Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Review by LegendaryBarrel
"One of the most innovative, fun, and challenging games for Nintendo's unique handheld"
At first, this game might make you go, "What the **** is this? A game about surgery?" Yes, the concept does seem rather silly, and a lot of people make the connection to the classic game Operation. However, the game is nothing like Operation. In fact, it's nothing like any other game I've ever played. This is one of those things that truly must be experienced to be completely understood.
The graphics are relatively simple, but they do the job. The patients are done in simple 3D, and the character models in story scenes are done in anime-style 2D. Fortunately, the innards of the patients don't look too realistic, so it's highly unlikely that you'll get queasy playing this game, despite the large amount of blood, cuts, etc. It's easy to tell what everything is; I guarantee you won't be making any mistakes because of unclear graphics. The only problem I had with the graphics is that the game starts lagging when there's a lot happening on screen. I only had this problem in some of the chaotic later operations, but it's still worth noting.
Also, I just have to say that the character portraits are absolutely gorgeous. Despite just being static images, the art style is wonderful.
The music in the game is absolutely fantastic. Not in the sense that it's composed well or that it has catchy tracks, but in the sense that it is a major contributor to the game's atmosphere and ambience. After playing the game with the music on, you'll notice something missing if you try to play with it off. It really adds to the tension, the feeling that you're doing something very delicate.
The music during the story scenes is just sort of...there. It's not bad, but it gets very repetitive hearing the same tracks over and over and over again. There's one track in particular that plays during nearly every story scene from Chapter 3 on, and by the end of the game you're probably going to want to turn off the sound during story scenes.
The meat of the game, and the reason why it's so great. This game makes the best use of the DS touch screen that I've seen thus far. It's a simple concept: you have 10 different tools that you can select by tapping icons on the sides of the screen, and you use them to operate on patients. The actual operating takes place on the touch screen, while the top screen contains status information and helpful hints from your assistant. The operations start off easy enough, as you're only dealing with simple things like cuts, glass fragments, and tumors. However, not far into the game, you're introduced to a parasitic organism called GUILT. It comes in a variety of different strains, each of which you operate on multiple times throughout the game. The GUILT vary from little squid-like things that cut up organs to large triangular membranes, and each different strain takes a different method to eliminate.
One of the greatest things about this game is how the operations suck you in. It's not uncommon to be sweating and breathing heavily after finishing even a relatively easy operation; this game is that intense. I highly recommend paying attention to the story. Even it's not that impressive, getting to know the characters really makes the operations more meaningful. The first appearance of GUILT is done just plain fantastically, and even moreso if you pay attention to the characters' conversations. Even it's not real, operating on people is very delicate work, and it's only natural to become tense and nervous when doing something as serious as removing glass fragments from a person's heart.
As for how the operations themselves go: While completing the objectives doesn't seem even remotely difficult at first, there are 3 different ways you can fail an operation. Firstly, each patient has a vitals meter. It maxes out at 99, and usually starts somewhere from 75-90. If the vitals drop to 0, the patient dies, and you lose. Secondly, each operation has a time limit. It's usually 5 minutes, although some operations have time limits of 3 and 10 minutes. Obviously, if you run out of time, you lose. Finally, you have what's called a "miss limit." Every time you make a mistake during an operation (dropping something where it's not supposed to go, doing something that directly damages the patient, etc.), you get a miss. You're allowed up to 19 misses in each operation. If you miss a 20th time, you lose.
Now, it's important to note that this game is hard. It starts off with a few simple tutorial operations, but the difficulty quickly picks up. During some of the later operations, there's so much happening on screen that it's almost impossible to keep up. However, for the most part, the difficulty is skill-based. The exception is a select few GUILT strains which are a combination of skill and luck. For example, the final GUILT strain can easily drop your vitals from 50 to 0 in 3 seconds flat if it does the right combination of attacks within a tight enough time period. Other than those few cases, though, the difficulty is entirely skill-based. If you lose, it's because you're not good enough...yet. This is definitely a game where you have to practice to get better. Fortunately, it's so addicting that you'll be more than willing to put in the time to practice.
Estimated time for first playthrough: ~8-10 hours
The game has a Challenge mode, unlocked after finishing the first operation, that lets you replay operations you've already finished. Why would you do this? To improve your ranks. The game has a scoring and ranking system. You earn points during the operation based on how effectively you operate. For most actions, you'll get a message that says Bad, Good, or Cool. Better message = more points. Also, at the end of the operation, you get bonuses based on the time remaining, the amount of vitals left when you finished, and a "special" bonus, the conditions for which vary from operation to operation. You get a rank of C, B, A, or S, depending on your score. Note that to get an S rank, you have to get a perfect special bonus in addition to getting the required total score. Since you probably haven't played the game yet, that means you have to operate pretty much flawlessly to get an S. While this might seem harsh, it brings a healthy amount of replayability to the game, although some might not like the idea of replaying the same operations over and over again.
The end of the game is rather disappointing. I can't say too much or it will spoil the game, but the final chapter is just...anticlimactic, in addition to not being all that much fun. Also, the luck-based GUILT strains just annoy the living hell out of me at times. Sometimes you get lucky and are able to finish them off within a minute or two, sometimes you'll be instant-killed seconds away from defeating them after a 4 minute long operation.
Trauma Center, while rather short, is an extremely enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone with a DS. Also, the game is being discontinued, so it's going to be getting increasingly difficult to find. It's only $30, so I would highly advise picking it up if you see it sitting on a shelf somewhere. All in all, it's a great game that keeps you sucked in right till the very end.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/06
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