Side Effects May Include Joy
My wife and I burn through couch co-op games like a race car burns through tires. Whether it's Overcooked, Chariot, or Cuphead, we never pass up the opportunity to irreparably damage our relationship over our inability to coordinate button presses. So when I browsed the Switch eShop and saw a game about two paramedics stuffing bodies into an ambulance, you can bet your aspirin that I hit "Purchase". A few days later, I'm pleased to report that The Stretchers is a great addition to our library.
The premise itself should give you a pretty good idea of what you're in for. The cartoonishly villainous Captain Brains is afflicting the world's residents with a nasty case of the Dizzies, and it's up to two dorky paramedics—played by you and up to one friend—to save them one ambulance ride at a time. It's a silly setup for an equally silly game, so if you don't mind a villain named Captain Brains then you definitely won't mind The Stretchers' corny puns, rocket-powered ambulance, and alarming abundance of sumo wrestlers.
The crux of The Stretchers' gameplay revolves around navigating these two paramedics and their stretcher to the Dizzies, getting them on the stretcher, and then hauling them back to the ambulance. In practice, of course, it's rarely that simple, as each mission takes place in a different area that presents new challenges, like the logging camp's rotating saws, the farmhouse's aggressive pigs, or the mine's timed explosives. The paramedics must coordinate in order to solve puzzles and traverse each mission's obstacles.
If it sounds like The Stretchers is made for couch co-op, that's because it simply is. Although the game can technically be played entirely single-player, those who choose to do so will have a lot less fun than those playing with friends. The Stretchers' puzzles are fairly simple, and much of the fun relies on quirks like watching your spouse get harassed by angry moles or arguing with your friend about the proper way to carry a nude scientist. Although the wacky scenarios and slapstick humor are still present while playing solo, you'll be missing out on the intended experience if you choose to save the world alone.
And it's intended experience is...pretty great, actually. The Stretchers' basic mechanics of getting Dizzies on the stretcher and delivering them to the ambulance are pretty simple, but the fifteen-or-so missions and environments are varied enough that they never quite get stale. There are even some unexpected curve balls like ambulance races, sawing trees, and sprinting with fireworks to break up the repetition. Most missions are fairly easy—which isn't such a bad thing in a couch co-op game—but can be replayed and include a scoring system and optional objectives to challenge your efficiency and coordination, if that's something that appeals to you.
But if you do still want more, The Stretchers actually has a lot to offer. Between missions, players are free to explore the game's map in their ambulance. Players can find side missions which unlock collectibles like new outfits or furniture for your home base, or they can unlock ramps that your ambulance can jump off to access new areas, which likely also contain collectibles. The Stretchers' map is dense with extra goodies like these, and even driving the ambulance is a cooperative experience after you've unlocked enough upgrades, making exploration surprisingly fun and rewarding for a couch co-op game. Even after the credits rolled my wife and I spent time just driving around the map, leaping off every ramp we could find, and searching for oddities that might hide a new TV for our base.
As far as couch co-op experiences go, The Stretchers nails just about every beat. It's fun, funny, and surprisingly dense, with enough content to keep you and a friend entertained for multiple game nights. I wouldn't recommend it to a solo player, but if you've got a pair of medics then there's no reason not to play as these paramedics.
TechRaptor covered The Stretchers on Nintendo Switch with a code purchased by the author.