In 2005, Atlus introduced the gaming world to the Trauma Center series, which let players take the role of surgeons in a futuristic world using the DS touch screen and stylus. Since then, the franchise has moved to the Wii, adapting the system’s motion controls and using the remote and nunchuk to simulate many different facets of surgery. With Trauma Team, the developers have ditched the pentagram-enabled Healing Touch and all-encompassing diseases, and instead split the gameplay into six medical specialties. While some fields are clearly better than others, and the dialogue and plot can be painfully campy at times, Trauma Team is a great step forward for the series, making complicated surgical procedures more fun and accessible than ever.
Though Trauma Team takes place in the same world as the Trauma Center series, there is no mention of Derek Stiles or the pandemics that took place in the previous games, and none of the doctors in this game have magical abilities to slow down time during surgeries. The only link to the other games is Naomi Weaver, who previously appeared in the Wii launch title Trauma Center: Second Opinion. In Trauma Team, Naomi is no longer a surgeon, instead heading up the Forensics department. Her colleagues are diagnostician Gabriel; Hank Freebird, the ridiculously strong orthopedic surgeon; the hot-headed paramedic Maria; the master general surgeon and prison inmate known as CR-S01; and Tomoe, a Japanese girl from an elite clan who has come to America to be an endoscopic surgeon. These six characters each have diverging stories, though there is some crossover between them.
Since Atlus had previously described Forensics mode as similar to a point-and-click adventure, I decided to play through Naomi’s missions first. In Forensics, Naomi is tasked with finding the causes behind some mysterious deaths, which requires careful examination of the corpses, recorded testimonies, and evidence, as well as poring over key locations. Evidence that is collected goes to Naomi’s computer, where it can be further examined, or combined with other clues to make Solid Evidence. When all of the outstanding pieces of evidence have been made into Solid Evidence, it’s time to solve the case, but this usually requires several trips to the morgue and outside locations, some attention to detail, and a bit of logic. In the field, Naomi can use tools to find fingerprints or remnants of blood, while looking at dead bodies will usually yield some traces of foul play or other mysterious occurrences.
I really enjoyed Forensics mode, but I felt like it held my hand a little too much throughout each mission. Naomi constantly let me know when it was time to move on and where to go next instead of letting me come to my own conclusions. There were times when I figured something out before the game wanted me to, and instead of letting me solve the case or even point out my conclusion, I had to go through several more steps, which felt like a roundabout way of playing. Even with these flaws, though, I thought Forensics was a great addition to the series, and I could even see it being spun off into its own game with a bit of tweaking.
Diagnostics is also a pretty big departure for the series, with no surgical procedures taking place throughout this section of the game. As Gabriel, the “Master of Deduction” paired with a supercomputer, you are tasked with using the tools at your disposal to figure out what is wrong with incoming patients. This includes talking to them, listening to their hearts and lungs with the stethoscope, examining blood test results, and comparing CT and MRI scans to normal ones to point out oddities. It’s hard to compare it to any other type of game, but like Forensics, there’s more logic involved than surgical skill, which adds variety to the actual game. I found that Diagnostics doesn’t guide the player quite as heavily as Forensics, which let me figure things out on my own, make mistakes, and learn from them.
Hank Freebird, the game’s orthopedic surgeon, puts his strength to good use by fixing shattered bones with tools like drills, laser cutters, and staplers. Though there have been surgeries requiring the piecing together of broken bones in the Trauma Center series before, this section greatly expands on that. Unlike the other surgical portions of the game, Orthopedics doesn’t have a vitals meter, instead using a heart counter to measure mistakes. If the player misses too many times with a scalpel, laser, or drill, the procedure will fail, and must be started over. While I didn’t enjoy Orthopedics as much as the more general surgeries, it does add a lot of new techniques to the gameplay, further rounding out Trauma Team.
Easily my least favorite portion of the game was Endoscopy, due almost entirely to this segment’s control scheme. As Tomoe, you must use an endoscopic tube to perform delicate surgery in normally inaccessible places, such as the intestines or the branching tubes of the lungs. The tube is pushed forward by thrusting the remote, meaning that you will constantly be shoving your hand forward and pulling it back. This makes the procedures slow going, and it’s sometimes hard to be accurate with these controls. Once the problem areas are found, the actual surgery is pretty straightforward and comparable to other sections of the game, with tools appearing in a palette at the bottom of the screen. However, actually getting to these parts feels like a chore. If the endoscopic tube had been controlled with the nunchuk thumbstick instead, it would have been a much more enjoyable specialty.
The other two portions of Trauma Team, First Response and General Surgery, should seem familiar to anyone who has played a Trauma Center game. First Response involves working on multiple patients at once, switching between them to stabilize them for surgery. This is the only section in which you can actually lose patients, and if too many die, the chapter must be started over. Though these procedures are less complicated than those of regular surgery, switching between several patients as their vitals drop can be hectic and requires quick thinking and some skill. CR-S01’s surgeries are usually complicated, sometimes multi-organ affairs, and play out very much like those in previous games in the series (only without the Healing Touch, of course). Despite this section’s familiarity, it is still immensely satisfying to pull glass shards out of skin, or extract tumors from major organs. In fact, the surgical procedures in this section reminded me of why I enjoyed the Trauma Center games so much to begin with.
Additionally, Trauma Team offers two-player co-op on the surgical procedures, which differs depending on the mode you’re currently playing. For example, during general surgery, each player will be responsible for half of the tool palette, while First Response will divide the injured between players, making each player completely responsible for half of the patients. Though Trauma Team largely feels like a single-player game, adding a cooperative mode increases replay value, and sometimes makes it easier to get better scores on the tougher operations.
Even though Trauma Team has taken a more serious and slightly more realistic approach to the medical field, the game still has a sense of humor and takes plenty of liberties. This is apparent throughout the Forensics section, when Naomi must answer multiple-choice questions about the current case; some of the answers are references to other Atlus games, while others are just silly. The over-the-top dialogue, too, is very humorous, although I wasn’t always sure that it was intended to be. The story can be very melodramatic at times, almost like a medical soap opera, and some of the serious things the characters say are simply laughable. However, the campy tone works in favor of Trauma Team, giving it a distinctly tongue-in-cheek feeling and never taking itself too seriously.
Trauma Team has also distinguished itself in terms of art direction, taking on a completely new visual style. The narrative is presented like a comic book, with the action taking place on different panels and dialogue boxes accompanying the voice acting. It’s an interesting aesthetic, and one that makes Trauma Team feel unique, and more like a brand new game then just a spin-off of the Trauma Center series. This is also a smart way to tackle the Wii’s limited graphical capabilities while still giving the game an appealing look. The actual surgeries look largely similar, though the tool palette has been redesigned, and everything is a bit more polished.
Trauma Team is more than just a great game in the Atlus Trauma franchise, it has the potential to be the start of another solid series from the developer. With the exception of Endoscopy, I’d like to see more of all of these specialties. The six distinctly different modes, along with six main characters, add plenty of variety to Trauma Team while keeping it constantly feeling fresh. A few setbacks mar the overall game, but the experience was mostly positive, and definitely fun. If you can look past the cheesy dialogue and some questionable plot devices, Trauma Team is very enjoyable.