Releasing only a few months after the 2004 launch of the Nintendo DS, Trauma Center: Under the Knife was one of the earliest and most successful games designed almost entirely to suit the handheld’s fresh interface. Set in the near future and centered around the exploits of lighting-handed miracle-doctor Derek Stiles (a name built upon several layers of system-related pun, as was the custom of the time), Trauma Center’s fast-paced surgery simulation did well enough to warrant a slew of sequels across the DS and eventually the Wii.
The problem, in retrospect, was that each of these games, good as they may have been, were created in the near-exact image of the first; by repeatedly relying on the surgical tropes and frequently overwrought narrative gimmicks of the original, the once-exciting series managed to slip into a strange purgatory. The quality may have carried across from sequel to subsequent sequel, but the lack of originality was glaring and the series was quickly reaching a point where significant changes would be necessary.
So as a sequel, it’s borderline delightful to see Trauma Team legitimately addressing many of the complaints leveled against the previous entries in the series. The biggest of the past qualms, the over-reliance on surgical gameplay, has essentially been put to rest with five additional hospital professions. Where once there was only surgery, there is now First Response, Diagnostics, Forensics, Orthopedics, Endoscopy and Surgery, very much like a real Trauma Team.
Each profession, embodied by a sole character, has its own unique storyline that fits within a much broader, enveloping narrative arc; each character has six or so chapters that form a sort of individual plot but also contribute and tie in with concurrent events in other characters’ story trees. This continuity can be subverted to a certain extent by choosing to play through one character’s campaign in one go, though with the amount of exposition that occurs before, during and after each case you probably wouldn’t have a problem discerning cause or context if you chose to barrel straight through. Personally, I found completing a case from each character’s story line before proceeding further the most satisfying tactic, in the sense that by doing so I felt I had the most even experience possible throughout. In any case, the breadth of content in Trauma Team trumps that of any other entry in the series handily, in terms of both quantity and variety.
The story in question is, apart from the additional medical fields, very reminiscent of previous games in terms of both basic plausibility and character structure. Trauma Team feels very Japanese in style and delivery, and while this doesn’t represent anything terribly detrimental to the way the game plays, it does mean that there are a few things that are occasionally hard to take seriously. In the first half hour or so you’ll see an amnesiac prisoner in an iron mask, a Native American doctor who might or might not be a superhero, and a women who gets cell phone calls from the recently deceased. This light quirkiness would be a relatively low accessibility hurdle for people new to the series and, more likely than not, will barely faze veterans of the DS titles, but when you consider the fact that Trauma Team is essentially being billed as a capable, playable medical drama, the disproportionate breasts and stereotypical, over-embellished character dramas are often a little hard to stomach.
The cases themselves vary from type to type in more than one aspect. Some, like Forensics and Diagnostics, sacrifice the succinctness of something like surgery in favor of a more drawn-out, in-depth experience. These cases feel like a bit of a grind at first, but once you’ve grown accustomed to the structure of things, solving a murder or handing down a correct diagnosis is just as satisfying as a successful operation. In addition, these fields are far more fulfilling story-wise, with some truly deep, often disturbing cases; by comparison, rudimentary fields like Orthopedics and Endoscopy are shorter, and often act more as palate cleansers.
Trauma Team is the third outing of the Trauma Center series on the Wii, a fact made apparent by how tight and consistent the controls are in each of the six fields. In general, you’ll accomplish any pointing or precision work via the Wii Remote while the Nunchuk handles tool selection. Having the ability to essentially use both hands for a procedure (as opposed to relying solely on your stylus-bearing hand) is both effective and ergonomic, making what can initially seem like complex tasks relatively simple to accomplish. Trauma Team also benefits from not adopting the timed gameplay of its predecessors, opting instead to grant the player an allotted number of “misses”. This decision effectively works to eliminate any unnecessary tension and frustration but in the cases of the Diagnostic and Forensic fields, which last far longer then the others, it’s hampered by a poor save/checkpoint system.
In addition to the six normal character campaigns (which alone add up to quite a bit of game), there is an unlockable, final chapter that wraps things up in a very concise manner. Finishing that will open up the third level of difficulty, which will even further extend your play time. In total, it took me upwards of twenty-five hours to finish the seven story lines, which was quite a pleasant surprise. Many cases also allow for two player co-op, which allows players to split up tools and alternate treatments during a case. It’s a pleasant addition that not only fits Trauma Team’s premise, but increases its replay value significantly.
As a whole, Trauma Team feels like a welcome stab at innovation from Atlus after relying on what was already a pretty solid formula. The amount of original content included, along with a some much-needed tweaks and new visual flair, make Trauma Team into something much more than just another tired iteration.
Things We Liked: New content aplenty. Added professions and non-linear approach keep things lively. Tight controls and improved difficulty curve are a blessing.
Things We Disliked: Certain professions are often repetitive/tedious. Poor checkpoint/save system on longer cases. Borderline-outlandish characters.
Target Audience: Trauma Center enthusiasts. Anyone looking for a substantial Wii game or a good co-op experience.
(Trauma Team – Developer/Publisher: Atlus. Available on Wii . A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)