Trauma Team

Trauma Team
Trauma Team Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Diagnosis Inconclusive
MtAMinutes to Action 10
Keep Playing? Yes
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Classifying video games into genres can be a tricky ordeal. For example, let's look at Fable. It's a role-playing game because it uses dynamic statistics as modifiers to its core mechanics, right? But one of the traditional indicators of an RPG video game is that it plays out with little regard to nuanced player input: its action is menu driven and often turn based. Fable's real-time combat, on the other hand, relies on player dexterity (as in an Action game) as much as it does the quantifications of the battle engine. So, in our propensity to create subgenres when things don't fit so neatly, we just call it an Action RPG. However, it's hard to be satisfied with this conclusion when one could replace every instance of "Fable" in this paragraph with "BioShock," "Mass Effect," or even "Star Ocean" and it would be no less true, even if all of these games feel completely different in once you get your hands on the controller.

Okay, so there's obviously a problem when so many games in the same genre are so dissimilar. But what about when a game comes along and has no precedent to compare to? Case in point, where the hell does the Trauma Center series belong?

Trauma Center: Under the Knife arrived on the scene in the Nintendo DS launch window, requiring players to perform lightspeed surgeries using a variety of medical instruments through the handheld's touch screen. Ignoring the dearth of surgery games (or even touch screen games) to use as precedent, Trauma Center was still very tough to define. Can we really use the catchall Simulation genre for a game where heart surgery lasts all of a minute and Space Invaders can be found in the patient's lungs? Is it part visual novel merely because operations are bookended and pervaded by character portraits and dialogue? Not content to let us try and figure it out after four games, Atlus' fifth title in the franchise, Trauma Team, complicates things further by providing six different scenarios to play through, each with its own exploration within (and sometimes a bit outside) the traditional Trauma Center structure.

Okay, so I don't really know what to call it. A more important concern, though, is whether or not it's fun. So how did my first hour go with this...whatever it is?


Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - New Game. "Resident" difficulty is the new medium. "Any similarities with real life situations are coincidental."

01 - A flock of monarch butterflies dance above an enormous field of flowers. There is a girl sleeping in the field. Or is she dead? Elsewhere: an ambulance speeds through city streets, passing people by. It says "Resurgam" on the side.

02 - The character select screen shows up. Six vertical lines appear, each representing one playable doctor's plotline. Some doctors' operations take place before others chronologically, but I can play them in any order I want.

03 - I can also change the difficulty for each doctor and chapter at any time. Neat.

04 - I'll choose CR-S01 (Surgery) first. A cutscene shows that he is locked in a maximum-security prison. He apparently has a 250 year sentence.

05 - A G-Man orders the soldiers to open the door. The prisoner is chained and masked. The G-Man offers a reduced sentence if the prisoner operates on somebody.

06 - And I'm back to the stage select. I guess that was just an Event to watch. The next chapter is an Operation, so let's check that out.

07 - A prison van pulls up to a hospital, Resurgam First Care, and the prisoner walks out, unmasked. He has red eyes and is dressed in all white. Apparently he'll get five years off his sentence if he operates.

08 - A large, tan man in a lab coat approaches the prisoner. His name is Hank Freebird, and he'll be assisting. Hank seems friendly. He briefs the prisoner-surgeon with some medical jargon. The prisoner seems to genuinely want to help people. I bet he was framed for whatever he did.

09 - I'm to treat a "dilated cardiomyopathy," whatever that means. There's a 2-player option if you want to co-operate with a friend. The rules here are pretty simple: if the patient's vitals drop to 0, the operation is a failure.

10 - And the operation begins. The mysterious "green medicine" from other games returns. It inexplicably raises the patient's "vitals." I pump him full of green medicine and open up his chest with the scalpel. There is a tutorial for every tool and procedure.

Trauma Team Surgery

11 - I'm using the ultrasound to find infected areas. Once found, I inject some antiviral drugs, incise the area, drain the infection, and seal the incision with forseps and suturing. Every tool is selected with the control stick on the nunchuk in a "weapon wheel" style.

12 - A second infection is found with the ultrasound, but apparently the rest won't be able to be found with it. Now I'm palpating the region directly with my "hand" tool to find more infections.

13 - I'm not sure what I'm looking for here...when I point on an area, little waves come out of the hand. What am I supposed to be looking for? Maybe I'm supposed to have the vibration function to detect these things...

14 - I've found an abnormal area. The controller rumbles differently and the waves on-screen change when one is found. I perform the procedure a few more times to disinfect the areas.

15 - Guess I've found all the infections, so I seal the guy up with some disinfectant, sutures, and bandages. My assistant Hank is impressed with my work. Operation successful! I'm graded on my work. Apparently each treatment was graded (Cool, good, or bad) and there are some bonus achievements. I get an S rank for the operation.

16 - Cutscene: Hank congratulates the modest prisoner-surgeon, who is then transported back to his cell via the prison van.

17 - The next chapter for CR-S01 is available, but I'll skip over to a different doctor. The next one over is Maria Torres (First Response).

18 - Cutscene: She steps out of the shower. Obligatory cleavage shot. The phone rings. The Chief calls to inform Maria of a fire. She isn't happy, since she's off duty. The garage door opens and she speeds away on her motorcycle.

19 - Cutscene: There's an ambulance at the fire. Maria asks a paramedic on the scene what happened, then rushes into the fire to find survivors.

20 - Several people need treatment in this operation. Co-op is available here as well.

21 - The operation begins. I am dealing with several people at once. If I let too many of them die, I fail the operation. I use some gauze to absorb some blood and anesthetize some burns with gel, then cover them with gauze and tape.

22 - Treating more burns on the abdomen, then looking at the patient's arm. It's got some burns, but he seems like he'll be alright for a bit, so I shift my attention to another patient.

Trauma Team Response

23 - She has multiple burns, so I treat them with gel and gauze. She begins to convulse, though, and goes into cardiac arrest. I perform chest compressions to get her heartbeat back, then secure an airway with a laryngeal mask. This patient has stabilized, so I'm done working here.

24 - I go back to the boy's arm and heal the burns there. Maria thinks a blood transfusion is also a good idea, so I work a needle in his arm and wrap bandages around it.

25 - The boy is stabilized and taken away. Apparently that's it, and I'm done with the operation. I got a B rank this mission. Guess I missed a few things.

26 - Cutscene: One of the paramedics chews out Maria for ordering people around and says she's a nuisance. Maria starts to bark back, but sees a hallucination of the sleeping/dead girl from the opening cutscene. Wait, what? Anyway, she snaps out of it, smacks the guy in the face, and speeds away on her motorcycle. I bet she's got a troubled past, hence her prickly demeanor.

27 - Well that one's done with. Let's try another character. The next one is Hank Freebird (Orthopedics). He's the guy who assisted the first doctor in his operation. Apparently this Event happens a while before then.

28 - A man with a gun is holding up a grocery store. "Not so fast, criminal!" A superhero, Captain Eagle, shows up. He is very corny, but manages to uppercut the gunman right through the ceiling. Captain Eagle throws some change onto the counter to "cover the damages." I don't think that'll quite do it...

29 - Cutscene: A shaggy-looking doctor is standing outside Resurgam First Care. Captain Eagle flies in behind him and falls into the dumpster. Hank Freebird emerges, saying he tripped and fell in. The doctor gives Hank a file, and tells him to operate.

30 - Apparently the girl has Plummer's Disease. The shaggy-looking doctor will assist the operation. Again, co-op is available.

31 - Orthopedics rules: Miss too many times and you fail. It looks like these operations aren't timed, and instead focus on precision and minimizing mistakes. I don't even need to use the nunchuk, so I hold the Wii remote in both hands for extra stability.

32 - I have to make an excision to remove an infected area. It's as simple as tracing a curving line.

33 - The next infected area is much larger, so the screen has to scroll while I'm cutting. It's sort of difficult to stay inside the guideline while the screen is moving like that. Still, I haven't made any mistakes yet.

Trauma Team Orthopedics

34 - A combo chain builds as I perform the procedure. As the chain grows, I get more points. Anyway, I excised the last infected area, so I use a stapler to close the patient up.

35 - Operation successful: Rank S.

36 - The two doctors are in the showers. The shaggy-looking doctor is smoking in the shower. Hank is puzzled, but the man compares the cigarette to an oxygen mask. Guess he really likes cigarettes.

37 - A radio broadcast says a drug cartel leader, Theodore Gacy, is arriving in America. The smoking doctor asks Hank if he'd like to get a drink later, but Hank is missing. Elsewhere: the cartel leader, eager to begin selling in America, is approached by Captain Eagle. His cronies pull pistols.

38 - "Guns are only for murdering people!" Captain Eagle tosses a car at the man, then flees the scene as the police show up. The cops immediately put Theodore Gacy under arrest. Did he do anything? I guess he did pull a gun, but a crazy man in a superhero outfit did confront him, it was self defense! I bet some tragic loss is what caused Hank to become a superhero.

39 - Anyway, the next character is Tomoe Tachibana (Endoscopy). A butler approaches a hot spring in a Japanese garden. Tomoe is taking a bath in the hot spring. She tells the butler, Hanzou, to prepare for her departure to America.

40 - She talks of honor and gods and such, then puts on a kimono and a lab coat. A line of servants bow to her as she walks down the hall.

41 - Maria, the First Response medic I played as earlier, arrives at the hospital via helicopter. Tomoe says that Gabe's son is having an ulcer treatment today. Maria offers her help, and though Tomoe initially refuses, she gives in as Maria asserts her assistance.

42 - Tomoe's butler, Hanzou, is ordered to prepare for the operation. Wait, what!? He just disappeared! Is he a ninja? Is he a ninja-butler-nurse? He brings Tomoe's personal endoscope to the operation room. It is gaudy, but Tomoe writes it off as merely being top-of-the-line.

43 - Apparently the boy's parents haven't shown up for the operation. His mom is busy, and his dad works here but doesn't feel like showing up. I'm to treat the ulcers in his gastric wall. Co-op is available here as well.

44 - The operation begins. Apparently I have to push the endoscope through the intestines by holding the A button and B trigger together and pushing the Wii remote towards the screen. Direction is controlled by the analog stick. I'm not supposed to hit the walls.

45 - I move forward through the intestines and come upon the first infected area. I use a drain to absorb a pool of blood in the intestinal wall.

Trauma Team Endoscopy

46 - Still just pushing through the intestines. This is kind of tiring, I keep having to push the Wii remote at the television to proceed.

47 - I've found a hemmorhaging area, leaking blood. I use the hemostatic forseps to close and cauterize the hemmorhaging. I can't hold on too long or I could harm the intestines.

48 - I'm not liking this slower-paced operation style. Choosing tools and moving through the intestines are all kind of clumsy as well, compared to the weapon wheels used in other surgeries. I've come upon an ulcer and inject some medicine into it. I have to inject the right amount, and no more.

49 - A radar in the corner of the screen shows the location of nearby infections. Apparently not all ulcers can be found by the camera without being sprayed first, so I use the radar to find areas to spray.

50 - I've pushed all the way up into the stomach now, and am finding more infections. Draining blood, cauterizing hemmorhages, injecting medicine...

51 - I found all the visible infections, now I have to spray for hidden infections using the radar. Found some more...

52 - I've cured all the infected areas, and the operation is a success. Rank: C. Guess I took too long and made too many mistakes. Oh well, still finished it.

53 - Cutscene: Maria is overly enthusiastic about the completed operation. She likes helping kids, and mentions she was raised at an orphanage. Troubled past confirmed? Tomoe mentions that her mother is dead and she had a falling out with her dad. Awkward! I bet her dad wishes she were a ninja or something, rather than a doctor. This is so familiar...

54 - The two doctors and a few assistants all go out to eat, at Maria's forceful suggestion. Yay.

55 - The next doctor is Gabriel Cunningham (Diagnostics). He's the lazy doctor from earlier who had a cigarette. His son is apparently the kid I just operated on. Guess this guy doesn't put much stock in family, he didn't even show up for the operation. His story starts long before all the other doctors I've controlled thus far.

56 - Cutscene: He has a dream about a particularly busy day at the hospital, and wakes up when the phone rings. He doesn't bother answering. It's his wife, saying she'll come pick up their son's stuff. Guess the family's split up. Gabe doesn't seem too interested, yawning his way out the door. I bet he's secretly torn apart by his conflicting obligations to his patients and his family.

57 - Cutscene: The chief brings in a large computer. It's called the "RONI" system. Apparently it's Gabe's new "partner."

58 - Apparently the computer is built to help diagnosticians, like Gabe. It has a disease database and stores symptoms as they're found. Gabe accepts it with plenty of sarcasm.

59 - "Good morning, Dr. Cunningham." Looks like the computer talks, too. It mistakes Gabe's exasperated sigh for a symptom of cardiac neurosis and recommends tranquilizers. Gabe tells RONI not to talk anymore until asked to.

60 - The briefing says that the patient has had difficulty breathing and some other symptoms. Guess I'm supposed to sort out what the problem is.

Trauma Team Diagnosis
The first hour of my Trauma Team experience ends there, but for the sake of completion, I decided to finish the first case of Diagnostics and the first case of Forensics for consideration of this first hour review. After all, the player could start with any of these cases.

Dr. Cunningham's diagnostics segment had me picking out symptoms of illness from patient examinations, blood test results and x-rays, and then applying each finding to hypothetical diagnoses. Each activity boiled down to "what is wrong with this picture?" but there was enough variety that the case never wore thin in its rather lengthy thirty minute duration. Diagnosis also seems to be the game's primary source of humor: Dr. Cunningham's exchanges with computer assistant RONI delivered some smiles, and I couldn't help but laugh at the questionable thoughts that ran through his mind while examining his schoolgirl patient. Anybody who's spent time in an Ace Attorney courtroom will feel right at home with the mood and progression here.

Meanwhile, Naomi Kimishima (Forensics) delivered the investigation half of the Ace Attorney formula. Trauma series veterans may recognize Dr. Kimishima as a surgeon from Second Opinion. In Trauma Team, she performs forensic investigations with her assistant, an FBI agent referred to as "Little Guy." Activities included examining the deceased and their personal effects for clues, listening for key statements in witness interviews, scouring crime scenes for objects of interest, and combining facts of the case -- represented by cards -- into logical deductions that eventually reveal the true cause of death. It was a greater challenge than diagnosis and rivaled some of the more brain-teasing Phoenix Wright cases, but mostly took a more somber tone. Some of the revelations were actually a bit grisly, though nothing on-screen ever appeared graphic. This was the longest segment, lasting nearly an hour on its own.
Trauma Team Forensics

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 10

What I liked: General Surgery, First Response, and Orthopedics. Each is an adaptation of the series trademark gameplay with its own wrinkles. Diagnostics and Forensics are also a nice bonus thus far.

What I didn't like: Endoscopy wasn't that bad, but it's definitely my least favorite at this point. Pushing the Wii remote at the screen to move the camera forward gets tiring quickly, and the tool selection and manipulation aren't nearly as intuitive as the other operations.

Video: These guts could pass for bubblegum with their bright, clean colors and plastic appearance. I'm usually pretty squeamish when it comes to the inner workings of human beings, but I have no problem cutting into a beating heart in the Trauma Center series. The living-comic style cutscenes look about as good as talking cardboard cutouts can, but that only goes so far.

Audio: Voice acting ranges from decent to annoying. The tense tunes that accompany surgery are mood-appropriate, as is the easygoing waiting room soundtrack that plays during cutscenes and diagnostics/forensics.

Story: Atlus preambles the instruction manual with the claim that Trauma Team is a more "realistic" surgery game than its predecessors. That sort of falls apart since the playable characters are an amnesiac sentenced to 250 years in prison, an EMT with prophetic hallucinations, a doctor who moonlights as a superhero, a ninja princess with gold-adorned medical equipment, a sarcastic deadbeat dad with a computer sidekick, and a terminally-ill forensics expert who gets phone calls from dead people.

Gameplay: Surgery, First Response, and Orthopedics all have that fast and precise, arcadey feel from Trauma Centers past. Endoscopy has a slower pace and clumsier controls. Diagnostics and Forensics play out like point-and-click adventures, specifically giving off a Phoenix Wright vibe.

Challenge: Your assistant will always tell you how to proceed with the operation, so the challenge is in speed and accuracy. Things are definitely easier this time around than in previous Trauma Center games, but blindly stabbing into the patient will get you nowhere.

Pacing: It's nice to be able to switch between all the different specializations at any time. First Response feels appropriately rushed, the other surgeries have some time-critical elements, and diagnostics and forensics offer lengthy breathers between the bite-sized pressures of operation.

Fun Factor: Players are bound to play favorites with the four different takes on surgery, and point-and-click lovers will enjoy the other two offerings.

Would I keep playing? Yes. I'd rather not go through endoscopy again, and I'm only lukewarm to orthopedics, but the rest of the suite was enjoyable enough.

Trauma Team What

Words from beyond the First Hour: I've finished the story mode of Trauma Team. All in all, the first case of each discipline provides an apt preview for the rest of the experience.

As far as I'm concerned, Atlus' efforts to shake up the franchise bring an equal number of positives and negatives to the operating table. I really enjoyed the new Forensics and Diagnostics portions of the game, but taking a field trip into the rectum with Endoscopy is about as fun as it sounds. The added variety provides plenty of relief from heart-pounding matters of life and death, but the handful of operations in each discipline never really test your surgical prowess as they did in games past. Finally, the move away from ridiculous fictional bio-terrorism provided a slightly more believable foe, but the character-driven plot often falls flat with awkward Japanese melodrama typical of the medium.

Despite its multiple personalities, I think Trauma Team best serves as an introduction to the series. Those who have finished previous Trauma games will probably be disappointed in just how easy it is to wipe out this world-threatening epidemic, though of course there's always the chase for higher ranks, a tougher difficulty level, and extra challenges specific to each case and operation. Anybody using the Wii Remote as forceps for the first time, however, will find it an accessible gateway to a franchise that occupies its very own genre. Surprisingly, the game can be given equal recommendation to fans of point-and-click adventure mechanics. The Forensics and Diagnostics portions alone probably could have been sold as their own game, as they make up the bulk of the 20+ hour time investment. The discounted price ($40 at launch, and less now) is added incentive for the curious to grab their scalpels and incise one of this generation's indefinable niche darlings for the first time.

Trauma Team Lineup