Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Atlus is putting the knife in your hands...
Ever since I saw the Nintendo DS I've wanted a surgery game because it's one of the most obvious fits for the platform. Spike felt the same way and quickly released Tendo Dokuta the second that the system hit Japan, but the publisher wimped out by electing to keep it there. Thankfully, Atlus has decided to grace us with a doctor sim called Trauma Center: Under the Knife, a fun looking game that is yet another shining gem in the DS' diamond encrusted holiday lineup.
Trauma Center (known as Caduceus: Surgical Operation in Japan) casts you as rookie doctor Derek Stiles, who's just begun working in Hope Hospital in Los Angeles (which is basically what the Japanese picture LA to be like). Just like with most medical facilities, there's a steady stream of patients who are suffering from a host of ailments, and it's YOU, YOU, YOU to the rescue. Using the system's touch screen and stylus, you'll be able to cut your patients, remove hazardous materials, and stitch them up using a wide array of instruments and products including a scalpel, swabs, needles, disinfectants, and lotions.
The top screen will display cut scenes as well as nurse Mary Fulton, who will casually flirt with you and give you surgical advice, and while I haven't seen an updated build since E3, it appears that all of the surgeries will be timed, an element that will no doubt add to the extreme tension we'll all experience as we race against the clock to save lives. People can and will die in this game so Atlus isn't sugarcoating the gameplay experience. However, at this point I'm not sure if the developers are making an effort to bond the player and the patient. If they manage to make these operations stress-filled affairs as well as instill the various characters with rich personalities, I may actually feel bad if I lose someone.
If you start losing a patient (which will happen whenever you're not performing the operation fast enough or failing to complete extractions and the like) you'll need to fill a syringe full of drugs and send them to la la land. It appears that the game grades you on everything though, so needing to administer drugs may actually count against you even though it'll enable you to keep going instead of wrapping a toe tag around a corpse's foot.
Trauma Center's visuals are quite simplistic but adequate. All of the characters have been drawn in a typical anime style, and the 3D body parts on the bottom screen have been accurately modeled. The game's not especially graphic, providing you don't squeal at the sight of raw chicken, but the cartoon style doesn't keep things from being any less real. There's definitely a bond that occurs between surgeon and patient. It's not going to be "cool" or worth running to show your friends when somebody dies.
Out of all the DS games coming out this year, Atlus' Trauma Center is the one that I'm most looking forward to, but I'm concerned about its replay value. If it only takes less than ten minutes to complete an operation and the developers are planning to include a handful of levels this may turn out to be a short-lived experience. But I'm going to buy it regardless, simply because it's the DS game that I've always wanted. I'll see you at the store when it's released on October 12. Just make sure to wash your hands before making your first incision!