Review by Arkrex

"Doctor . . . *giggles*"

A young lady presents with abdominal pain – is it acute appendicitis, cholecystitis, diverticulitis, or something far more sinister (and more difficult to say)? It's just another day in the life of Tendo Dokuta, a second year intern over at the LifeSigns hospital.

Comparisons will immediately be drawn to the Ace Attorney series of text-based adventures. You may not be any ruffling feathers in a courtroom setting here, but the goings-on over at the hospital really aren't all that different. There's a crazy cast of colourful characters such as Heikachi, the perverted cancer patient; Sakai, the flamboyant director of the hospital, who also happens to be your biological father (and who you are not on good terms with right now); and Suzu, your feisty red-headed mentor who is one hot momma of a supervisor. A similar anime style is used here too with a few still shots strung together to make for convincing pseudo-dynamic scenes. And even if you aren't immediately enamoured with the kooky cast of exaggerated stereotypical archetypes, you'll probably fall head-over-heels in love with their crazy antics in no time.

There's always something going over at LifeSigns. Sure, you'll need to save lives now and again, but you'll also have to track down a covert fan-girl of a recently admitted pop star idol as she skips from scene to scene to elude your buttery fingers, convince your superiors that a stray dog who is important to one of your patients should be kept and trained as a therapy dog, and even head down to the local shops to buy a birthday present for your drop-dead gorgeous supervisor. Sometimes these diversions are short mini-games where you'll have to carefully examine the area and locate objects (as in the case of nabbing the fan-girl) and sometimes you'll have to present a variety of stockpiled clinical records (i.e. evidence) to sway someone's opinion over to your side (much like Ace Attorney's Psyche-locks, but less mind-bending). These soap opera-ish bits make up the bulk of LifeSigns and although they are fun and easygoing to begin with, it does get rather boring after the tenth fetch quest or mini-game in a row.

The surgeries should be where it's at (as the subtitle “Surgical Unit” suggests), but this aspect is very disappointing in that it is far too simple for its own good (especially when compared to the more-complex quick-reflex scenarios offered in the similarly themed Trauma Center operation sims). But before you are let loose in the operating theatre, you'll have to first examine the patient for relevant symptoms by sight, palpation and stethoscope use. Unless you have an idea of how these procedures are carried out in real life, these sections are more or less random touching and rubbing on a half-naked body. It doesn't help that the clues provided are quite vague and if you aren't a very mature gamer (most of us I'd assume), you may wind up touching and rubbing inappropriate places in hopes of triggering the next scene.

When you do eventually get to the surgeries themselves, you'll be held by the hand at all times, much like Trauma Center's tutorial levels. However, in that game, you were given free reign as you progressed. Not so much here. When it's time to make an incision with the electric scalpel, your assistant will hand the instrument to you followed by a brief lecture from your supervisor. There isn't much room for error apart from technique and even then, it's hard to stuff up certain procedures such as suturing where all you have to do is scribble a wavy line back and forth until wound apposition miraculously occurs. You will also have to perform each step (or “mission”) in an orderly fashion and usually there are no two ways to go about it. For example, there's only one specific pattern you can draw to incise a gallbladder and although that may be the case in real life, it's no fun in a video game when all you are doing is tracing a line that's faintly displayed on the screen as Tendo Dokuta focuses hard.

Each chapter (out of five) is fairly long; you're looking at about three hours for the first one with gradually increasing length as more complexities (both operation and plot-wise) are introduced. That's about fifteen hours or so of game time. But the examinations and operations only account for about a tenth of that period. Most of the time, you will be running between wards and speaking to everyone to gather evidence- err, I mean important details that will be filed in your medical records for later use. Sometimes you'll be caught up in an awkwardly placed mini-game such as catching fruits that are rolling out of an overturned truck (you can only imagine what far-fetched sequences would lead to this). At least the anime style looks good with some great medical caricatures brimming with personality. And the soundtrack, while not as explosive/touching as the Ace Attorney games, is quality all the way with not a single obnoxious note (the same can't be said of the “tattatatatatta” sound that accompanies the mountains of scrolling text).

If you are a looking for another great DS text-based adventure, the next Ace Attorney is just around the corner. There is nothing inherently wrong with LifeSigns, but the ratio of hospital soap opera to actual gameplay is insanely high, making most of the experience a wordy one that will fail to draw in those who couldn't care less about which bone is connected that bone. The characterisations are very well done, though, and the plotlines can take some rather interesting and intense turns towards the end of each chapter (with multiple endings available depending on how well you perform in certain tasks). The dialogue isn't as witty as your resident attorney's, but it's a solid localisation, if a bit too loaded with medical jargon. If, however, you have an urge to see another well-respected profession lambasted in a most humorous and over-exaggerated way, you may just want to take up residence at LifeSigns' hospital for the competently inept.

VERDICT – 6.0/10 Those who are interested in medicine will enjoy this, although one would think that the profession itself is enough work as it is. For others, this is more talk, less play.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/13/07

Game Release: LifeSigns: Surgical Unit (US, 11/06/07)


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