Trauma Team is proof the developers of the Trauma series could see diminishing returns looming; there are only so many times you can play its ’top-down medical puzzle’ style of gaming before repetition sets in, even if it is a good design. Thankfully, while Trauma Team does offer some of those operations they are nowhere near being all of this game’s content. Atlus was eager to prove this, and they sent along what seems to be a final or near-final build that shows off a lot of new modes to play. While this preview is not based on a complete play-through of the game, what has been seen so far was quite enjoyable.
One of the most immediately obvious changes is that Trauma Team strives to be a medical drama, even more than previous entries in the series did. You’re treated to fairly in-depth, ’slightly animated comic book’ style cutscenes between operations, moving along the stories of both the patients and the doctors tending to them. That’s doctors, plural: The other big change Trauma Team makes to the series is adding several playable doctors who each partake in very different operations. While you do have to play most or all of them to get the full story, you can at least choose in which order you play them and the plot makes decent sense throughout.
Joining the traditional top-down view surgery are forensics, diagnostics, first response, endoscopy, and orthopedics. First response and orthopedics are easiest to describe, since they are just variations on the regular surgery mode from previous games where you operate on a patient within a time/Vital-signs limit, conducting a variety of tasks to save them. First response has you tending to several patients simultaneously and alternating between them repeatedly to make sure they all stay stable (though the game seems to assume some of them will die anyway; you can allow a certain number of them to do so in each stage), essentially serving as ’speed surgery’ mode. Orthopedics is the exact opposite, testing your precision by giving you the exact tools you need (and at the exact times you need them) and having no time or Vitals limits. Instead, it simply limits you to a certain number of mistakes before the operation fails, so you’re encouraged to take your time and do the job right.
The other modes are much more creative, and honestly may be some of the best parts of Trauma Team. Endoscopy is exactly what it sounds like, guiding a camera and tube through the patient’s body to operate on them from within. You play from the camera’s point of view, turning it with the Nunchuk’s analog stick and holding A plus B on the Wiimote followed by pushing or pulling motions to move around. Once you’re near an infection or wound, you can select a tool to take care of it, then move on to the next part of the body needing your attention. This very much plays like ’first person surgery mode’, but seeing it from this perspective is sufficiently novel that it’s just fine and should be enjoyable enough.
Finally, diagnostics and forensics are what really drive home the idea that this game is partially a medical drama. Diagnostics involves several activities, all of which are oriented toward finding symptoms in a patient and determining what their specific illness is. Usually you start with a short conversation with them, picking out their comments and deciding whether their issues are obvious causes for concern, then move on to a stethoscope exam (conducted with your Wiimote’s speaker to listen for irregularities in breathing, heart rate, etc.), and may even end up consulting a chart of their vitals for irregularities, then compare various x-rays, MRIs, and so on to find problems within their body. Whereas surgery stages often last no more than a few minutes, it’s entirely likely a diagnostics level will last you around an hour and you’ll be treated to a developing story line the whole way.
Forensics works much the same way, though with an obviously grim tone. Naomi Kimishima (localized as "Nozomi Weaver" for previous games in the series, though Atlus has apparently stopped using that name) is sent to a variety of locations to investigate the true cause of a person’s death, played out as something akin to a point-and-click adventure or the investigation segments of the Phoenix Wright games. It has to be noted that while most of the other modes present the human body in an abstract way, forensics does no such thing; the circumstances behind many of her forensics cases are very morbid and Trauma Team shows them in some significant detail. Where most of the other modes might be okay for the squeamish to play, I imagine forensics is going to unnerve some. On the other hand, it too tends to last about an hour per stage and the stories it tells are pretty interesting.
Thus you’re given six modes of play that amount to ’surgery’, ’speed surgery’, ’precision surgery’, ’first person surgery’, then two modes that are more story-driven and require a more mental approach to play. This isn’t meant to be a serious complaint, since each mode is pretty enjoyable and the story being told is interesting, plus local co-op is provided for some stages. The story is interesting enough that I’m loathe to give any real spoilers about it, other than to note that it hits an impressive range of emotional tones from the worst of human misfortune to the heights of comedy and compassion. The only real question from here is how long the game will take to complete, and that is best determined through a full play-through; if it’s sufficiently lengthy for the price, then Atlus probably has a winner on its hands.
Trauma Team is slated to release on May 18, rated T for Teen, and has a MSRP of $40 ($39.99). We’ll carry a full review closer to that release date, as this medical drama on the Wii is coming along quite well!