Trauma Center: Under the Knife was one of the earliest titles to take advantage of the Nintendo DS' capabilities, and to this day, it remains one of the few games that really uses the touch-screen. On top of that, it was known for its punishing difficulty. It was a pretty common problem for gamers to get stuck midway through with no way to progress. Even if you could advance, you'd likely see a morale-draining C ranking, regardless of how well you thought you did. Later games in the franchise lowered the skill requirements but still felt intimidating to the average person. Trauma Team on the Wii reboots the franchise in multiple ways. It branches out the standard Trauma Center gameplay, adding a mostly new cast and removing a few features that had been standard in previous games. It is more accessible, making it the ideal Trauma Center game for beginners and longtime fans alike.
Trauma Team's plot is structured around six separate doctors working at Resurgem General Care near Portland, Oregon. The main surgeon, and the closest the game has to a main character, is S-01, a former doctor found guilty of an act of bioterrorism that has left countless dead. The same act has left him with amnesia, making it impossible for S-01 to know whether or not he was really guilty. He's also joined by a number of other doctors. Maria Torres is a paramedic who is haunted by the ghost of a mysterious little girl and is struggling to overcome her desire to control everything. Hank Freebird is a former war veteran who has adopted a superhero identity to prevent anyone innocent from dying again. Gabe Cunningham is a curmudgeon who is going through a divorce. Tomoe Tachibana is the scion of a wealthy Japanese family who is torn between family responsibility and her desire for freedom. Finally, returning from Trauma Center: Second Opinion is Naomi Kimishima. Suffering the aftereffects of her previous encounters with the GUILT virus, Kimishima only has a short time to live and is unable to perform surgery anymore. She is solving murders using a strange psychic power, but she stumbles across a mystery that threatens the world.
Each of the six doctors has a story that is separate from the others, although they frequently intertwine. Maria, for example, is the First Response paramedic for Resurgem, so patients she has treated show up in another doctor's story. Likewise, Gabe may diagnose a patient, only for S-01 to treat him. Their stories all end up dealing with a mysterious virus that is spreading around Portland. Once you've finished the six plots, a seventh final story opens that revolves around the treatment of this virus and the culmination of all the character's plotlines. You can play the plots in any order, although the final story will only be available once you've finished the first six story lines.
As a franchise, Trauma Center has never been overly interested in reality, but Trauma Team takes it above and beyond the norm. The plot includes ghosts, psychic powers, superheroes, Saw-like serial killers and wisecracking AI robots. It may be difficult to for people to swallow, especially players who found the GUILT plot to be silly. The characters and their stories are reasonably interesting, but it's difficult to take them seriously when Hank throws on a superhero suit, shrugs off bullets and bridges two electrical wires with his body. The plot has a very different tone from the previous titles, and there's a greater emphasis on the plot, with lengthy pseudo-animated cut scenes between every level. While the storyline is more fantastical, players may be surprised to find that Trauma Team's gameplay is significantly more down to earth than the previous games.
As mentioned above, the previous Trauma Center games were known for the high level of difficulty. Later games in the franchise were easier, but they were still rather challenging. Trauma Team is probably the easiest game in the franchise by far, which can be good or bad, depending on how you feel. The game is significantly more forgiving, and the grading system is a lot more lenient. Attaining an A rank is more of the default, and even average players will see the coveted S rank a few times. On the other hand, fans who liked the difficulty level may find this title to be too easy for their taste, especially since the hardest difficulty mode isn't locked until you've beaten the game.
All of the surgeries in Trauma Team are shorter and easier than in prior titles. The patients are more durable and less likely to lose vitals, you have more time to perform actions, and there are few situations when you're rushed to complete the challenge. The lack of the Healing Touch ability doesn't matter because the difficulty has been lowered enough that you don't really need it. Trauma Team has almost completely done away with the GUILT boss battles found in the previous games. Except for one mission, the surgeries are all pretty basic. A strange force will occasionally make the situation worse, but you don't have to worry about evil flying dragons or deadly centipedes popping up and ruining your day.
S-01's gameplay is basically identical to that of the previous Trauma Center games for the Wii. Players are given a patient who they must treat using a series of tools. You have to keep track of the patient's vitals in order to keep him or her alive, and you must treat wounds and raise the patient's life signs. You have access to all the classic Trauma Center tools, including antibiotic gel, forceps, lasers, scalpels and the important stabilizer.
First Response paramedic Maria Torres is always the first to arrive to an accident or disaster, and she's responsible for keeping folks alive long enough to see the other doctors. Her gameplay is actually very similar to S-01's, but you're simply treating obvious wounds but never have to perform surgery. As such, you have a reduced array of tools. Gone are the drain, laser and scalpel, and they're replaced by emergency splints, gauze and scissors. You still have the all-important antibiotic gel and stabilizers, which is important because Maria's job is probably the toughest in the game. Unlike surgery, Maria doesn't only have one patient to worry about. You have to switch between multiple patients, each with a different vitals meter. The player's health in Maria's segments is based on how many patients you lose. You can afford to lose one or two patients, but with an entire group of people counting on you, it's best to not lose anyone at all.
First Response is probably the best addition to Trauma Team, and it's easily one of the most exciting aspects of the game. Unlike regular surgery, Maria has no way to "cure" her patients. Her best bet is to stabilize them until the patient can be removed by other paramedics. The gameplay is frantic and exciting, especially in later segments, where you have to treat 10 or more patients in a single stage. Maria also has some of the more difficult challenges in the game, as things tend to change pretty frantically. More patients are discovered as the levels go on, and sometimes Maria will have to talk to her patients to find additional "optional" patients. Maria's gameplay segments are intense, but still aren't as ridiculously difficult as previous Trauma Center titles.
Tomoe Tachibana is the team's endoscopic surgeon. Her segments probably represent the biggest evolution of the franchise's gameplay without actually changing the genre. The endoscope is a medical instrument that is placed in a hollow cavity in the body to look and operate inside. As a result, Tomoe's gameplay functions like first-person surgery. You move the endoscope inside the patient and operate using the usual array of tools. You move the endoscope forward by pushing the Wiimote toward the screen and pull it back by pressing down on the d-pad. Like S-01, your health is the same as the patient's vitals, so you can't afford to be careless. The controls feel a little awkward at first, especially since you have to "aim" the endoscope with the Nunchuk analog stick instead of the Wiimote pointer. It may also get tiresome to keep "pushing" the Wiimote forward to advance, but that's a minor gripe at best. You have to guide the endoscope around inside the human body and find the irregularities using a radar. Sometimes you'll even explore branching path splits or maze-like corridors.
Hank Freebird is the head of orthopedics at Resurgem, and his gameplay segments involve a series of pre-designated minigames. Players never have to select tools but must follow the on-screen instructions. As a result, you don't have to worry about selecting the wrong tool, treating the wrong wound, or any unexpected consequences. The minigames use all of the Wii's and Nunchuk's features and include restructuring bones, carving new artificial joints and driving pins into a damaged leg. The patients don't have a vital meter, but Hank has a number of lives. Each time he screws up, he loses a life, and if you lose too many, the game is over. Your main goal is to get a chain by successfully performing as many consecutive minigames as possible. The more successful you are, the longer your chain will go. Using the Cool to Bad scale, you are graded on speed, but you can receive multiple Bads or Misses and still easily earn an S ranking. It would have been nice to have a little more control in these segments, but they provide a refreshing break from some of the usual gameplay.
The last two doctors don't involve any action-based gameplay but change the genre completely, turning the game into a Phoenix Wright-style adventure. Naomi Kimishima is returning from Trauma Center: Second Opinion, but instead of performing surgery, she is a forensic scientist.
At the start of each case, Naomi receives a corpse. Her magical powers allow her to hear the corpses' last words, and from there, you have to figure out how they died. This involves simple adventure-style gameplay, where you travel from location to location and analyze the bodies for clues. When you find a clue, it is added to your inventory, and once you have enough clues, you can "evolve" them by having the FBI analyze them or combining similar clues to gain more information. For example, combining a blood stain on a corpse's clothing with a wound on the corpse will evolve the clue to a new form that reveals the blood stain came from a stab wound. The forensic tools are a little finicky; there were a few occasions when fingerprint powder or blood luminescing spray required a few tries before picking up the hidden clues, even if you're spraying in the right spot. Your overall goal in these segments is to convert all clues into solid evidence. Once you do, the game switches over to a sequence where Naomi reveals the truth of the crime while the player presents solid evidence to back up the accusations.
The final doctor is the diagnostician, Gabe Cunningham, who has an AI robot partner named RONI. Gabe's gameplay is basically an old-school adventure game. You're given a patient and have to figure out what is wrong with him or her. You can ask questions, examine them for symptoms, and check charts and X-rays for inconsistencies or irregularities. His sequences are based on a small number of lives, but if he has one wrong examination, he'll lose a fair chunk of life. However, you can save the game at any time and restart from your last save to restore all your life points. One has to wonder why they bothered with a life system at all.
Of all the gameplay modes, playing as Dr. Gabe Cunningham is probably the closest to being a real doctor. Unfortunately, it's also the least interesting of the lot. While Naomi is solving murders and defusing bombs, Gabe is comparing numbers on a chart or pixel-hunting on an X-ray. Poking around on charts for a barely discolored area gets tedious quickly, especially when you have multiple charts and the symptom only appears on one. It is certainly realistic, but not always in a fun way. It's also frustrating when what you're looking for is obscured by the art design. To be fair, Gabe's gameplay is fun as a break from all the crazy goings-on, and he is easily the most relatable character. His interplay with the robot RONI is frequently humorous, and unlike the other characters, he's a regular guy who just happens to be a pretty good diagnostician. It is a shame that his gameplay descends into pixel-hunting or tedious chart-reading so often. It might be more interesting if you didn't do similar, but far more exciting, things in Naomi's forensic gameplay.
Trauma Team offers a fair amount of replay value. Each of the six doctors has a series of medals that you can earn after you've finished the game, much like Achievements or Trophies. You're given an unusual task, such as finding a hidden item in Naomi's stages, or completing one of Tomoe's stages without bumping the intestinal wall. While the prizes for these medals are pretty lackluster, they offer some interesting incentives to play the game again in different ways. Finishing the game also unlocks the Surgeon difficulty and the ability to earn XS rankings. Those who find Trauma Team's reduced difficulty a bit too low will want to give the game a shot on this mode. The co-op mode also makes a reappearance, for those seeking a multiplayer experience.
Trauma Team changes up the visuals from the last game, although not always in a good way. Most of the surgery segments are very similar, but some of the wounds and tumors have been changed to be less realistic. Blood looks like grape jelly, and tumors look like strange crystallized rocks. It makes everything less disgusting to look at, but it's also more cartoonish. All of the cut scenes have been replaced by Flash-style animated cut scenes. It's nice to see a little more effort placed in the lengthy plots, but these cut scenes don't stand too well on their own. Most are told by moving still images in a way that looks ridiculous. It's particularly funny when the still art doesn't match what is going on, so that characters like S-01 and Naomi have their hair blowing in the wind, even indoors. Sometimes the game also switches over to a different art style, where all the character details are removed and everyone is drawn as a creepy-looking mannequin with empty eye sockets and no facial features.
Fortunately, Trauma Team's audio side is top-notch. Almost all of the voice actors are well cast, and the main six are really good. Perhaps the only odd inclusion is, once again, Nolan North playing Nolan North, which feels a bit out of place considering the character he is trying to voice is the depressed criminal doctor S-01. He does a good enough job, but North's Uncharted: Drake's Fortunate feels strange coming from the character design. The soundtrack is excellent, and there are some pretty fantastic stand-out tracks, especially during some of the more intense surgery sequences.
Overall, Trauma Team is a very solid inclusion to the franchise. It is undoubtedly a kinder, gentler entry to the franchise that tries to appeal to gamers who've been scared off by the high difficulty of the previous entries. On top of that, the branching gameplay styles make it harder to get stuck on a particular mission for too long. Longtime fans may bemoan the lack of difficulty, but there is enough here to keep them pleased, although some of it involves finishing the game at least once. There are a few nagging elements, such as a silly plot and somewhat weak visuals, but they're not enough to detract from the overall game. If you're a fan of the Trauma Center franchise or would really like to be but found the previous games to be too intimidating, you must buy Trauma Team.
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