Back in the early days of the Nintendo DS, Trauma Center: Under the Knife was a standout example of how the then-new touch screen controls could provide a fresh experience on the go. Atlus would then take its anime-pumped surgery games to the Wii, translating touch controls to motion controls, and found a winning combination there as well. Then came Trauma Team, which sought to expand the franchise even further… and the vital signs just sort of faded away. It never saw release in Europe, and we haven't seen a new entry in the Trauma series since.
So why is Trauma Team now back on the Wii U Virtual Console (unfortunately still not in Europe)? Because someone was wise enough to realize this sleek medical title deserved a second opinion.
Trauma Team contains the standard surgery challenges that were present in its predecessors, but adds five additional specialities to the mix. Each is presided over by its own doctor, who contributes an individual storyline that all blends together into a climactic finale arc. So let's go down the line.
Classic Surgery is performed by CR-S01, the serial number of a medical prodigy who's also an amnesiatic prisoner (we did tell you this was anime-heavy, right?). CR-S01 does not possess the time-slowing Healing Touch found in previous Trauma games, but his sections otherwise run almost identically.
First Response, under the hotheaded Maria Torres, has a simpler array of actions compared to Surgery, but places much more emphasis on speed and sound management. There will often be more than one patient to juggle, and having two go critical on you at the same time can be a frazzling experience. This mode can really get the heart pumping in later stages.
Offering a zen-like oasis from First Response is Orthopedic Surgery, under the care of Hank Freebird. This mode throws away time and vitals limits altogether, opting instead for a limit of "misses." The Wii Remote is fully utilized here, requiring accurate pointer tracing, tempered speed control and proper 3D alignment. Oh, and Dr. Freebird is also literally a superhero.
Endoscopic Surgery, in the hands of gentle-spirited Tomoe Tachibana, is the procedure that takes a tiny camera into someone to seek out and fix problems. It is Atlus's way of taking surgery into 3D, using motion controls to move and retract the camera and the Nunchuk to adjust the view. This is arguably the most complicated mode control-wise, with having to remember such actions as hitting the C button to switch between tools or holding A+B before thrusting the camera deeper into someone's pipes, but it's still manageable after some practice.
Did you also wonder if Dr. Tachibana could be from a clan of ninja? Because if you did, you're starting to understand how this game thinks.
The final two specialities forgo direct treatment altogether and act more like visual novels. Diagnosis with the snarky Dr. Gabriel Cunningham and his deadpan talking computer is an interesting mix of interviewing, observing and examining patients to ferret out their symptoms. Discovering certain abnormalities will involve comparing imaging tests to normal examples and even using the Wii Remote's speaker to listen for abnormal heartbeats and bodily gurgles. A potentially frustrating downside here comes in the fact that you can't view images side-by-side, which can make identifying trouble spots in some scans more difficult than needed. Eventually, you'll find enough symptoms (often referred to in medical terminology, so "a fast heartbeat" listed as "tachycardia," for example) to pinpoint the disease and make the diagnosis.
Finally, there are the stories of Forensics. Dr. Naomi Kimishima, who some might remember from Trauma Center: Second Opinion, trades hats from surgeon to medical examiner in order to solve a series of mysteries with "Little Guy," a figure from her past who now, much to her surprise, is a federal agent. Forensics involves gathering clues through examinations, the use of tools, and listening to interviews to find evidence. Logic must then be used to make deductions, answer questions and combine clues to make sense of events. It could have standed to be a bit more direct with character interaction, and sometimes you might find yourself at a dead end combining clue cards willy-nilly until something sticks, but it's a very engaging section of the game overall.
Each doctor has his or her own path and storyline, with most everything told in comic panels. These are all voice-acted as well, and the cast for the most part does a good job. As you might have noticed from reading the descriptions above, some elements of the story can sound a little hokey, and they certainly can be. It's never in a wholly non-entertaining way, however, and it always knows when to pump up the pulse-pounding music and get serious. This is especially true when all the storylines merge toward the end, and it definitely feels like an anime medical drama as a whole.
Motion controls and the Nunchuk are used for just about everything in the game, including the Diagnosis and Forensics sections. They hold up well and are quite responsive, although sometimes nerves or fatigue can set in to mess things up. Many will likely find it best to play this game in shorter spurts, as it can get tiring to precisely point at the screen so often. Many of the operations can also be performed in co-op as well, if you happen to have a friend along.
Overall, the procedures in Trauma Team feel somewhat simpler on average than those in previous titles, although there are still plenty of harrowing stages toward the end of the game. Players who were put off by the difficulty of Trauma Center should find calmer, more varied waters here, while those who live for the surgical challenge might end up a small bit disappointed by the overall softer emphasis on the medical rush.
Trauma Team felt like it could become the launching point to new era of Atlus medical games, but the fact it didn't pan out is no fault of its gameplay. It offers a fun, interesting, intertwining story and plenty of ways to play doctor. There's a chance one or two specialities might not be up someone's alley, but the way they apply to the overall narrative still makes them feel worthwhile to complete. Trauma Team is a fantastic pickup both for old fans who want to return to the OR and newcomers looking for a different kind of genre.