What kid didn't love Operation? You know, the battery-powered board game in which you used tweezers to yank vital bones and organs from some poor schlub with bad hair and a light-up nose? What a great game. And Trauma Center: Second Opinion is the super-powered, seven-headed, genetically mutated video evolution of that game. It's niche-y and unique and a little gory and it isn't going to be easy to find. But find it anyway, because it's also the Wii's second must-have game (Zelda being the first).
A rubber glove-wearing surgery sim, Trauma Center uses the Wii's unique controller to cast you as gifted young sawbones Derek Stiles, siphoning blood from gaping gashes, laser-lancing throbbing tumors, and carving living parasites from lacerated organs. Your gift? The Healing Touch, a superhuman ability to concentrate so intently and work so quickly that time literally seems to slow to a crawl. It comes in handy when the patient on your operating table is gushing blood from a half-dozen different unnatural orifices.
As well as the stylus/touch screen combo worked on the original, DS version of the game (Trauma Center: Under the Knife ), the Wii nunchuk seems even more perfectly suited to this task. The stick in your left hand is used to swap between eight different medical tools, and the nunchuk in your right acts as a laser pointer, enabling you to target your instrument with literal surgical precision.
When you need to use forceps to pull glass shards from a patient's heart, you squeeze the A and B buttons, and gently move the wand. If the patient's heart gives out, you shock that bloody beater back to life with your new defibrillator, you push forward with both hands (as if holding paddles) and press both triggers (B and Z) when the voltage hits the proper charge. Ironically, basic stitches are still often comically tough to squiggle just right, just they were in the original Trauma Center.
Speaking of that first version, do players of the DS original actually need a Second Opinion? Besides the enhanced gear and a few tweaked missions and procedures, you're looking at updated graphics, redrawn character portraits and (mercifully) three levels of difficulty, which you can swap between at the start of any operation.
But the biggest addition to the Wii version has to be a second playable character: Nozomi Weaver, a buxom, gray-haired-yet-29-year-old Japanese babe with the Healing Touch and a dark secret. She has only a handful of missions, unlocked one at a time as you progress through the main story, but they're creative highlights - performing surgery by penlight or twisting the Wii wand to puzzle-piece the broken fragments of a shattered arm back together. Nozomi's story also fills in some of the details behind the origin and spread of GUILT.
What's GUILT, you ask? The answer to that perfectly reasonable question brings us to the game's final strength: an intriguing, charismatically far-fetched story, told via still character portraits, subtitles, and almost zero cheesy voice acting. Things start off normal, but by the end of the second episode, when you treat a young girl whose lungs are being shredded from the inside out, it dives headfirst into Lake Bizzaro.
GUILT, it turns out, is a mysterious virus that can take on any number of forms, each more deadly and puzzle-like than the last. You might find yourself laser blasting living, tumor-causing yin-yang symbols, pumping color-coded serums into viral critters literally doing the backstroke through a lung, or racing to dismantle organic armor plates before they multiply and suffocate a host's organs.
It's crazy and unexpected, though it leads to our only big gripe with the game - difficulty is erratic overall, and some of the operations are infuriatingly tough on any skill level, even without your nurse constantly interrupting to point out how badly you're doing. Still, even though we occasionally had to pause to curse at the TV, we couldn't stop playing - we were addicted. Trauma Center is one procedure that is simply too interesting and unique to pass up, even despite the occasional slip of the knife.