Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Trauma Center: Under the Knife review

Ever since I was an adolescent blood was something I could never stand. You ask me to watch one of those medical dramas like E.R. and I would look away or do that blurry eye thingy so I couldn't see any details. Same story with Nip/Tuck and that German nutter Gunther von Hagens. Jennifer loves watching craps like that.

Trauma Center: Under the Knife (Japanese title: Caduceus: Surgical Operation) is a surgical simulation game developed by Japanese game designer/publisher Atlus. This game, designed for the Nintendo DS, has been out in North America for quite some time and it is so damn rare (it has since been discontinued) that you can find used carts on the market for double the retail outlay. While a mate of mine is busy slaying giant creatures in order to bring back his dead girlfriend back to life, I spent the best part of my spare weekend time on this genius.

The DS is the ideal platform for a surgical game. With a touch screen wielding your stylus is like wielding a forcep. I had doubt that this may just be another tech demo game (eg. Yoshi: Touch & Go) but it really is playable. There is nothing gimmick about using a stylus on this game as it is the only way to play this type of game. In a market oversaturated with racing title (Xbox 360), this is a truly exceptional title for contemporary consoles.

You are Dr. Derek Stiles who has just completed residency and is now working in Hope Hospital. Stiles is a lazy bugger who takes his patients for granted and it's up to you to prove his superiors (and assistant) wrong. The year is 2018 and the majority of diseases has been wiped out (I doubt this would in real life but who knows? MRSA anyone?) but a disease known as GUILT (you can trust the Japanese to come out with something this ridiculous) threatens mankind. GUILT, according to Atlus, is the first biological weapon used for 'medical terrorism' (Atlus's words - not mine).

Before each procedure, you will be briefed by nurses and other staff members. Your aide happens to be a young and feisty (and irritating) part German nurse by the name of Angie Thompson. She will get on your nerves at times and tends to give you a hard time. Sometimes you may wish to shut her up and fortunately you couldn't. Anybody who had a botched surgery should know that you should never have a surgery performed unaccompanied!

The only way to perform the surgeries is through the touch screen and that is a blessing. Up to ten instruments (e.g. scalpel, syringe, laser etc.) can be used at any time during each procedure. These are represented by icons. The scalpel, for example, is used to make incisions into a body (see, I am speaking medical language!). The touch screen is also where the surgeries are performed and contain the patient's vitals. The top screen contains information such as the time, score and miss limit. Your assistant is also featured on the top screen occasionally giving much needed advice or in most cases (initially), yelling at your incompetence.

If your patient dies or the time runs out you are dismiss (or killed). However unlike real surgeries, you can have as much practice as you want as you can always undo your mistakes by reloading your save game. In total there are a few dozen surgeries (there are a couple of repeats) to be performed and are spread over six episodes. There is also an episode where you have use your surgical skills to disarm a bomb!

Style wise the game is very Japanese anime/manga like. Cels and sprites are simple and non animated. The graphics during surgery are quite bloody in an abstract way and doesn't distract from the main game. It is effective and you can easily make out the different organs that human beings like us harbour. It was indispensable that Atlus styled the game the way it was for queasy cowards like me (see first paragraph). You may also have to thank Nintendo for releasing a graphically inferior machine. I can't imagine wanting photo-realistic graphics for this game so I am pretty happy!

Trauma Center has to be one of the most addictive and engrossing games I have ever played. The procedures will increase in difficult as you progress through the game and it is a good challenge. You will find yourself frustrated at times but practice makes perfect. Each procedure is timed (usually five minutes) therefore you do not have the luxury of time. Even your tools are subjected to limits. Use up too much medicine and you have to wait for them to refill. Laser has to be recharged. After all these hassle there is usually a feeling of satisfaction once a surgery is successful.

If there are problems with the game I can only think of two. The political storyline is so cliché with its terrorism plot and anti-euthanasia rambling. Also the fact that gameplay is stylus based meant that you can't operate on the Tube, but that can't be helped. Apart from that, this is the perfect game for a generation of gamers who are fed-up with the constant stream of clones and the lack of innovation from the game industry.


Buy now from
Play-Asia or Amazon UK


HardiJ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
HardiJ said...

I was so stressed up and "under pressure" as I got told off all the time by the stupid nurse that I ended up having a headache!

Anonymous said...

I picked up this game from my local and the cart has not left my DS since.

I am stuck in the 'Under the Knife' level where you have to operate 5 patients in 10 minutes. It is impossible and I always run out of time on the third patient!