bit style story-driven narrative experiences wearing the trappings of SNES-era JRPG’s.
A few things about me first. I was really, REALLY into JRPG’s during the SNES era. This was back when such games weren’t plagued by terrible, whiny voice actors and interminable anime cutscenes. This was back when you had to grind for hours between each dungeon, when the object of your affections was 10 pixels tall and you kinda felt something for them anyway.
Maybe it’s because I was a teenager in the 90’s, but this particular style of game always seems to trigger a lot of emotions for me. These games seem to inhabit, at least for me, a part of my mind that is still young, naive and pure. Decades later, as an adult in his thirties, I’m just broken parts barely managing to pretend that I’m a person, with cynicism and a world-weary sighs as my main weapons. Back then though…
And maybe that’s why To the Moon seems to have been met with such critical acclaim. The story embodies the medium.
In short, you play two scientists, Cool Chick in a Labcoat and Douchy Bumbling Idiot. Their job is to plug dying people in a machine that lets them run through all the events in their lives, and then re-do things the way they would have wanted to do them. In this case, the dying man is Johnny, an unfortunately-named old geezer whose dying wish is to have flown to the moon. Our intrepid scientist team shows up at his decrepit old mansion, plugs him into the machine and delves into his memories. They start from the end, go back to the beginning, and then go back to the end again.
It’s a nostalgia trip, using a past aesthetic (16-bit sprites with JRPG influences) that literally sends you back to a time of innocence and hope, with life and all its infinite complexity stretching out before you. In the end, it’s a tale of love, loss and pickles (no, really). There’s also a platypus… and a few sliding puzzle mini-games.
Gameplay-wise there’s not much to do here. It’s an interactive story that brings you back to a time when gameplay kinda sucked anyway and you ploughed through a game just to see the story. Nowadays, I can’t stand games that never let you actually play them (IE Metal Gear Big Solid Turd), but this is different.
Yes, it’s slightly self-indulgent at times, yes it’s overly melancholy and nostalgic, but it works anyway. It’s kind of like strolling through the cereal aisle and craving Alphabits even though you haven’t had any in years… and you find them but it’s not a wizard on the box anymore, it’s a computer, and you think what the hell, what happened to the wizard? But you buy the box anyway, and you know what, in a bowl of milk it tastes just about the same, so there.
So yeah. It’s good. Get it. And at the next gamer event you can talk about how you play a lot of indie games. It’s like bringing foreign beer to a party. Trust me.