Review by Spiral_Wolf
"The most intense gaming experience on the DS."
Once in a while I come across a game that immerses me; something that makes me nervous, afraid to die, paranoid of being ambushed, awestruck, or scared of being alone.
This is a different type of experience altogether.
Trauma Center: Under the Knife is a surgery simulation game. Don't let that put you off; This title features some of the most frantic game-play the video gaming world has to offer, and utilizes the DS touchscreen to its fullest potential. The game is comprised of operations, each of which have their own objectives and constraints; Time limits, vital signs, and a limited number of allowed mistakes all weigh down on you as you race to treat your patients with an array of 10 surgical tools.
Each operation itself is broken into what can only be described as minigames, with your assistant feeding you instructions from the top screen. Each incision you make, each cut you stitch, and each tumor you remove has its own procedure; a certain combination and order of tool use. For example, to make the primary incision on a patient, you must use antibiotic gel to trace a dotted line, switch to the scalpel, and cut. It's simple, and the game makes sure to start you off slow, but things start to heat up as you progress farther.
Before long, the touchscreen will become saturated with these minigames. Wounds appear left and right, blood spills forth in copious amounts, and vitals plummet as you combat the deadly strains of GUILT. At times, the sheer amount that you have to do on screen is overwhelming as you deal with multiple problems at once in a frenzy of stylus strokes which could only be described as a bloodier version of Wario Ware.
Operations are graded on a point scale, with "Cool", "Good", and "Miss" appearing accordingly to assess your skills in a disturbingly Dance Dance Revolution-like manner. At the end of each operation you're given a letter grade, from "C" to "S" (you can't fail, apparently, as long as the patient lives), and perfectionists can replay any operation they've cleared in a Challenge Mode for a higher score, or for gory fun.
The presentation and style of Trauma Center are some of its weak points, as the story is delivered through silent text boxes and character stills against computer-rendered backgrounds which all carry a strong anime vibe. People who don't like anime will obviously be turned off by this. However, the story is dramatic and effective at putting meaning behind the operations you play, and the characters are tolerable enough not to hate.
Graphic-mongers and sound-maniacs will be disappointed with the game's first generation Playstation look and techno beep music, but they don't get in the way of the game-play. Menus are clean, easy to navigate, and the controls are sublimely integrated into the DS touchscreen. You won't have to even touch anything else, save for turning on the system, skipping through dialogue with the select button, and possibly pausing to catch your breath.
There are minor flaws scattered throughout the game (which is unfortunately short). The music sometimes crackles slightly with static, the icons for the individual tools are easy for beginners to mix up and sometimes get in the way of operating, the difficulty can be extreme and frustrating, there are a few times where you're uncertain of what the next step is in an operation, the dialogue from your assistant can be disruptive, cliches are thrown around with abandon in the story, suturing is annoying as the touchscreen seems to have trouble identifying scribbles, and the game requires a stable surface to effectively play on sometimes, and an even steadier hand.
There is nary a game for the DS that matches Trauma Center in terms of utilizing the system's unique potential. This is an absolute must-have for any DS owner who is looking for a game that actually utilizes the touchscreen, or anyone looking for a fast-paced, challenging game. If you're squeamish about digital blood, or skeptical, take a second look at this. It's fun, satisfying, and pretty cheap (unlike real surgery).
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/27/06
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