For years I’ve harbored a secret Snakes-on-a-Plane fantasy. In it, I board a flight across the Pacific Ocean with Samuel L. Jackson, when bio-terrorists release a deadly toxin. After hours of struggling with it, Jackson stands up and declares, “I’ve had it with these mother fuckin’ tumors on this mother fuckin’ plane! Is anyone here a doctor?” At that point, like the guy from Goodburger, I timidly raise my hand. “I’ve logged ten thousand hours worth of Trauma Center games. I can operate.” Then I break out my scalpel, laser, forceps, and my deus-ex-machina antibiotic goo, the timer starts, and I rescue four patients in ten minutes, saving the day.
Long before Phoenix Wright brought the legal world into the living room, I’ve enjoyed the melodramatic misrepresentation of the surgical profession. It begs the question, which high-profile profession will they malign next? I can already envision a Wii U game about an up-and-coming Irish Catholic Priest, charged with missions where he has to hold the baby under long enough to wash away its sins, but not enough to cause brain damage. Or perhaps a text-adventure version where he has to select just the right advice to give during pre-marital counseling. Whatever they do, as long as they pump up the drama to a steroidal level and make the characters adopt kabuki poses, I’ll buy it.
Like other Trauma Center games, you play as Dr. Derek Stiles, fresh out of med school. An awkward and bumbling person, he nevertheless has a great skill as a surgeon, mostly due to the magical power he discovers in himself that allows him to slow down time once during every surgery. You know, like a real doctor. After dealing with the usual tumors, polyps, and shards of glass to the lungs, a medical terrorist organization releases a series of diseases called GUILT on the population. GUILT acts mainly through a combination of tumors and creepy crawly things skittering about your innards, making it fall under the jurisdiction of a surgeon for treatment.
Then you operate. A lot. Until the game ends.
Trauma Center technically falls under the classification of puzzle games, which brings up mixed feelings. First, I usually don’t care for puzzle games, so the fact that I didn’t realize the genre until someone pointed it out speaks for the ingenuity of the concept. However, I haven’t ruled out the fact that it may not seem like a puzzle because in every operation, they give you an assistant who constantly feeds instructions to you. In an attempt to make each surgery unique, GUILT mutates, so each new strain has a slightly different treatment, but in order to actually complete the game, it has to give you constant tutorials on how to destroy each mutation. I don’t think it makes the game less fun to play. They find other ways to crank up the difficulty, and I suppose it eliminates the need to look up a walkthrough (which earns it a gold star in my book), but it makes me wonder why they insist on Derek operating, rather than his nurse who seems to know her way around entrails better than any of the surgeons in the game.
Second Opinion attempts to remake the original DS game, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, in the way that Renaissance fairs recreate the 1600s; they took what they liked, got rid of the dysentery, influenza, inbreeding, and rivers flowing with human excrement, added a few characters you suspect weren’t actually there before, and they slapped a happy, colorful new ending. While I had a lot of fun with the DS version, some of the controls handled as well as a farming combine in a drag race through Tokyo. In fact, the in-game instructions to use the magnifying tool by drawing circles on the touch screen won’t actually work, and only through my faithful internet access did I discover you actually had to draw a C-shape. Second Opinion fixes nearly all those problems; the minimally-used magnification tool only requires point-and-click controls, you no longer has to manually slide fluids up the drain, and use of the nunchuck lets you flip between tools much faster than in the DS version.
Still, the Wii doesn’t have a reputation for perfection in controls, and the game does have some issues of its own. Sometimes the nunchuck makes changing instruments easy to the point of accidental, and on several occasions I found myself trying to drain blood from a wound using thread or the laser. The forceps don’t always activate, giving the impression that Derek believes he’s using them, but forgot to actually pick them up. I also found it more difficult to perform certain tasks, like suturing wounds or activating the Healing Touch, with the Wiimote as opposed to the DS touch screen. However, I consider these fair trade-offs that make the game easier to play, and don’t hinder my efforts nearly as much as the problems on the handheld version.
Atlus cleared up some of the language issues for this release, so the game doesn’t ramble quite as much as before–it still yammers on from time-to-time, just not all the time. They introduce a side character, Naomi Kimishima. For every chapter you complete as Derek, one operation–usually lifted from Trauma Center 2 for the DS–opens up for Naomi. It adds a few extra operations to the game, including some of the more interesting techniques they hadn’t included in the original, such as working with a pen light or piecing together bone fragments. While the game could use a few more operations, it didn’t fully make sense to add another surgeon, and to merge her story with Derek’s, they erased the entire final chapter from the DS game and replaced with a new one.
…You couldn’t have just added a seventh chapter? Really? The game doesn’t really take that much time to play, and we’d appreciate if you gave us back those final surgeries from the DS.
Before I go stamping this with my seal of approval, though, I ought to mention one serious flaw in the game that makes me hang my head in shame that any respectable developer could let this slip into a game.
Unskippable Cut Scenes.
Capital letters. As I mentioned, the Trauma Center series has a reputation for getting a little rambly. While I’d disapprove of a story that didn’t try to put together a story at all, a lot of their rambling happens right before operations, and since the game does throw some hefty challenges your way, I found myself spending more time mashing the A button to get to the operation than I actually did operating. Yes, sometimes I had a tendency to miss vital clues in the pre-op briefing, but once I pick those up, I’d appreciate it if I could go straight to the part of the game that wants me to, you know, play it.
Mostly, though, it does get my seal of approval. The remake does improve on the flaws of the original game, and while they don’t throw many extra operations at you, they do give you at least a few. If you haven’t played the Trauma Center series before, you actually may want to start with Second Opinion.
Stay tuned! Playing Koudelka inspired me to dig out a Shadow Hearts game, so expect that in about a week or two. Since school has started, gaming has slowed down, but sign up to get email notification of my posts so you don’t miss any!