These days it’s not often that a game ‘comes out of nowhere’. Leaks, previews, pre-launch reveals, announcement trailers, announcement trailers announcing other announcement trailers… it’s all gone a bit mad. We usually know about upcoming games months or even years before they launch. The surprise launch is almost a thing of the past. However, that’s just what Tarsier Studios and Nintendo managed to do with The Stretchers. An out-of-the-blue announcement and immediate launch caught most of us unawares, but after playing it over the last week my advice is: ‘take two and call me in the morning’. A short, sweet, comical two-player co-op experience that combines elements of some of your favourite games delivered by bright, blocky medics in a tricked-out ambulance. It’s just a whole lot of fun and way cheaper than your monthly medical aid bill.
Get dizzy with it
A disgraced former paramedic decides to turn to a life of crime by going the ‘maniacal supervillain’ route. He invents a dastardly machine that turns run-of-the-mill farmers and common townsfolk into dizzy dimwits and it’s up to a couple of regular paramedics to save the day. Yup, it’s the kind of storyline that you’d expect from a Saturday morning cartoon and while it probably won’t be winning any groundbreaking narrative awards – it’s the perfect humorous backdrop for a bright action puzzler that oozes comfy familiarity and plain-old fun.
It’s just a whole lot of fun and way cheaper than your monthly medical aid bill.
You take control of the two wonderfully big-boned oddballs who function as the first responders to disasters in a small two-island world. Each cartoony character is slightly customisable and after some quick alterations, you’ll soon have your paramedic pair to start your adventure with. Starting at your home base you’ll traverse the bold world in a clunky but seemingly indestructible ambulance to various areas in need of assistance as directed by a funny dispatcher.
Catch and return
The fetch-quest-style loop may sound a little mundane but instead is peppered with nods to other games and a wonderful wackiness that kept me interested during the whole playthrough. Travelling to each location feels a lot like Sega’s Crazy Taxi. Rather than picking up passengers for fares though, you’re directed across the map to hot zones where ‘dizzies’ need assistance. Much like Crazy Taxi, getting to the location is so entertaining! Not only do you rack up extra points for destruction (trees, signboards and fences can all be obliterated along the way)and using shortcuts like driving between homes and off high-cliffs but the controls are ‘loose’ in the best way possible. Instead of a tight real-car Forza-like experience, the Ambulance somehow feels heavy and too fast ensuring that you’re wildly flying, flipping and careening your way to and from each new location. It’s mad and I loved it.
Travelling to each location feels a lot like Sega’s Crazy Taxi…and in the great two-player mode the game feels like a less-stressful Overcooked (or a more colourful, 3D BoxBoy! and BoxGirl!)
Once you arrive though, the ‘pick-up’ process is a little more complicated. At each location 5 or 6 dizzies will be strewn across a pun-themed area (like at the beach: ‘Seas The Day!’ or at an unkempt farm: ‘Weed It & Reap’). Here the main puzzle element kicks in. Each medic has a basic grasp-and-release ability. This means they can carry, pull or push a variety of objects. Some objects (including patients) can be comically dragged across areas by a single medic, whereas other heavier objects need to be carried by both medics. Alternatively (as the name of the game implies) both medics can whip out their trusty (and kind of magical) stretcher and carry a whole host of objects and people in one go. All dizzies need to be returned to the ambulance as quickly as possible by any means necessary. It may sound simple, but thanks to some hilarious sound effects, cleverly hidden objects, a count-down timer, an on-going points tally and some great physics-based puzzle design that remixes the formula, it’s a really engaging process. I mean you get to drag Sumo-wrestlers in wheelbarrows! Nuff said.
Controlling the medics and this unique grasp-mechanic is a little unwieldy but feels that way by-design; clunky movements and wide turning circles are employed as a mechanic that needs to be dealt with so that puzzles can be solved. When in two-player mode (using single Joy-Cons) the game feels like a less-stressful Overcooked (or a more colourful, 3D BoxBoy! and BoxGirl!). While working as a team, you’ll quickly find that like the games above Stretchers will test your communication style but thanks to it’s more accommodating difficulty a lot of laughter can be expected too. It’s a fantastic two-player couch co-op and if you were looking for a game in that mould – this is really an ideal choice.
The funny Saturday morning cartoon-like story is a perfect humorous backdrop for a bright action co-op puzzler.
In my case though, I tackled most of the game’s story mode as a single-player. You may think this is not the way to play a co-op game but I really enjoyed the way it handled gameplay when alone. Instead of alternating control of the characters like Overcooked or BoxBoy! this time each character is controlled by the two different sides of your controller. Buttons and analogue sticks on the left control one, those on the right control on the other. At first, this is a whole lot like rubbing your stomach and smacking your head at the same time. But after a while your brain clicks into the multitasking brain-divide and it brings in yet another layer of complexity that I really found gratifying.
Probably the best feature of this game is that it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. And by that, I mean that you can complete the story mode in about five hours or so. It’s a short romp through a bright funny world that lets you enjoy some fun (if a little repetitive) gameplay and offers enough variety to keep you interested for its duration. Plus, if like me, you enjoyed the journey you can go back for a host of extras. You can try to find hidden cosmetic collectables (to spice up the look of your medic or your Homebase). Or you can return to any completed puzzle area to collect special ‘stickers’ to complete an album of tougher puzzle tasks which include things like saving all the dizzies in an area without being knocked out by angry moles or a swinging crane (two actual things that happen). Finally, you could even jump back to improve your completion speed in a time-attack mode.
It’s not only a fun two-player co-op but by paying homage to some pretty great games it provides a wonderfully familiar experience that will no doubt have you second-guessing why you did not enter the medical profession like your parents said you should.
As you can tell – I really enjoyed my time as a pair of comical paramedics and heartily recommend everyone to give it a go. Of course, that’s not to say that it has no issues. I would have loved to see more diseases in the style of Two-Point Hospital for example (that’s actually my new dream crossover event). Also, the initial loading screen takes so long I thought the game had stalled, the single save slot feels archaic and occasionally controlling two-characters running in opposite directions had the camera freak-out a little (and you cannot control it). And once or twice a bug suddenly flung all my patients to all corners of the map – but a quick and easy puzzle-restart (available in the options) solved this. All being said and done – this is a great little game that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s not only a fun two-player co-op but by paying homage to some pretty great games it provides a wonderfully familiar experience that will no doubt have you second-guessing why you did not enter the medical profession like your parents said you should. If it’s anything like this game depicts, it’s clearly a heck of a lot of fun.