Here are the most dreaded five words in the English language: “Can you help me move?”
So hey, why not make a video game about it? Australian developer SMG is doing just that with its upcoming Switch game, titled Moving Out. It takes the concept of helping people move and puts it on its head... and its side, and its face, and violently out the window too, probably. You’ll see.
It’s a testament to publisher Team17 that it keeps finding inspiration in the mundane. After the runaway success of Overcooked and its numerical sequel, Team17 is following up cooking with the concept of moving people poorly. Even though the art style and gameplay machinations are similar to Overcooked, Moving Out is a different beast by a different team, but it’s a compliment – not an insult – to say that you wouldn’t really be able to tell it wasn’t made by the Overcooked team after playing it.
Like a lot of great games, the goal is simple. You begin the game from a top-down, transparent vantage point of a house. The character that you’ll control (a Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technician, or "F.A.R.T." for short) is tasked with getting all the white outlined items inside of the house onto a loading dock that’s somewhere else on the screen, usually outside. There’ll be between two to four of you, depending on how many people are playing.
Seems easy enough, and in fact, grabbing and moving stuff isn’t really the part of the game that trips you up. You’ll frequently find that it’s your friends (soon to be your enemies) that get in the way. But you need them because, well, furniture is heavy. And time is short. A timer runs down in the top corner of the screen, slowly draining from gold into silver, then bronze, before becoming a game over alert.
The first level we played was not a house, but an office. Moving Out is set in the 1980s, by the way, so items you’re moving in all levels resemble the bulkiest and most cumbersome versions of technology: giant monitors, big copy printers, and old refrigerators. The fact that this game even has a setting (as well as some kind of narrative story, we’re told) is pretty hilarious. We had five minutes to get about 30-some wonky tables, boxes, and ancient computer equipment – not to mention a nylon tunnel, like the type a dog runs through – onto a central loading area. Oh, and if we could curse dramatically on this website, we would. It’s one thing to get the stuff to the loading dock, but good luck trying to get it all to neatly fit on it. Nothing counts as “loaded” unless it’s within the four, white borders.
Even as far as couch co-ops go, the amount of hilarity generated from this simple send-up was somewhat shocking. We were four strangers holding controllers one moment, four poorly-oiled moving machines with a large crowd behind us the next. It was almost impossible to do anything on the screen that didn’t elicit huge laughter from the people behind us. Moving Out allows you to grab things, but it also lets you throw whatever you pick up. And even the slightest nudge against most items on the stage will send it flying: tables, chairs, whatever. Glass shatters easily, to comedic effect, and there are no points for being orderly, so the game encourages you to toss entire sofas out of windows and full sprint through glass doors. All that really matters is that you get the stuff to the loading dock. The clock is ticking.
What adds to the game’s charm is that everything is so disarmingly cute. Electronics are slow to budge until their cords are exaggeratedly yanked from the wall, dragged furniture leaves permanent damage lines all over the floors (which amusingly traces your poor routes) and the ragdoll physics of mostly everything makes anything you do funny. Your characters are over the top too, with the crowd favorite hands-down being the toaster, which happily flops toast out from its skull everywhere it goes. (Here’s a nice touch: the toast turns to burnt toast when you’re struggling to lift something heavy.) The game hasn’t finished development yet, but the little details are already impressive.
The vibes of the gameplay extend onto the stages as well. One other way Moving Out mirrors Overcooked is that the levels will quickly increase in absurdity. You’ll soon be moving boxes across a river, you’ll be able to tell from haunted homes because of the ghosts, and sometimes you’ll be asked to unload from the wing of an aeroplane. And on it goes.
SMG’s biggest success up to this point in their history has been the puzzle game Death Squared, a gridded puzzler that uses rainbow coloured-cubes and lasers to play with your mind. In our conversation with the developers, they expressed it was a goal of theirs to make a game that wasn’t simply good, but could provide way more character than their earlier game about boxes did. Well, they kept the boxes, but in every other way, mission accomplished.
In terms of official details, the only commitment SMG has given is to launch the game on multiple platforms, including on the Nintendo Switch, as a 2-4 player, local co-op game. (They’re still experimenting with things like AI and online, but nothing official yet, so stay tuned.) In addition to high scores, SMG is also tinkering with adding challenges, such as trying to finish a move without breaking anything. Yeah, okay.
Even exactly as the game is right now, as a silly demo among many on a show floor, Moving Out taps into one of society’s most universally shared experiences; not saving the world, but what happens when you can’t make rent. It frustrates that the number of developers exploring escapism in non-apocalyptic settings are so few in comparison, because by making light of something we’ve all gone through, Moving Out was easily the most amusing game on the PAX show floor.
Just ask the people standing behind us watching us trying to fit a long table through a doorway.