Kan Gao's To The Moon is a game whose genesis was, according to Gao, the illness of his grandfather and how that event led him to consider that, when his time came, he might end up regretting decisions he'd made throughout his life. It's a consideration we'll surely all have at some point or another about a situation that likely can't be avoided. A life lived well, a life lived fully and one in which we've had the courage to embrace love is destined to be a life touched by pain and regret. And so it is in To The Moon, this heartfelt exploration of those universal things which affect us all, a short and outwardly simple little game that manages to pack a seriously powerful punch through its beautifully-executed story.
To The Moon tells the story of Johnny Wyles, an old man on his deathbed whose dying wish is to go to the moon. He can't remember why he desires to travel there, he's not sure why he's drawn to it, but he knows he must. Enter Dr's Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, employees of Sigmund Corp, a company which specialise in "wish fulfilment" – in short, creating artificial memories for people in the final moments of their lives. It's their job to enter Johnny's memories – traversing his innermost thoughts and his most personal moments – in order to plant a memory which will lead him to experience having been to the moon.
It's a fantastically clever setup; one that allows us to travel back in time through this dying man's lifetime and experience what led to this rather odd final request. It's also a story we absolutely wouldn't want to ruin the important details of for anyone who's considering picking this one up. Needless to say, if you can go into this game – which was originally released back in 2011 – without knowing a thing about its plot any further than the basic overview we've provided here, we would urge you to do so.
To The Moon's gameplay mechanics are simple to the point of almost non-existence. As you journey through Johnny's memories you'll search environments for clues which are then fed into a memento in order to link your current memory to the next, allowing the doctors to travel further and further back to the start of his story. In order to activate a memento, you must solve a simple switching block puzzle, and, beyond this and scouring areas for clues, there's really nothing more to this element of proceedings.
It's a part of the game that's been criticised in the past but, for us, it's tailor-made to ensure you get the satisfaction of having some level of interaction while not allowing the flow of the story to be interrupted or putting up artificial barriers that remove you for too long from the narrative. Really, beyond one ill-advised action sequence a little later on in the game, we found that the gameplay taking a back seat here was of benefit to the story.
This is a short game – it's all over in a matter of four or five hours – but in that small amount of time it manages to make its players directly confront uncomfortable situations and emotions with which we'll all struggle at some point in our lives. Mental illness, death, heartbreak, tragedy... it's all in here, and handled exquisitely well. It's written with a degree of sincerity and honesty that gives these moments real impact – we were left with tears in our eyes a few times – and it's also full of genuine humour, the incessant bickering of the two doctors often a perfect antidote to the sadness that so often fill scenes. Discovering the reasons behind Johnny Wyles' final wish is up there with some of the finest interactive stories we've played, it's a beautifully executed experience, backed up by a wonderful musical score – one piano piece is particularly heart-wrenching – and one that manages to overcome any mechanical shortcomings it may be perceived to have.
In terms of this Switch port of To The Moon, the game runs flawlessly in both docked and handheld modes and also includes touchscreen controls. We'd also advise snuggling up somewhere dark and sticking some headphones on to experience this one, if at all possible.
To The Moon is a powerful interactive story. It deals with issues and situations we'll likely all experience in our lifetimes and does so honestly and within a brilliant narrative setup that allows us to watch a lifetime deconstructed, layer by layer, revealing the very human mistakes and unavoidable interruptions of fate that shape how our lives ultimately turn out.