'The Stretchers' Review: Nintendo's Next Great Co-Op Relationship Tester
The Stretchers is the latest in a series of physics-based co-op games revolving around real-world activities, seemingly created purely to test the strength of your relationships with friends and loved ones. Oh, and it's brilliant.
This Nintendo Switch exclusive, made by Little Nightmares developers Tarsier Studios, is centered around two player-controlled medics, who drive from location to location rescuing the locals of Green Horn Island. Said residents have all been hit with a serious case of "the Dizzies", brought on by a sinister villain known as Captain Brains.
There's so much joy in all aspect of The Stretchers. Every mission begins with a madcap drive across the island from home base, in your completely invulnerable ambulance. Crashing through cars on the road, destroying brick walls or attempting massive jumps off ramps in an attempt to devastate billboard signs - it's all very Crazy Taxi. Unsurprisingly, only one player can drive the ambulance - therein revealing the first argument players will have, because just driving across the world is ridiculous fun.
It's not just an NHS-themed Crazy Taxi-alike, tho. Oh no, the meat of the game is the missions. Between the two players, you solve puzzles and traverse a variety of different locations on the island to find and bring back Dizzies-struck residents to your ambulance.
Fortunately - or unfortunately, if your relationship with your co-op partner is on the rocks - it's not that easy. Each mission has its fair share of obstacles, whether its fish being fired out of cannons, water sprinklers or good old-fashioned rakes (Sideshow Bob knows). Being hit by any of these will incur a small score penalty and a good few seconds of time ragdolling on the ground - not great when there is a time-limit bonus.
You can either drag patients back one by one, or team up and use your trusty stretcher to get them to the safety(?) of your ambulance. Each player controls one half of the stretcher - like in real life - and navigating your way around these locations, back to the ambulance, takes real-world communication. One small move in the wrong direction can cause a whole heap of trouble, and a whole heap of patients strewn across the floor.
Carrying patients on a stretcher isn't the only task you'll be asked to do together. For some reason, the locals on the island rely on medics to saw down trees, blow up rocks with fireworks (yes there's a timer for that too, and yes they can blow up in your hands) and, most frustratingly, you're expected to cut down grass.
Operating a lawnmower as a pair takes a different kind of thought process. Instead of moving a wide object left and right around a world, you instead have to push forwards simultaneously - ugh. I needed a time-out from my partner and the game after a section that revolved around mowing a lawn and being chased by point-deducting beavers left me a broken husk of a man.
If you enjoy games like Overcooked, you'll know what to expect here: the anger doesn't last forever, and feelings of accomplishment reign supreme over any frustration towards the game, or your co-op partner. I've had a crazy amount of fun with The Stretchers, and I can guarantee that I'll have more in the future. The ragdoll puzzles combined with Crazy Taxi-style ambulance segments come together to create something truly enjoyable.
Like any game, there are a few downsides. Playing with the tiny Joy-Cons is never ideal (the Xbox Duke is the best controller ever - fight me), and the game's story dialogue goes on for way too long. But these are minor quibbles that don't dramatically impact the great dollops of glee you're likely to find here.
Imagine the joy you felt playing Untitled Goose Game for the first time, then imagine playing that with a friend. Sprinkle in a dash of Overcooked, a smattering of Crazy Taxi (or The Simpsons: Road Rage) and you'll get a good idea of the terrific fun that can be had with The Stretchers.
The Stretchers was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using code supplied by the publishers. Read a guide to our review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo/Tarsier