Utilizing the unique DS control scheme to its fullest, Trauma Center: Under the Knife offers gamers the chance to turn their stylus into a scalpel and play doctor in one of the DS’s best kept secrets.
Trauma Center puts you in the long white coat of Dr. Derek Stiles, a young surgeon performing complicated procedures amidst a dramatic backdrop of medical terrorism, miraculous healing powers and loopy, soap opera-like characters - seriously, there’s even a euthanizing, dude-speaking doc.
Despite offering as much character-driven drama than a whole season of Grey’s Anatomy, most of the game - and fun - takes place in the operating room. The DS’s bottom screen serves as the operating table where you'll perform the surgeries, while the top screen plays host to your assistant who'll offer helpful hints and occasional snippy insults. With ten stylus-controlled items and instruments at your disposal, you’ll carve out tumors, laser blast parasites and stitch wounds, all without ever touching a face or shoulder button.
Whether you're removing bloody shards of glass with forceps, slathering antibiotic gel on an oozing wound or massaging a patient’s heart back to life with your bare hands, the stylus adds a tangible layer of immersion that could never be achieved with traditional controls. We never imagined draining goo from a tumor could be so much fun, but Trauma Center pulls it off, providing an experience that successfully takes advantage of the DS's touch controls like no other title.
While hacking away at patients may sound like a bloody blast, Trauma Center is actually quite challenging. Each surgery is like a puzzle that must be deciphered correctly and in a timely fashion, lest you want to end up with a corpse in front of you. In addition to using the right tools at specific points in the procedure, you’ll have to deal with a ticking clock and plummeting heart rates that must be stabilized (often with injections) before you can continue.
Together, these factors create a palpable sense of urgency that’ll have you frantically juggling various tasks even as a sweat breaks on your brow. This intensity is mostly fun, but occasionally dips into frustrating, as some of the procedures are brutally difficult, especially in the later stages and especially when your assistant insists upon breaking into your groove in order to bitch at you about something you'd be fixing if she'd just stop interrupting. You’ll eventually get through them, but not before doing a few laps on the trial-and-error treadmill.
Trauma Center’s twisted tale is told through text-driven dialogue between a bizarre cast of anime-inspired characters. Along the journey you’ll uncover the mysteries of a terrorist-engineered virus, learn the "healing touch" - a medically unrealistic, but life saving technique - and even adapt your surgical skills to defuse a bomb.
Explaining all this often requires you to slog through too much text, but this is more a testament to how much fun the actual gameplay is than a knock against the narrative. It's not that the story is bad; it's just that the surgeries are so addictive that you’ll be anxious to scrub back in to the O.R. and pick up your scalpel/stylus. If a lack of new and addictive gaming content is what ails you, we prescribe this satisfying surgical sim. Pick it up and call us in the morning.