Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS) review
"Trauma Center is one of those staple games that becomes pretty much a household word if you're talking about the DS. At first, it's pretty hard to tell why - it looks like a hentai game that tries to make the touchscreen look useful. While it is a blatant example of Nintendo whoring out the DS's touchscreen to all takers, Trauma Center manages to be one of the best games for the system, and is definitely unique - if only for the fact that instead of killing random people, you're saving their liv..."
Trauma Center is one of those staple games that becomes pretty much a household word if you're talking about the DS. At first, it's pretty hard to tell why - it looks like a hentai game that tries to make the touchscreen look useful. While it is a blatant example of Nintendo whoring out the DS's touchscreen to all takers, Trauma Center manages to be one of the best games for the system, and is definitely unique - if only for the fact that instead of killing random people, you're saving their lives.
You play as Derek Stiles, an up-and-coming doctor just out of med school and working his first job at a local hospital. At first, the game is pretty standard (and easy) stuff - things like making and stitching incisions, healing minor cuts, all while selecting tools from the sides of the touchscreen at the instruction of a nurse. Pretty normal - albeit not entirely realistic. Then about five minutes in, the game takes a turn during what seems like a totally normal surgical procedure - operating on the victim of a car crash. You have to massage the patient's heart to restore pulse, then start removing the various glass shards lodged in his skin. Then you open up the chest, and all hell breaks loose. The patient's heart is riddled with glass shards, which nearly kill the patient if you remove them. You go through this procedure as well, and then, out of nowhere, a giant cut appears, with the background music changing to a tune that sounds very much like the one from Lavos's awakening in Chrono Trigger. A shard of glass almost bigger than the patient's heart pops out, and you remove that too. Then the heart practically splits in two, and Derek draws a pentagram which causes time to stop, allowing him to stitch the heart up with no difficulty. Sadly, the use of the pentagram is necessary in future surgeries, which makes a huge blemish on a game that seemed pretty realistic at first glance.
As if doing the surgery itself wasn't hard enough, you're kept to a strict time limit, as well as a set number of mistakes, in addition to keeping the patient's vitals high enough that they won't die from the next incision you make. While use of the "healing touch" (the game's term for the pentagrams) makes keeping track of everything far easier, it only lasts for a few seconds and can only be used once per surgery. Also, each action you take has a point value associated with it - miss even slightly and your rank for the surgery is ruined. Sadly, it's very easy to get a bad ranking on a level simply because of the way the tools are laid out onscreen, with all the ones that generally go together (things like the sterilizing gel and the scalpel) on opposite sides of the screen and on different vertical levels. To a new player, even after going through the tutorials, the game can be very confusing, especially when you're required to remember a procedure you did six or seven missions ago in the same order. The difficulty (largely due to confusing layout) is the only real downfall that Trauma Center takes, but is not large enough to prevent the game from showing how excellent it is.
The most beautiful part of Trauma Center is its music and the way it uses it to make a stressful atmosphere. During surgery, the music is a fast and uneven beat that does the same thing the drowning music in Sonic The Hedgehog used to do - give you a further impetus to get things done as fast as you can. As a patient nears death, the music gets louder and faster, working that much more to developing an atmosphere like in a real hospital. Intermingled with the sound is the voice of your nurse, either congratulating you on your successes or screaming bloody murder at your mistakes. Even though the music sounds like it would make the game harder, turning the sound off is a definite loss, as the game is better by leaps and bounds with the music on.
For a DS game, Trauma Center has spectacular graphics. All the internal organs are rendered in spectacular 3D, some of the best to grace the bottom screen of the DS. Pinpointing the problem is a snap, due to the game's use of lighting to highlight the trouble spots. The best examples of the amazing graphics is definitely in the perspective the game gives you. For instance, every time you make a major incision, the camera zooms in going through the cut, allowing you to see the vital organs underneath, whereas just seconds ago you were looking at the patient's entire chest. From there, it only gets smaller, allowing you to zoom in so far that you can have most of your screen real estate invested on looking at that one aneurism that's about to burst.
Despite its few problems, Trauma Center manages to be a solid game that not only bests the mediocre offerings and false promises of the PSP, but is also one of the best games availible on the DS.
Community review by timrod (December 18, 2005)
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