The lights are on
There's a good chance you've never heard of To the Moon. It's described by its developer as an "indie RPG/adventure game," although it's very light on the game elements. Despite that minor issue, it's absolutely one of the most well-written, emotionally effective interactive stories that I have played in 2011.
To the Moon's sci-fi-lite plot borrows a teensy bit from Michel Gondry's incredible 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In that movie, a mysterious organization enters customers' minds to erase unwanted memories. In To the Moon, a mysterious organization enters the mind of dying elderly people in order to implant memories of them fulfilling their greatest desires.
Players control Eva and Neil, two doctors who journey into the memories of a man named Johnny. As the game's title suggests, the desire Johnny wants fulfilled is to take a trip to the moon. However, before Eva and Neil can grant this wish, they must jump further and further back into Johnny's memories to discover the root of this desire.
Needless to say, things get complicated and multiple twists await during the four or so hours that it will take most people to complete To the Moon. What makes the game special and worth experiencing is that it has a story unlike anything you'll find in any other game. As you work in reverse through Johnny's life, you'll watch him deal with love, marriage, mental illness, school problems, and more. The writing alternates between drama and humor in a way that helps it feel wonderfully believable.
The unique story does come with a slight drawback in that To the Moon is only a "game" in the widest sense of the word. Most of the segments where you're in direct control of Eva or Neil involve scouring whatever location you're in for mementos that will help you unlock the a new memory, solving extremely simple puzzles, or participating in brief, ill-conceived bouts of action such as speeding around a scenic park on a horse.
Even most adventure games have a little more gameplay meat on their bones than this. I had considered doing a proper, full review of To the Moon, but I think it would do the game a disservice. These gameplay elements aren't very compelling, but they're also unobtrusive and worth pushing through for the rewarding story being told.
If you're curious, you can get more info on To the Moon in the trailer below. You can check out a demo or purchase the game for $11.99 at the Freebird Games website. I know it's a busy time of year for gaming, but if you've got 12 bucks and a few hours to spare, I highly recommend giving To the Moon a shot. Experiences like this are very rare and worth supporting.