I must admit, I didn’t think much of Smart Moves when I first started playing it. In fact, I pretty much hated it, taking a while for things to “click” – before that everything was confusing and frustrating. However, once I wrapped my head around it I realised what we have here is a fun, if limited, little puzzle game.
Firstly, Smart Moves is simple, and it is that simplicity which is part of what makes it work. Each level, or puzzle, plays out on a themed grid made up of several squares. Each move you take needs to be thought out carefully – this is usually the case when enemies notice you and begin to approach, albeit one square at a time, matching your pace. You’ll notice when this happens as a little exclamation mark will appear above their head, very reminiscent of Solid Snake.
The aim of each puzzle is to open all the chests. You do this by simply moving up to them, and pressing the D-Pad, or moving the thumbstick in the correct direction to open them. In fact, you only need to control your character’s movement in the game, all the “actions” happen automatically. It’s worth noting the thumbstick does however feel overly sensitive and ensures you’ll pick up some deaths; I reverted to the D-Pad pretty sharpish.
This is also the case with attacking enemies. When they notice you, they will start to move in sequence with you, mirroring your speed. You’ll need to move into the square next to them and push in their direction to attack, however if you both go to occupy the same square, you’ll be instantly killed. Luckily you have no life limit, so you’ll just restart the puzzle. That is unless you have collected a scroll, which acts as a checkpoint, saving you some legwork. You can restart the level at any time by hitting “Y”, but you must hit “X” to restart from your checkpoint. I hit the wrong button way too much in the initial throes, as checkpoints only come along a little further into the game. An auto checkpoint system, with a restart option from the pause menu, would have worked better.
In terms of enemies, there are a few different types including snakes, spiders, gladiators and totems that you will encounter. Each has their own features, such as spiders taking two hits to kill; they’ll only be flipped onto their back after the first strike. This, however, is more important than it may seem.
As I mentioned earlier, enemies will move at your pace, so you might, no matter where you move, not be able to approach an enemy to strike without getting killed first. This is where you need to change the sequence without moving, and where the real puzzle element comes in. This can happen when you take an action such as opening a chest, or defeating an enemy. Others will still move, but you remain on the same square, therefore changing the sequence. Once this penny drops, Smart Moves all starts to make a lot more sense.
A great idea, that reveals itself a fair way into the game, is exploding fire bombs to open chests. Basically, when you attack these enemies you shoot them across the stage in order to open chests that you cannot reach yourself. It’s a great little idea, and lots of fun. It’s just a shame there aren’t a few more thrown in to mix the gameplay up further.
All in all, there are a decent amount of puzzles to solve, split into worlds with eight in each. Each world has a slightly different theme, such as forest and tower, but the game doesn’t really stick to them too closely. As you complete each puzzle you will unlock a key, and once you collect the required amount you can proceed to the next world.
What’s welcome is that there’s no expectation to complete every level to progress, so if you get stuck (and there are a few tricky ones in Smart Moves that will have you stumped) you can leave it and move on. A further nice touch is that each level has a brief description that also doubles as a hint, in an effort to steer the player in the right direction. The difficulty of the puzzles is a real mixed bag, and should offer some degree of challenge for most players.
Visually, Smart Moves looks… okay. It’s retro-inspired visuals are exactly what you’d expect from a low cost game and there’s nothing that really stands out here. It’s soundtrack is pretty chirpy though, and holds some variety that is fairly pleasant to listen to.
Overall, Smart Moves on Xbox One is a straight-forward, fun little game once you discover how it all works. At £4.19 it’s great value for money and there are most certainly worse ways to spend a few hours.