*Note: This game is currently unavailable in the PAL regions
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be in the medical profession but don't feel like spending years of your life going to medical school and studying an endless amount of terms, diseases, and proper procedures, then the closest experience you can get is likely in the Trauma Center series. Since 2005, this small-but-steady franchise has put players in the shoes of a surgeon performing medical miracles to save patients' lives, but kept the gameplay to a simple arcade-like affair with a health gauge, easy-to-use controls, and a scoring system to show you how skilled and precise you are. After 4 installments, it was starting to become apparent that the series needed to start evolving before stagnation set in. Atlus, the main publisher and developer, set forth to correct this problem with their fifth title. The end result is Trauma Team, a game that strongly builds upon the franchise's formula of simple-yet-intense surgical action.
The biggest change to the formula is the addition of several new playing modes. Instead of the same surgical gameplay connected by one storyline in previous entries, Trauma Team has six distinct playing styles, each with their own narrative to tell and rules to learn. The first four modes are all variations of surgical work. Inmate CR-SO1's story is classic Trauma Center gameplay: You have to perform an operation on the patient with a variety of tools at your disposal and must balance between keeping up the patient's vitals (the game's equivalent of a health bar) while treating all the tumors, hemorrhages, lacerations, and other problems you can find. Maria Torres, the team's first responder, has to deal with treating multiple patients at one time with limited tools at her disposal. These are arguably the toughest levels in the game because you have to juggle up to five patients at once, so learning which patients to treat first and being able to switch between victims quickly become key to clearing each stage. Hank Freebird's levels are more about precision. As the orthopedic surgeon, the levels are much more straightforward, but you're given a set amount of screw-ups in place of a vital gauge; go off the guidelines one too many times, and the patient's life will be lost. The endoscopy levels, led by Tomoe Tachibana, task you with moving through the patient's stomach, digestive tract, or lungs to treat any affected areas you come across. You'll have to accomplish by moving the Wii Remote forward and using the analog stick to steer, which works but isn't the most ideal method when it comes to making tight turns in cramped spaces.
Trauma Team adds new twists to the action-packed formula of previous games.
The remaining two modes are slower-paced investigation-type levels. Diagnostician Gabriel Cunningham's levels play out like an episode of House M.D.: You have to examine the patient, ask questions, and look at the results of image scans in order to gather symptoms and come up with the correct diagnoses, complete with some snarky comments from the doctor himself. Like the orthopedic surgery levels, you're only given a set amount of incorrect guesses before you fail the level. In contrast to the House-like setting is medical forensic Naomi Kimishima's story, which is more like watching episodes of Bones. You'll perform autopsies, examine crime scenes, and combine pieces of evidences to get enough information to solve the case. This mode also gives you a limited number of incorrect guesses before you meet with a game over screen, but is a bit more lenient than the Diagnostician levels. Both of the slower-paced modes sometimes get bogged down by sections where you have to comb through the patient/crime scene looking for the one detail you missed in order to progress, but they still have enough twists to keep each new case interesting.
Aside from all the new modes, Trauma Team also boasts an increase in production values. The sterile look of previous entries has been replaced with a sharp presentation reminiscent of a Manga series, which is especially prevalent in the menus. Cutscenes have been upgraded from simple text-reading with a character art in front of a boring backdrop to pseudo-animated comic-like cinematics with full voice-acting (albeit it's not the best acting you'll ever hear). In-game, the graphics are clean and clear so you can always tell the difference between the different conditions you'll have to treat. Like most of the game, the music takes on a serious-business tone, but is still well-composed and generally pleasant to listen to. In all, it's a very welcome upgrade that gives the game a bit more personality.
In addition to operations, you'll also have to diagnose patients or examine corpses for clues.
Gameplay-wise, Trauma Team proves itself to be the most refreshing entry in the series. Although the six distinct modes have their own quirks to adapt to, they all follow the same basic rules, so they're easy to learn but difficult to master. Some of the more arbitrary methods of creating difficulty in previous installments have been curbed here; most levels have no time limits, and the game always lets you know what tool to use next in case you forget the proper method of excising a tumor or treating a deep laceration. With a few exceptions, the controls are very solid, much of which is owed to the accuracy that can be achieved thanks to the Wii Remote's IR pointer. You'll be thankful for the precise controls, as the levels get legitimately difficult, especially towards the end of each storyline. You'll have to move quickly and be precise at the same time in order to keep the patient alive through the whole operation. If you get too overwhelmed by a particular level, you can always lower the difficulty setting or play through another level, as the game allows you to play through each story at your own pace.
You can skip most of the cutscenes in each story if you'd like, and depending on your taste, you might want to. Storytelling was never one of Trauma Center's strong points, but Trauma Team takes the cheesiness and wacky antics of previous games and elevates them to a brand new level of zaniness. For instance, the six main characters the game follows include a prison convict serving a 250-year sentence, a superhero, the daughter of a very powerful clan of Ninja, and a woman who can hear the voices of the dead. There's so much melodrama in each story that it sometimes borders on being surreal. That said, it's still quite interesting to see how each story connects and intermingles with each other. Characters and events from one path may carry over into another, leading to certain events being told through a different angle.
The colorful comic book art style helps accentuate the incredibly cheesy storytelling.
Whether you skip the story or not, you'll be in for a lengthy ride should you desire to see Trauma Team to its conclusion. Where previous Trauma games could be finished within the span of five to seven hours, Trauma Team triples the overall length, taking anywhere from 25 to 30 hours to complete every story. Afterwards, it's possible to put another 10 hours or so into the extra content that becomes unlocked once you finish the game. Aside from the general drive to get better ranks in each surgical level (there's no ranks for the investigate stages), beating Trauma Team unlocks a harder difficulty setting as well as the option of earning medals in all the levels by fulfilling certain requirements. You can even go back through each level with a friend in co-op play if you so desire.
Evolving a video game franchise is not always easy, but Trauma Team manages to pull it off quite well. The combination of new elements mixed with the franchise's unique formula help Trauma Team move in a new direction while still feeling distinctly like a Trauma Center game. The large amount of content also makes it worth a full forty-dollar purchase, which is a bit of a rarity for a third-party Wii exclusive. If you wonder what it's like to be a doctor in a daytime soap opera while having a bit of fun in the process, then Trauma Team is not one, but six doctors you won't mind repeatedly visiting.