All I could think of when playing through some levels of The Stretchers Nintendo's new eShop exclusive Switch game, is that it feels like a Sega Dreamcast game that I somehow forgot to play 1999. It has the low-polished, light-colored aesthetic, a small little open town where it is acceptable to spread caricatonic devastation, and a patently ridiculous gaming mechanic who seems as if it will tear its welcome just in time for the game should be terminated.
Surprisingly with absolutely no warning this past Friday, The Stretchers have a couple of doctors driving an ambulance around town to rescue and / or endanger people. The primary (but far from the only) mechanic is to find injured people, load them onto a stretcher and take them back to the ambulance. If you play it cooperatively, each person checks a doctor. If you play yourself, you must control both at the same time.
What this means is that each location is its own unique challenge. If you work with another person, you need to coordinate all your movements to make sure you avoid obstacles, raise victims (and optional taxes, for bonus points) and get them in the van without comically falling over yourself. If you play solo, you don't have to worry about coordinating with another person, but you do have to worry about coordinating with yourself which can be even more difficult.
I have spent all my time in The Stretchers playing solo so far, and my brain is not entirely happy with my decision. The game asks you to control each character independently with the controller's two analog sticks, which made me feel a little twisted – especially when the character is controlled with the right stick crossed over on the left side of the screen!
said, the game generally understands that no matter which way you play it, it will be confusing. So it gives you a generous time to complete their missions. The standard mission is to save Dizzies, city people who are comically incapable and wobble with whirligigs over their heads. (They look pretty much like the similar hit characters in Space Channel 5 which I think is what first started thinking about Dreamcast when I was playing.]
You have to find a way through various obstacles to get to the Dizzies, take out your stretcher, violate it and shoot it under them and then bring them back to the ambulance. up of water spreader or cannons that shoot giant fish out of a nearby boat.You and your partner may need to work together to use a lawnmower to clear the grass before you can get to Dizzies, or bounce on trampolines to get up to rooftops where they wait to be rescued.
Along the way, you can lift bonus points by finding (stealing?) safes full of cash and dropping them back to the ambulance then, or to get more performance, like going into bushes. You get a penalty for stumbling upon an obstacle, but not too bad. Meanwhile, a generous bonus timer will tick; If you get all the Dizzies back to the hospital before they expire, you get more bonus points. You can play missions again to set higher scores and earn medals, which you can also get by performing tasks in the open world like staying in the air for a certain number of seconds, or almost hitting 100 people.
Between each mission you have to drive your ambulance around town. Fortunately, driving does not require you to split your brain in half, since only one doctor actually runs. These spaces are quite fun, as the city is designed to let you cross ramps and get huge air, terrorize pedestrians, cut wheat fields, smash through walls, etc. It's also full of secrets, like extra clothes and items for your home base , so you can just ignore the quests for a while and go around looking for things. There is also a wide range of side missions that do not involve rescuing, such as cutting down trees with a saw of two people.
I have no idea how long The Stretchers will last, but it seems to me to be a relatively compact experience. And it is fantastic! It really feels like a throw to the Sega design feel exactly 20 years ago, by a crazy 3D world built around a single unique mechanic who is bright, happy and trimmed to just the right amount of detail in his world to support the narrow gaming concept.