aka Chou Shittou Caduceus if you’re in Japan.
Not every day a game developer comes out with the idea to make a game about the operating room. The idea for Trauma Center: Under the Knife was born over three years ago. Although there wasn’t hardware to recreate the intense experience of saving lives. You just can’t do it with a controller, but the DS’s touch screen is a whole other story. Once the DS was announced Kazuya Niinou stepped in to recreate the project.
Trauma Center puts you in the shoes of rookie surgeon Derek Stiles. He’s still learning the trade, but has a knack for saving lives. Assisting Derek is his main spunky nurse Angie and his mentor Dr. Hoffman. You start out in Hope Hospital saving patients from car accidents and removing tumors. The story doesn’t stop at the operating room. Soon Derek finds himself caught in between a bio epidemic known as GUILT. Only Derek’s fast "healing touch" hands can save the lives of people infected with this pathogen. He’s taken out of his home hospital and moved into a medical research center known as Caduceus. The story pulls a lot of punches on the player and it isn’t afraid to step into darker themes. During the adventure you’ll be faced with decisions about euthanasia, bio-terrorism and if some lives are worth saving. The level of drama isn’t more than you would encounter on say House M.D., but it’s a good balance that makes the story rather engaging.
The story is told with a blend of text boxes and static characters. Standard stuff, but the presentation bumps the story up a notch. You have vivid backgrounds for the actors to talk on. However it’s the characters that really carry the scene. They don’t move at all, but they manage to convey emotion by overacting. Everything is done like a colorful manga and it looks great. When you’re on the operating table things are a bit different. The game attempts to go for 3D modeling, but it isn’t nearly as detailed.
However, when you’re operating you don’t have time to think about graphics. A virtual patient’s life is at stake! To simulate operating on a patient you start out by making the incision with your scalpel. By using your stylus you can select the scalpel then draw a line over the incision area. If you patient needs to have something removed, like shards or glass you can remove them with your forceps. This can be a little tricky with the stylus. You need to grab the glass at the tip and slowly move the stylus up the screen to dislodge it. If you see tiny tumors you can blast them away with a laser. Of course all of this is going to require suturing the wounds, which you can do by applying antibiotic gel and then stitching the wound up. Although, not everything goes as planned when it comes down to saving lives. If a patients vitals drop you’ll need to rapidly insert medicine with your syringe. Things might get even worse than that when your patient drops into cardiac arrest. If that happens you’ll need to stimulate the heart with your hands.
The entire operating procedure is set up to be continually intense. Even more so when you’re facing GUILT. GUILT isn’t a strain of influenza, but an evolving pathogen. The first strain you’ll encounter swims around the organs causing scarring. To cure a patient from Kyriaki you need to use ultrasound to find the invader, cut it out with the scalpel and shoot it with a laser. Juggling all of these things at once is a challenge. Don’t forget you have to keep the patient’s vitals up the whole time too. If you get into a real bind Derek has a secret talent known as the healing touch. When you draw a star on screen the colors fade out and everything moves in slow motion. Think of it like bullet time for a surgeon. Using the healing touch is necessary to complete some operations because you can bring a patient from the brink of death to healthy with this single move.
Each operation functions as a puzzle for the player, which makes each experience entertaining the first time through. Although, Trauma Center doesn’t give players any options for alternative medicine. Since it is a one solution one operation game successive replays in the game’s Operation Mode is really only about honing how accurate with the touch screen you are. Players who are striving for "S-Level" precision are going to be in for a challenge. Not only do you have to be quick with your hands, but you have deal with buggy touch screen controls. Early on when you’re removing shrapnel with the forceps you’ll probably let go of the stylus at some point. When you do this the glass shard won’t drop where you leave it, instead it will magically go back to it’s original place. While precision counts here it’s non existent when you’re using the scalpel. Each time you need to remove something with a scalpel a bunch of yellow dots appear that you need to follow with the stylus. The game expects you to trace around the dots, but you can haphazardly scribble along the screen with no penalties. You would expect your patient to be hurt, but as long as you hit the yellow dots, it’s considered a success. Yeah you could go through the game without exploiting the flaws of the touch screen, but they’re so obvious that you would be hard pressed not to notice them.
Touch screen bugs aside Trauma Center is an amazing game that will keep you glued to the screen on the first time through.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0
Of course the US version is all in English. If you dare to try the Japanese version you’ll still be able to truck through the game with the help of a FAQ.
Atlus just released this game on October 4, 2005.
+ Pros: Completely original gameplay and a solid storyline to seal the deal.
- Cons: Twitchy stylus controls make events frustrating and there’s no way to skip through the story.
Overall: Trauma Center: Under the Knife is a unique experience that only the DS can handle. If you own a DS pick this game up, it’s well worth a play.
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