There’re two approaches you can take to making a successful co-op game: precision teamwork or unbridled chaos. I know that I’m being exceptionally reductive in terms of game design, but if I think back to co-op experiences I’ve really enjoyed they fall into one of those two categories. The former is something akin to lining up synchronous headshots in Ghost Recon: Wildlands and the latter could be something like the frantic mayhem of Overcooked. They both deliver an entirely unique experience but the one thing they have in common is the central idea of co-ordination. See, cooperation doesn’t necessarily require coordination and when it does the results are usually far less…cooperative.
It’s much simpler to work by yourself together with someone doing their own thing to achieve a united goal, yet when you’re both required to do the same thing at the same time, the result is a beautifully messy marriage of chaotic teamwork. It’s something that The Stretchers does really well, providing a simple premise for a co-operative experience and then turning into a complicated bundle of flailing limbs and yelling. In other words, it might be one of the best out there.
The simplicity of The Stretchers is what makes it a truly unique co-op game and a damn fun time to play solo too. Your city has been struck by a plague of dizziness and as the only two paramedics available, you’ll have to drive around the streets and gather up your nauseous patients onto your stretcher and get them to the The De-Dizzler 3000 to clear their heads. It’s possible to pick up and fling your haplessly dizzy patients into the ambulance solo, but to really get the highest possible score you’ll both have to take an end and lug them about on your stretcher. It’s incredibly simple, only mechanically using three buttons for the vast majority of the game and yet what makes the game so challenging are the levels you’re expected to navigate.
Typically mundane locations like the beach and a post office have been warped into puzzling mazes that will require some precision movement and the lightest hints of platforming. By essentially forcing both players to link themselves into a rigid straight line to traverse the level, The Stretchers requires both communication and teamwork to solve its “puzzles” within the lowest time possible.
Yet despite how intricate The Stretchers can be it remains remarkably accessible at its core. I sat down to play it with my 83-year-old Nana, who only knows how to reverse in Mario Kart 8, and yet we were able to steam on ahead and de-dizzy dozens of citizens, having a whale of a time while we were at it. The simplicity of it makes for a co-op that’s deceptive in its presentation: It’s the sort of game with a very low skill floor but an incredibly high skill ceiling. The sort of game that will be incredibly enjoyable to watch people speedrun together, demonstrating all kinds strategies me and my Nana would have never dreamed of.
Beyond the individual levels, you’ll also be able to drive around a small hub world in your ambulance equipped with all kinds of gadgets and doodads. The Stretchers even splits your roles driver and tech-person, with one person put in charge of the traditional driving the other running the boost and gliding wings. It takes what could have been a boring aspect of the game, waiting around while one person drives to the next location, and injects a little more interactivity for the poor soul you’ve dragged along to be your co-pilot.
That being said, The Stretchers is also a great deal of fun to play solo. When you remove the second person from your party, you’ll have to pick up the slack on their behalf, turning the game from a co-op experience into an exercise in ambidexterity. While that might sound frustrating, and Lord knows it can be, it’s never the fault of the game as you fight yourself to instil some level of coordination between your two medics. While certainly not as enjoyable as playing it with a friend (or a Nana, in my case) The Stretchers manages to carry its silly weight by itself, a testament that not every game made with co-op on mind need be barred from solo play.
I came away from The Stretchers honestly surprised. A sleeper release by Nintendo at the back half of the year with an art style that doesn’t exactly catch the eye turned out to be one of my favourite gaming experiences of the year. A deceptively simple co-op puzzler that has just enough silly physics to tickle that juvenile part of your brain that enjoys seeing people fall over in the most ridiculous manner possible. It’s unbridled fun wrapped up in a very simple (and largely) unimportant story that also hides a fair share of secrets around its pleasant little map. It’s the sort of game I would recommend to couples looking to reconnect after a heated fight or parents looking to bridge the gap between themselves a teenager who’s starting to act out. Am I saying The Stretchers is the cure for divorce? Yes. Yes, maybe I am.
Last Updated: November 28, 2019