Review by Kenri

"Wanna play doctor?"

There are very few games that can leave you physically tired. Sure, you may get an adrenaline rush from a first person shooter or an action game, but how often after playing a game do you sit back only to realize your arms are aching, your hands are sweaty, your mouth is dry, and your heart is racing?

Trauma Center marks the point where games have become physically and mentally taxing. This is not DDR, either. You're moving only your fingers, wrists, and eyes, like in any other game, but it somehow has more of an impact.

Perhaps it's the frantic gameplay, which requires turn-on-a-dime reflexes or you'll lose instantly. Maybe it's the story line, which makes you feel emotionally attached to your patient. But there's also the possibility that Trauma Center is just really damn hard.

Under the Knife throws you into the shoes of Derek Stiles (DS. Stylus. Etc.), a rookie doctor at Hope Hospital. Although you start off just learning the ropes - removing tumors and glass in operations with no one's life on the line, Dr. Stiles (and the player) will quickly be forced to adapt on the spot and move quick as lightning in order to complete operations involving medical terrorism and the people closest to him.

Taking place in the future, formerly incurable diseases such as AIDS and cancer are a thing of the past. At your disposal is a ten piece arsenal of medical equipment - everything from a scalpel and bandages to a laser and a super-powerful form of an antibiotic gel. Using these, you can handle nearly all common diseases. But some are just too much for a normal doctor - this is when Caduceus steps in. But the GUILT, seven different diseases used in medical terrorist attacks, which seem to display sentient thought, may be too much for even Caduceus to handle...

As if I even need to say it, the plot is great. It's completely original and put together in a way that really flows with the actual gameplay. Whereas some games feel as though they're one part story and one part game, Trauma Center is just one part story-driven game. All plot twists are put forth in a way that isn't expected and fully carried out so no loose ends are left when you finish the game. The characters are some of the most original I've ever seen in a game - although we've seen these "types" of characters before, they manage to all be original and likable. This is in no small part thanks to the top notch writing, especially when it comes down to dialogue.

Wanting to see how the plot will unfold really gives you a reason to retry a tough mission again and again. Which you will be doing - especially if you're not as quick to move as them younger folk. When a lot of win/lose situations hang on whether you can suture that cut and stabilize the patient's vitals in about half a second, it really hits you just how fast you're moving.

The hectic gameplay serves only to make the game more enjoyable, though. Most missions will start out slowly - disinfect the area before making an incision. Stitch up some cuts. And then all hell breaks lose. Many operations will involve multiple phases - just when you think you're in the clear the difficulty will double. You're forced to keep track of your patient's vitals (you lose if they hit 0), your item usage (if you use the stabilizer too much, it'll become unusable for a few seconds), and your miss count (make too many mistakes and it's game over). You're forced to think three steps ahead or you'll be left miles behind.

Such gameplay would not be possible were it not for the DS' unique touch screen. Unlike some games that feel like normal console or handheld games, Trauma Center really could not be pulled off on any other system. As you work your way through the game, your stylus will become a scalpel, a magnifying glass, forceps, a syringe, a drain, and over five other tools. All movements feel natural and aren't made needlessly complicated. To stitch up a wound, make a zigzag pattern over the cut. To inject stabilizer (basically morphine, only stronger and less frowned upon), first pull your stylus upwards from the bottle to fill your syringe with the liquid, then press down on the area you wish to inject and wait for the syringe to empty. All controls are basic patterns, taps, and so forth, which makes it easy to remember how to do everything even if you quit playing for a few weeks.

It's rather sad that the graphics could not maintain the level of detail all other parts of the game had. The characters are drawn very well and the backgrounds are pleasantly displayed during cutscenes, but most of the time you'll be staring at a pink blob with cuts on it that you're supposed to assume is a major organ of some sort. Luckily Trauma Center is so fast paced that you won't have time to watch the graphics. You'll be too busy actually playing.

Although the soundtrack only has about five tunes, they perfectly fit the mood of whatever is going on. The "boss music" used in the hardest missions of the game is some of the most intimidating music I've ever heard. Sounds are pleasantly bloody - when a cut is being made, you can hear the flesh tear. Your nurse's cries of "Dr. Stiles!" alarm you when something goes wrong, and a "p'ding" noise lets you know when you do something successfully.

Although this game may seem hard at first, once you pick it up it maintains an excellent level of increased difficulty. Your first time through you may think almost all missions are on the same level - until you go back and do an earlier mission you had trouble with, only to beat it handily. It's not that the game stayed the same difficulty, it just forced you to get better as it got harder.

Due to the style of control this game employs, you'll really only blame yourself when you lose. This is both good and bad. It results in less broken hardware, sure, but a lot of the time the game is just being really cheap. Because some GUILT have multiple ways to "attack", sometimes they'll use an attack you can deal with over and over, making the level easy. And sometimes they'll hack up your patient so badly that there's not even a point in trying to win. These minor gripes aside, though, Trauma Center is challenging without being feeling impossible, which is rare for a game these days.

Due to Atlas' tradition of not releasing many copies of just about any game they publish, I recommend picking this up ASAP if you have any interest at all. Trauma Center is a must-have for any DS owner and well deserving of an incredible nine out of ten. Open up and say "Ahhhhhwesome."

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/13/06

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