Review by Mr Pibb

"Dr. Stiles' quest to become a master surgeon makes for some great game play"

There comes a point in every man's life when he has to make a decision- does he do what's best for himself, or does he risk his life to do what's best for the people around him. In Trauma Center: Under the Knife, you don't get to make that choice. Fortunately for us, the path Dr. Derek Stiles picks makes a wonderful gaming experience.

As the game starts you are instantly thrown into the operating room, not knowing exactly what you're about to embark on. Luckily for you, your lovely assistant will help you out with your first operation. As you start you really have no idea what you're doing, and have to rely on the instructions given to you by the experienced nurse. This pressure inducing scenario is just a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg for Trauma Center.

What's great about Trauma Center is that this is the type of game that can only be done on the Nintendo DS. Even if you tried to play something similar (if they ever made something similar) on a pocket pc, you wouldn't have the top screen's enhancement. Trauma Center also stays far away from seeming gimmicky, despite its 100% stylus dependant game play.

On the top screen is your nurse or assistant, giving you helpful hints. Additionally you have the health meter of your patient, and if they flatline it's game over for our protagonist. While the game play mechanics remain similar, the various objectives you need to carry out can sometimes confuse the player with their uniqueness. This is obviously done on purpose, with the intent on helping simulate the frustration a real doctor would have when posed with a daunting surgery. On the bottom screen you'll find the patient and your tools, which are lined across the sides of your screen. You simply touch what you want to use, be it your trusty scalpel, surgical tape or laser removal tool, and then carry out your action in the middle of the play area.

The story is a little far fetched, but the translation Atlus did was excellent. What's good about the storyline is that it carries along the game play without allowing you to lose interest, since everything happens so quickly. Instead of walking around a hospital, you just tap the screen to read the text, have the option of saving your game, and then carry out your operation. There is a city map which takes you throughout the different locations, but the game keeps you on a linear track. The storyboards aren't animated, but the character designs are vivaciously colorful, and the locales actually do vary as the story progresses.

Graphically this game is handled very well. The game play is full 3D, and uses for the most part non textured models to keep everything moving at a smooth pace. When there are numerous lacerations and clouds of blood on the screen the frame rate will chug a bit, but this happened only once or twice for me in the entire game. Everything is clear and easy to see. While the ESRB has rated this game T with “partial nudity” as one of its listings, there are no nipples evident on any of the patients. If get your kicks from looking at unclothed mannequins, then you'll want to play this game in the privacy of your own home. And yes, this game has lots of blood. If you're squeamish you would be better avoiding it. You slice open flesh, cut out tumors, drain bloody wounds and suture up everything when it's all over. As stated before, the characters are drawn well, but are not animated. This doesn't hinder the experience of Trauma Center at all though, although some voice acting would have been awesome to have.

One of the best parts about Trauma Center is the feeling this game gives you as you're doing an operation. Portable games are usually fun diversions you play while sitting on the bus, not engulfing tests of skill and perfectionism you'll need to do with totally dedicated concentration. The music is suspenseful and changes throughout the operation to signal desperation on your nurse's behalf. Although most surgeries done in the game only last for 5 minutes, it's this tension that makes the player want to retry that surgery-gone-wrong until they get it right. The occasional 10 minute “surgery” provides a much more stressful experience since you'll want to make sure you get it right the first time. The game isn't too difficult, but there are certain times where you will have to retry the operation to get it done properly.

Even after you're done and given your rank for the “mission” in the story mode, you can go through the surgeries again to get a better score in Challenge Mode. You get ranked on how quickly you complete the surgery, how much life your patient has left, how large your special bonus is and on how many points you raked in while handling your tools. This equates to C, B, A or S ranks- rookie doctor to master surgeon.

The only problems with the game, which have nothing to do with the actual way the game plays, are minor nitpickings. I would have loved the opportunity to wander the halls of the hospital to check up on patients after you've operated on them, sadly this is only done through storyboards and not often. Deeper histories of the characters you encounter would have been nice as well. Although they do a decent job of giving you the main character's back story through the dialogue, I found myself wanting to know more about the other doctors you end up working with. Besides that though, the game plays about as good as something like this can ever play.

This game isn't for everyone, and will only give you back what you put into it. You can finish the single player game in around 7 hours, but if you want to complete all of the surgeries with S rankings you'll need to devote a lot of time to perfecting your skill. It's reflex based game play, which will either kill the game for you in the same way current shooters do to the masses, or it'll make you want to dedicate your entire time gaming to it until you master it. Trauma Center will draw you in though, so even if you only play to beat the story mode, it'll be time well spent.

Overall Trauma Center is the type of game the DS was made for. Innovative game play carried out with a very well crafted story, strong visuals, precise control and gripping music. It will draw you into its world rapidly after you figure out how to handle all of the instruments, and you'll find yourself playing it nonstop until it's done. The story is a little unbelievable, but in the end it's still enjoyable- and that's what matters. Trauma Center: Under the Knife is a must have game for the Nintendo DS, and we can only hope someone is working on a sequel out there. 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/07/05


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