Did you grow up with a passion for playing doctor but that job at McDonald’s hasn’t been able to raise the cash to get you into medical school? Atlus may just have your answer with Trauma Center: Under the Knife. While essentially a puzzle game at its core, Trauma Center puts a new spin on things by putting patients’ lives in your hands as you try to fix them up and beat the clock. The result is a fun and frantic puzzler that every DS owner should check into.
Believe it or not, Trauma Center has a pretty involved storyline and plays out like an anime melodrama. You play the part of Dr. Derek Stiles, a rookie surgeon who needs to learn responsibility as much as he needs a good hair stylist. This is most evident during the early portions of the game where Derek is constantly ridiculed for his somewhat lax attitude towards his job and patients. It isn’t until he gets paired up with a hot, yet scorning assistant and almost kills a patient when he starts to have second doubts about his career choice. Just when Derek seems to hit rock bottom, he gets thrown into a situation where he is the only doctor who can remedy the situation and that’s when he fully realizes his abilities. He’s told that he has an ability called the healing touch that allows him to summon some sort of divine concentration that allows him to slow down time in his mind. From that point forward, Derek vows to become a great surgeon and harness his gift for the powers of good. This couldn’t come at a better time since a terrorist group declares a war by means of medical terrorism where a mysterious disease is let loose upon the city. If this all sounds a little outlandish then give yourself a pat on the back. Trauma Center lays the story on thick and will devote entire sections of a given chapter to cutscenes involving static depictions of characters and a lot of text. The whole thing ends up playing out like ER mixed with an episode of 24.
Outlandish story aside, Trauma Center offers some pretty fast paced gameplay that will have you rushing to complete a procedure while rewarding your accuracy at the same time. You’ll be briefed before every operation on what your objectives are and of any complications that may arise and are pretty much guaranteed to arise during every procedure. During the operation itself, the patient takes up the lower portion of the screen while the top screen displays your score, time limit, and your assistant along with any instructions she’s giving you. All of your tools are displayed on the left and right sides of the screen and consist of all of the standard surgery tools such as the scalpel, drain, suture, antibacterial gel, and even a laser for some precision burning action.
You’ll need all of the tools at your disposal since you’ll be performing a variety of procedures like removing chunks of glass and sewing up lacerations, draining and removing tumors, or in later levels, removing and burning moving tumors from the seemingly incurable bio agent that is released on the city. The stylus is your main form of control and you’ll be making slicing motions with the scalpel, sewing up open wounds by zigzagging across them, draining blood by placing the drain on top of an offending puddle and moving the stylus in an upwards motion for the suction. Some operations require you to use a magnifier tool where you’ll have to draw a circle around the area you want to magnify. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t always agree with what your idea of a circle is compared to its own (which takes a horrible amount of precision) and the result is often an angry buzz which will have you openly cursing the game in those extremely time sensitive situations.
Each procedure becomes increasingly more difficult than the last and a lot of them will require multiple attempts. You’ll find yourself attempting to perform surgery in the allocated time limit while making sure the patient’s vitals don’t get too low. If you’re about to lose a patient, you can always inject them with some antibiotic fluid to stabilize them which may take up precious time but can also be a deciding factor in completing the operation. You’ll find yourself having to work faster and faster as you progress through the game with your only chance to breathe being the brief moments of dialog from your assistant during pivotal moments of the operation where the clock will stop. There are a few points where you’ll finish a portion of the procedure and expect to get some sort of instruction from your assistant but end up being told to do something as the clock is ticking without an idea on how to do it. Thankfully, these trial and error moments aren’t frequent, but it tends to suck to be left high and dry when you were receiving instructions from your assistant frequently up until that point.
As things get faster and more difficult it may seem that you’re working against unbeatable odds with nothing short of a stroke of luck to get your through a particular operation. No matter how frustrated you may get, you’ll almost always find yourself going back and trying again, it’s just that fun. For situations that put you under extreme pressure, you can invoke the healing touch by clicking the icon and drawing a star onscreen. Lucky for you, it’s not as anal as the magnifier circle. This will cause everything to go gray and slow down thus giving you that much needed edge under extreme circumstances…at least for a limited time.
Each move you perform is graded with either a great, good, or bad grade though it deserves mentioning that the grades aren’t too accurate. I found myself putting bandages over sutured incisions crooked and being rewarded with a great score while putting one on perfectly yielded a mediocre “good” score. You’re judged by speed and accuracy but it really seems hit or miss. At the end of every operation you’ll get a rank based off of your total score which you can go back and attempt to beat in the game’s challenge mode. Unfortunately, the tutorials that plague the earlier operations are still present and can’t be skipped which gets in the way especially when you’ve completed the same procedure a few hundred times during the story mode. Yes, that was a slight exaggeration.
As is the case with almost every other game by Atlus, Trauma Center features a strong anime look and feel. Cutscenes unfold with different drawings of characters depending on their (sometimes over exaggerated) reactions a la Disgaea or Stella Deus. Operations feature 3D modeled organs and bodies which all quiver and move in lifelike ways mixed with 2D sprites. Blood and other fluids are kept to a bare minimum which shouldn’t taint the experience for the squeamish and this is coming from someone who couldn’t watch that show called The Operation on the Discovery Channel a few years ago.
Trauma Center doesn’t offer a large variety in terms of sound, but then again it really doesn’t need to. The soundtrack sticks to some appropriate dramatic music that you’d be able to encounter on any TV hospital drama. You’ll get various squishing and sucking sounds while using the different tools which all fit in nicely. You’ll get a limited amount of spoken dialog from your assistant during a procedure like “Doctor!” and “What is that?!” but don’t expect much.
Any fan of puzzle games, or DS owners for that matter will get a kick out of Trauma Center. It’s the kind of game that the handheld was designed for. Aside from being a unique title in and of itself, it manages to utilize the capabilities of the DS that expand way beyond the point of being gimmicky while at the same time establishing itself as one of the most intense and pulse pumping puzzle games out there.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media
View All Screens