Moving Out — Snap Judgement #10

How I Played: Moving Out is another example of a trend I love: brand new indie games landing on Xbox Game Pass just after their release. I played alongside my wife for about two hours across two game sessions.

Generally, moving is a huge pain. Who wants to carry heavy, bulky items through doorways and corridors, then arrange those items so that they’ll all fit in a vehicle? Answer: nobody. But what if you were moving with your friends, and you could recklessly chuck things out windows, and the entire world had a rad 80’s vibe to it? Would that be fun? Because that’s the concept behind Moving Out, a multiplayer couch co-op game where you play as a “professional” moving team, packing up houses, offices, and farms across the city of Packmore.

And, is it fun? Well, yes. Overall, Moving Out is an enjoyable experience with an aesthetic that’s infectiously delightful. But the game also feels divided. It feels like Moving Out wants to be, simultaneously, a competition and a comedy — it wants to be a game with objectives and strategy and a game that makes people laugh as they play it. The problem is that the compromises that allow one of those aspects to exist undercuts the other, and in the end, the game doesn’t completely succeed at either goal.

The core of this division seems to stem from a few major influences that sculpted the game. The overall structure — a cute, single-screen, couch co-op experience where everyone is working toward one goal — seems clearly inspired by Overcooked and Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime. But the game’s springy, loose, hilarity inducing physics are reminiscent of Human Fall Flat, Gang Beasts, and Totally Reliable Delivery Service. That elevator pitch sounds great — in theory, you could get both audiences in the Venn diagram, not just where they intersect — but, in practice, the combination ignores the core essence that made those other games work.

The floppy, funny physics games (Fall Flat, Gang Beasts, and Totally Reliable) are only designed to be funny. Sure, they all have competitive elements — Gang Beasts is a fighting game, while the other two have objectives that need to be completed — but those elements are really just excuses to continue creating hilarity through the wobbly, springy animations the characters are making. You could argue that these games are “difficult to control” because it’s challenging to translate your intentions through the controller and into the game, but that’s the point. The difficulty in manipulating the characters leads to the hilarity on the screen, and creating hilarity is the end objective.

On the other hand, the cute, couch co-op games (Overcooked and Lovers) are the opposite; their objective is to streamline your inputs (within certain boundaries) so that you can compete as a team against the game’s demands. Even though their art styles are cute, their mechanics are totally serious. Inputs are simple, and it’s not hard to get your character to do what you want them to do. If the controls were obtrusive, like they are in the floppy physics games, playing would be frustrating because you would have a hard time working together and fighting in unison against the game.

That’s the problem that Moving Out runs into. The game’s physics are designed to create hilarity: glass shatters as soon as you tap it; objects tip over easily and slide around the environment; characters reach for objects by mindlessly holding their arms straight out. But the game’s structure is serious and competitive. A timer grades you on your performance, notifying you when you’ve been deducted a medal rank; bonus objectives pop up after you’ve completed a level; you eventually unlock arcade levels that really challenge your skills.

Again, I’m not saying that Moving Out fails to walk the tightrope it has created. It actually splits the difference between these two ideas pretty well. The problem is that I can still feel the pull in either direction at different times. When my wife and I got into a competitive spirit and tried to earn some gold medals, we became frustrated. It’s very easy to unexpectedly get hung up on corners and doorframes in this game, burning away the precious seconds the game demands of you. But, when we tried to just play casually and complete the objectives in our own time, the timer’s notifications would constantly remind us that we were supposed to be working faster.

Personally, I wish Moving Out had let itself tip completely toward its competitive side. With a few tweaks like smoothing out those frustrating doorways and adding a button that allows you to rotate yourself around an object while holding it (it’s often hard to grab the specific side of the object you want to carry), the game could be a lot more enjoyable in a competitive sense while still maintaining most of its silliness.

On a separate note, I can’t finish this review without noting all the little details I loved. The 80s aesthetic was fantastic, especially the music and the presence of little Super Nintendo consoles you have to move. The game’s inclusivity is also a huge high point. Any character can use a wheelchair, and there’s an option to convert the menus into a dyslexic friendly font. There’s also an assist mode that simplifies some mechanics and is designed to make the game more accessible. (A feature that all players, not just disabled ones, will likely appreciate.)

There’s a lot to love about Moving Out, and if you have Xbox Game Pass, it’s definitely worth a spin. And, who knows, with a few tweaks in future patches, the game could evolve into a classic. But for now, when I play this game, a part of me feels like I’m reenacting that scene from Friends. I’m yelling “pivot!” but I’m still stuck.

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Chris On Videogames

Chris On Videogames

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Videogame criticism that’s short, sharp, and insightful. New reviews every other Friday.