It’s not often that Nintendo — or any first-party publisher — publishes a game without telling everyone beforehand, but that’s what happened with THE STRETCHERS. The celebrated Japanese company collaborated with Little Nightmares developer Tarsier Studios out of the blue to develop this quirky title that deserved more pre-launch fanfare. Rather than being hyped up by a Nintendo Direct, it was tossed out in the middle of the holiday season in between big Switch releases like Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokemon Sword and Shield. Despite being stealth dropped and essentially cast off to be forgotten about, Tarsier Studios has put out a great title that truly shows its range as a developer.
Developed with cooperative multiplayer in mind, The Stretchers has each player controlling a rescue worker that drives around a small island in order to save people that have become dizzy due to the “criminal mastermind” Captain Brains. The story is rather simple, as it revolves around an ex-employee turned maniacal villain that is causing chaos and players are sent on a variety of missions to get things back to normal. Each mission typically revolves around saving six different people in varied locales ranging from docks to farms and mines. After collecting everyone, who typically need to be brought back via stretcher to the ambulance, players have to drive back to the hospital in order to cure the town folk from their spell of dizziness.
The controls are rather simple as players use a single Joy-Con to move around and then use the trigger to grab onto objects. Besides a button for entering a car, that’s basically the extent to the complexity, and this is a title that any gamer can enjoy even if they don’t have much previous gaming experience. The big caveat here is that there is no online play to be found. That means you’ll have to play The Stretchers locally if you want to play it as a multiplayer title, and it shines in that same-room atmosphere as players can cooperate better if they’re sharing a couch.
The Stretchers Review | Just as fun by yourself
However, if you think that is a deal-breaker, then you’ll be glad to know that it’s fantastic as a single-player title as well. Rather than pairing players with a helpful partner controlled by artificial intelligence, Tarsier Studios made the smart choice of making solo players control both of the on-screen characters. This ups the complexity a bit, and is probably the best way to play if you’re looking for a challenge rather than a bunch of wacky fun. From a control scheme standpoint, it essentially plays like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as each control stick moves a different rescue worker. While it doesn’t have any emotional weight tied to pressing buttons or use the control scheme to further its narrative like Brothers did, this unique layout is still a blast to use here. Choosing this control scheme was brilliant because it’s nice to see it used in a game that isn’t centered around tragedy and grief.
Beyond the standard rescue missions, there are several side activities that can be found around the world. These are fun side missions that have the workers engaging in stuff like cutting trees, using explosives to destroy boulders, and other various odd-jobs. Just as much cooperation is needed here, as all the utilities require two people to operate. Whether it’s making your thumbs work in unison or coordinating with a partner, all of these situations are pretty fun to get through as they take the same mechanics of the main game and cleverly graft them onto something else.
The main missions that side alongside those optional quests do start to feel a bit samey midway through The Stretchers, but the game starts adding in some extra complexity. Forcing players to jump onto seesaws in order to reach high places and interacting with more switches give the levels much more of a satisfying challenge. It’s actually easy to get stumped if you’re not sure exactly what to do, and some sort of in-game hint system would’ve been nice as it’s certainly targeting a more casual market. However, nothing presented in the game is too difficult to overcome, and any two minds that come together should be able to figure out the solution to the puzzles that Tarsier has come up with.
The Stretchers Review | Plenty of replayability to be found
About a quarter through the campaign, players earn the ability to replay levels that they have previous done. This ties into one of the in-game collectibles that players can unlock called stickers. These are earned by doing a wide variety of tasks such as getting five seconds of airtime while driving to finishing a mission quickly. These goals are fun to target, and should give players that really want to spend more time in The Stretchers‘ charming world plenty to do. There are also different hats and customization options to be unlocked, so there’s a decent bit of secrets to find by simply exploring the island.
The Stretchers is a polished experience, but that doesn’t apply to the driving controls. It’s never quite as precise as one would want, but the world is largely destructible and you get bonuses for destroying brick walls and running over fences rather than getting punished. The Stretchers’ vehicle controls have the hectic feel that add to the experience to a degree rather than take away from it. And there’s also a few upgrades to be applied to the car, as you can unlock nitrous in order to fly through the air off jumps and go faster, which adds some depth.
A blast whether you play it by yourself or with a friend, The Stretchers is bound to put a smile on the face of anyone that plays it and showcases how talented a developer Tarsier Studios is. The team went from creating one of the creepiest horror platformers in recent memory to a lighthearted romp that is clearly inspired by the work of Josef Fares. From the controls down to the red and blue color scheme of the characters, The Stretchers is made for the Switch and that commitment benefits the experience as a whole as well as the creative execution of its silly ideas.