Saturday, November 17, 2007
LifeSigns: Surgical Unit / Hospital Affairs review
The success of the Nintendo DS platform has attracted a number of specialised publishers, whose sole goal is to increase as much shovelware as possible while stealing your money at the same time.
Starting today I will attempt to write a review of an obscure and niche DS game that you should get, but probably have to heard of. The first is LifeSigns: Surgical Unit (Kenshuui Tendo Dokuta 2: Inochi no Tenbin in Japan, LifeSigns: Hospital Affairs in UK). This is actually the second game in the Tendo Dokuta series but the first localised in English. It is not known if the first game will ever be released to non-kanji reading audience but if sales are encouraging, there would be no reason for the publishers not to.
LifeSigns: Surgical Unit is a part point and click adventure game, part dating sim and part surgery sim. Comments that the game is a mixture of Scrubs, Gyakuten Saiban and Trauma Center isn't too far from the truth. Unlike Trauma Center: Under the Knife (the first game actually came out before Trauma Center in Japan) however, the storyline is much more involving and any surgeries are here to advance the plot rather than vice versa (as in Trauma Center). So while Trauma Center was a fun, but soulless puzzle game based on quick reaction skills; LifeSigns is so much more than that blending hospital drama with off the odd work or two.
Here you role play as a second year intern, Dr. Tendo. Part of your job involves speaking with patients and colleagues within the Seimei Medical University Hospital. While dealing with both professional and personal issues is part of the game, the process are light hearted enough. Gameplay is divided into 'adventuring' and 'surgery'. Patients are first diagnosed through a physical using a variety of method at Dr. Tendo's disposal. Once diagnosis is complete you can order blood tests, x-ray scans, ultrasound and other advanced examinations. Unlike Trauma Center, the procedures involved are actually more detailed, which should not be surprising as Trauma Center is more of a puzzle game and omit diagnosis altogether.
Once diagnosis is done your priority is to schedule for surgery. At the same time Dr. Tendo can usually relax and walk around the general hospital chatting with patient's relatives and other staff. Nurse Florence for example is a good source of gossip, whose information is more useful than just general chatter. Researching patient's background is important to the game and like any hospitals, whether real life or fictional, we meet all sorts of people there including estranged family members and other crazies. So take you time to wonder around and you may find that dating to be something of a Dr. Tendo speciality! Moving around is simple. A map will appear and you just navigate to the dots that are available. Tap on a person to speak with them. Like Gyakuten Saiban you can enquire or solve problems by presenting files to the person.
Prepping for surgeries for example involves getting the anaesthesiologist (whose grumpy personality bears a passing resemblance to Liz Cruz from Nip/Tuck) ready and having a pre-OP meeting. Once pre-OP is done, the real 'meat' of the game begins. Surgeries at the OR involves using the stylus as an instruments much like in Trauma Center and allows you to perform precise surgical operation. Suturing, incisions and other operating methods are involved. Instruments are automatically given to you and pressing the 'L' or 'R' button will temporary display an outline of what needs to be done. The top screen displays an animation of Dr. Tendo and the assisting consultant performing the surgery, where as the bottom screen is where the action takes place. Visually surgeries are pretty realistic like a detailed drawing from textbooks.
When not dealing with patients Dr. Tendo has his own private problems that you have to attempt to resolve between surgeries, such as office politics and the odd office romance. As evident in medical drama series like E.R., House and the-most-boring-TV-show-ever-created-in-the-history-of-mankind Grey's Anatomy these can exert a massive pressure on fictional physicians. Decisions that Dr. Tendo make here, and on the operating table leads to multiple endings, a nice bonus to the usual linear path usually favoured by lazy developers and writers.
While the game isn't too challenging, the procedures involved in getting to surgeries including diagnose, pre-OP and other hospital drama, makes accomplishing surgeries much more satisfying. Part of the problem however is getting into the back story to Dr. Tendo. It is evident early one that playing the first game is an optional requisite to get the gist of his relationship with his colleagues and father. Despite that, even the odd translation niggles; the good story, nice manga/anime style visuals with fluid animation sprites and multiple endings you will have a DS cart worth inserting into your DS.
You can buy it here.