Counting on my fingers, I've moved out eight times in my life. Moving is a funny one, because it's a literal and a metaphorical transition. I move from one house, wherein the kitchen ceiling crumbled to pieces after sustaining serious water damage, into the next. I'm hopeful none such mishaps occur in this house, but there is trepidation. Moving offers clean slates, for the house and for the person. It's odd to see the carpet and the walls unadorned with personal effects, almost like the abode itself is only welcoming you for a short while. I've moved from one house to another house where there was only a fifteen minute walking distance between them. That fifteen minutes actually gets a lot longer when you're carrying a gutted wardrobe during the hottest day of the year. The house I lived in for my final year of university was coveted by my friends, for its cool floors and two fridge-freezers. I should have packed my belongings up far in advance of moving out (sorry, Mum), but I clung to those memories I'd made like a raft in a storm.
I may wax poetic on the denotations and connotations of moving out, but, practically speaking, I wish I could yank the lot of it out of the room and into the car with a tenacious efficiency that belongs in Looney Tunes. Moving Out, the puzzle game from SMG Studio and Devm Games and published by Team17, does that to a T. It's a no-nonsense title for a game that orbits nonsense. Smooth Moves is its third largest removal company in the pastelised town of Packmore, and proud of it. To begin with, the team consists of a woman, a man, a cat, a dog, a plant pot, and a toaster, which are customisable with wheelchairs, colour palettes, and victory dances. The characters drive to their assigned job in a rickety removal van, and, once they're ready, the clock ticks down.
Each location has a set quantity of objects to be moved out. Smaller objects, like cardboard boxes, may be thrown, whereas larger objects, like sofas, must be dragged. Fragile objects are shown with the universal "fragile" symbol on a scarlet box; dropping these will cause the contents to shatter, and the box will be found in its original position. The weight of larger objects may be shared between players—the game supports up to four cooperatively—but I played the game alone (let's give it up for following government advice during a pandemic!). The player may achieve a gold, silver, or bronze badge depending on the time taken to complete the level, and extra objectives are revealed upon success. These might be "don't smash the vase," or "don't use the stairs," and award coins if the player attains their conditions. These coins can be used in arcade-themed levels, and more missions mean more memories of moves are dug out, which can be played at the Packmore VHS Superstore. One of these involved tossing objects from a plane's cargo hold into the moving van driving along a motorway. These are just simple jaunts, and offer a generous time limit compared to the hectic main missions.
As Smooth Moves makes its presence felt in Packmore, more and more jobs are unlocked in increasingly outlandish scenes. The difficulty rises when the player is asking to collect farm animals to put in the van, or cross a busy road and a rushing river while dragging a two-seater settee. Playing on my own, I felt a sincere triumph when I managed to get everything across in one piece (mostly), but I admit I started to struggle. This is where the Assist Mode for Moving Out pulled it out of the bag. I had already scaled up the UI so I could see the text, and then I chose to give myself more time and make the heavier objects lighter when one player is carrying them. In addition, pressing Triangle shows all of the objects yet to be moved and where the van is in relation to the player. If only this occurred for my previous eight moves.
Team17 has also published another game which takes a simple premise, glazes it in cheery colours, sprinkles on a self-aware script, and lets it loose in a storybook land with ghosts chasing anthropomorphic characters. Moving Out is its own game, but its mechanics and silliness might be a little overcooked. Its frivolity feels lifted out of time: one of the unlockable team members is a unicorn that leaves rainbows and sparkles when they run around, and a fart sound effect will occasionally interrupt the synthy, electric guitar soundtrack. Though the levels become more and more complicated with environmental hazards, levers, conveyor belts, and burst gas pipes, the objective remains the same: move everything from A to V(an). At the end of a few of the jobs, I was in need of a coffee and a sit-down, despite drinking coffee and sitting down.
Moving Out is a puzzle game that prioritises co-op capers in a peculiar land where smooth moves are anything but. It's a game that pays particular care to chaos, as the player careens and lurches into dressers and shelves, scattering their contents satisfyingly. The cartoony visuals will only wear thin if you are a curmudgeonly gremlin who loves nothing, and the tunes are pretty toe-tapping. And when a heady infusion of creativity and strategy has you scraping a double bed through a single doorway successfully, that's how you know that Moving Out has snapped you up. It took a few levels to get to grips with its wibbly-wobbly controls and to tweak the Assist Mode, but there's a gleeful triumph in attaining gold badges as the levels are getting tougher. In time, I hope my friends will play Moving Out with me, though I can't promise I won't leave all the heavy lifting to them.
Developer: SMG Studio, Devm Games
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed on], Xbox One, Switch
Release date: April 28, 2020
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