The Stretchers is hilarious. Tarsier's comedy co-op puzzler that's just dropped unannounced onto the Switch eShop is a big, bright blast of ludicrously OTT ragdoll physics-based slapstick that sees you and a friend – you can play solo but two is the sweet spot here – take control of a pair of wibbly-wobbly paramedics and their Crazy Taxi-style ambulance as you race around Greenhorn Island saving dizzies from the nefarious plans of Captain Brain, who's been knocking locals into a state of mental confusion in a bizarre attempt to exact revenge on you and your rescue team. It wastes no time getting you right into the action, is easy to control and will have you in tears of laughter and frustrated hysterics as you try (and mostly fail) to co-ordinate your bendy-limbed relief efforts whilst avoiding all manner of deadly traps and pitfalls strewn across each of the seventeen levels on offer.
And what levels they are. This isn't the longest game in the world by any means – we managed to blow through it in about four hours – but in that short time you'll wobble your way around the spinning blades of a sawmill, fling yourself down seaside ziplines, co-ordinate the use of a very heavy lawnmower, bounce on countless trampolines, get smashed by a wrecking ball, go head-to-head with some out-of-control tractors and try to avoid some miffed moles as you carry an unconscious sumo wrestler to safety across an allotment.
There's a fine amount of variety in the missions you undertake across the north and south of Greenhorn Island, and each one is replayable in both standard and time attack modes once you unlock the arcade at your base a little later in the game. The main rescue missions each come with three challenges to complete – stuff like opening all the shed or toilet doors, avoiding being hit by cars or finding a bit of hidden treasure – and there are also a bunch of specific tasks to complete in order to fill in all the gaps in your little sticker book, which acts as an achievement tracker.
Alongside the main missions which drive the story along, there are a bunch of crazy side missions which mix things up further, taking the focus off rescuing dizzies in favour of flinging you headlong into such calamitous madness as using a two-man saw to cut down trees in the middle of a very busy dirt rally track. There's also a bunch of hats and catalogues to unlock to customise your medics back at your base between slapstick sorties, and overall – though the game is quite short – Tarsier has done a good job of giving you a reason, beyond the constant hilarity of it all, to revisit each of the missions on offer here.
The Stretchers does a really great job of treading a fine line between being hilariously frustrating whilst not driving you so far over the edge that you feel like giving up. The controls are easy to get to grips with but there's just enough ham-fistedness in how your little wobbly paramedics go about things that a simple task never works out quite how you want it to. You'll need to audibly direct one another in order to time tricky runs past blades and pesky conveyor belts, and when it all gets a little heated (as it absolutely will) you can take the edge off by clapping at one another and then maybe singing a little tune together to regain your composure.
Once you've done all the serious work of loading all available dizzies into your ambulance, you can then let off some more steam by taking off at high speed, crashing through walls, jumping stunt ramps, driving right through people's gardens and availing yourself of a handful of ambulance upgrades that enable you to boost, glide-crash and spin your way to the doors of the local hospital where Captain Brain's victims are returned to normal via the marvellous De-Dizzler 3000. All of these jumps and stunts then feed into your end-of-level score, so it pays to be as stupid as possible behind the wheel of your ambulance – something made easier by the fact one person drives while the other has control of the turbo booster for maximum carnage.
If we had one gripe with the gameplay here it's that the actual stretcher your paramedics use to pick up dizzies and load them into the back of their ambulance isn't really essential to doing the job. In fact, you can totally forget about using it for the most part – and that's a bit of a shame, because loading dizzies on it and trying to balance them as you get to your transport makes things all the more tricky and hilarious. It would have been nice to see this stretcher aspect enforced in some way so that you don't leave it by the wayside in most missions.
Graphically, The Stretchers is highly reminiscent of Two Point Hospital; it's a chunky and colourful game that looks just as good in portable as it does docked. We had zero technical problems on our playthrough, although the framerate can dip ever-so-slightly when you get really wild in the ambulance from time to time. The music is as daft as expected, speeding up comically as things get ever more out of control onscreen and the cast of characters you meet along the way – including our personal favourite, Professor Doctor – all fit in perfectly to the madcap tone of proceedings.
Obviously this is a game that you'll derive the most fun out of in co-op but we did find that solo worked perfectly well; the whole thing is still fun if you need to power through it alone, just be prepared to feel like your brain is separating down the middle on occasion as you try to get your head around a few of the puzzles sans a partner. A more worrying issue is perhaps that owners of the Switch Lite may find themselves needing to grab a secondary pair of Joy-Con to join in the co-op fun and it's a shame in this instance there's no workaround for those non-detachable grips on Switch's newest model.
The Stretchers is an unexpected delight, dropping on to the eShop without warning and perfectly timed to brighten up the long, dark winter days ahead. Tarsier has taken all its experience working on the likes of Ragdoll Kung-Fu: Fists of Plastic and LittleBigPlanet and brought it together to deliver this ridiculously OTT ragdoll puzzle riot that works well in solo but is on another level when enjoyed with a friend in co-op. Missions are varied and lend themselves perfectly to moments of hilarious slapstick, and there's a couple of real standout moments scattered across the course of proceedings that will have you laughing all the way to the end.