Forget five years at medical school, forget in-depth theory and rock-hard exams. It's possible to become a master surgeon in five minutes flat, thanks to Trauma Center: Under the Knife.
As a concept, the only way Trauma Center: Under the Knife could be cooler would be if wifi let you perform actual surgery via scapel-wielding robots in OR's around the country. Hell, it'd solve all our NHS staff shortages in a jiffy.
Anyway, in case you missed it already, Trauma Center is a surgery-'em-up for the Nintendo DS, that lets you loose on a progression of sicker and sicker patients, with only your instruments and your touchscreen skills between them and the mortuary.
During the course of the game, you'll use each of the ten tools available to you to treat a whole host of ailments, from injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents to bioterrorist-produced cancers. Included in the list of tools is a scalpel (for cutting things, believe it or not), a suture kit (for stitching up cuts), ultrasound (for detecting hidden tumours and suchlike) and seven others. The variety of tools can be confusing at first, given that many of the icons look very similar. Given time, however, youll be switching between your scalpel, forceps and antibacterial gel like a pro.
The operations themselves are all carried out on the touch screen. The controls are slick and responsive, with the game interpreting your lines and scribbles accurately into the game. Stitching up wounds is as simple as drawing zigzags across it, while draining blood is a matter of placing the point of the stylus on the area and then tracing upwards.
In addition to all the chopping and healing, there's also a story of sorts. This is told between operations, in a style reminiscent of Phoenix Wright - static characters and boxes of scrolling text.
Graphically, the game is impressive. The story cutscenes are nothing particularly special, but the game really comes into its own during the operations. Everything is rendered in colourful 3-d, with the organs pulsating and looking remarkably realistic. Performing open-heart surgery is really more impressive when you can see the heart judder when it goes into cardiac arrest.
In terms of sound, the game also does well. The music is suitably frantic, changing when the operation enters critical stages. Unfortunately, your assistant doesnt have much to say. She simply repeats the same catchphrases ("Doctor Styles?") far too often, and compared to the sound in the rest of the game, her voice is not particularly crisp.
All sounding good? Well, it is- except that the game seems to have been designed to send you into cardiac failure with needless frequency. The reason for this is the difficulty. At times, Trauma Center seems so unbelievably nails that merely contemplating playing it makes you grind your teeth. Not that it even gives you a decent run up before ramping up the difficulty. The early missions are so easy that you'll run through the first 8 with no problems.
Then you hit mission 9, which was so unbelievably frustrating that on several occasions, it took several attempts just to turn the game on to have another go. Not even your special ability, a sort of bullet-time for surgeons known as the 'Healing Touch', seems to help. In the end, the player is forced to choose the lesser of two catastrophes in an attempt to scrape through the level. Hardly the best way to handle a learning curve.
Aside from that, Trauma Center will provide hours of entertainment, so long as youre prepared to stick out the more challenging sections. This quirky and original title shows how developers should use the DS's unique touchscreen to create unusual and entertaining new ways to play.