Of all the games I’ve played in 2019, The Stretchers easily claims the award for strangest debut. Announced and then immediately dropped literally out of nowhere last week, this goofball of a game is certainly a departure from the dark and unsettling horrors of developer Tarsier Studios’ previous work Little Nightmares but it’s fresh territory they’ve managed to strike belly-laughing gold with.
In The Stretchers, you play as two paramedics tasked with rescuing the residents of Green Horn Island from Captain Brain, an evil man who has stricken all with a serious case of the Dizzies. How you go about doing that is through a rather unexpected blend of travelling the game’s open world and then tending to helpless citizens in self-contained physics-based missions. The game can be played entirely on your own but really the preferable option is when you have two working together as a team.
Playing through The Stretchers reminded me of other teamwork focused party games like Overcooked or the upcoming Moving Out, where often a carefully laid out plan would end up in panicked chaos. Each of the game’s main missions will see you dashing about rescuing a handful of people by carrying them to the back of your ambulance be that via stretcher or even simply dragging them by their arms and legs. The stretcher itself can be pulled out at any moment from either medic and bodies piled on. Transporting it though requires both characters work together so as you can imagine if you’re playing with a friend communication is vital.
Interestingly The Stretchers involves a decent amount of puzzle-solving too along with its physics-based shenanigans. This might be timing your way past buzz saws at the old sawmill, spinning trampolines into position so you’re able to reach a patient on a rooftop or using a heavy lawnmower to cut the grass and open up your path. Each new mission would often introduce new challenges that helped keep things engaging. The scoring system too encouraged us to explore and be clever with our actions like using the aforementioned trampolines to bounce patients closer to the ambulance instead of the more time-consuming process of simply carrying them one by one.
Also sprinkled about the island are side missions. These have you make use of the game’s mechanics in a random assortment of situations such as cutting down trees or quickly carrying a ticking bomb over to a blocking giant boulder. They’re neat distractions that add a little more variety to the mix and plenty more absurdity.
As for getting about Green Horn Island, you’ll spend a large sum of that riding in your ambulance jumping ramps, smashing through walls and generally getting to and from missions in a destructive and hasty manner. While we’re not talking the sprawling levels of a Grand Theft Auto open world here, The Stretcher’s simpler playground is entertaining enough to journey through as you hurriedly transport your patients cutting through gardens, ploughing through fences or leaping down cliffs in the process. Like the rest of the game, it’s silly and over-the-top.
The Stretchers delivers moments that had us in hysterics from simply watching the objects and people reacting to the physics of the game. Right out the gate, we found ourselves having to take a minute after witnessing my wife slip on a stray skateboard that then crossed my character’s path causing him to slide face-first into an arcade cabinet upside-down. Fact is even when you’re just experimenting with the game’s physics whether things go as expected or go a little weird – which can happen from time to time – you can still at the very least guarantee a laugh or snigger from the results.
This is a game clearly built around co-operative play. While playing alone is a totally viable option it does restrict you in terms of creativity and efficiency. For example with a friend in tow, the pair of you can make the most of your time tackling different tasks simultaneously. Playing on your own restricts you to doing things one by one since your paramedics always stick together. Again this game is best enjoyed with two.
The controls are nice and simple whether you’re driving about the island or pulling our your stretcher. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get things a little muddled when for example trying to pick up a person who happens to be near a few other items that can also be lifted. Also while single-player offers the option to use a Pro Controller, if you opt for co-op the game forces you to use a single Joy-Con on its side. Luckily this isn’t the most demanding of games and perfectly playable this way however it is a pain not being able to use what is a far better control method.
I’m not the biggest fan of the game’s art style; it’s chunky and simple design coming off as boring if nothing else. It’s not an awful looking game by any means and it does run without any major hiccups; rather it’s one that’s bland to look at and mirrored by an equally bland soundtrack.
The Stretchers may not look visually appealing and it controls a little rough around the edges, but it’s also a hilarious time from start to finish. Best enjoyed as a co-op experience, this is the kind of surprise I’m more than willing to embrace from Nintendo in the future.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo