Doctor, We have to Operate!

I’m seeing a trend in gaming of fewer and fewer games being released that I actually care about. The does not mean I don’t still play video games, though, because I totally do. Lately I’ve been playing Trauma Team, the latest and perhaps last entry in Atlus’s Trauma Center series. So far, I’ve cleared what feels like about half of the game. I like it. It is very “anime” in a not terribly good way, but it’s largely enjoyable

The Trauma Center games were part of that all too brief time period when the new control options provided by the DS and Wii resulted in a flood of new kinds of games and new takes on old kinds of games. The Trauma Center games were similar in some ways to the mini-game collections that have clogged up the Wii’s library, but filtered through old arcade sensibilities. You play as a doctor and each medical procedure is a simple action using the DS stylus or the Wii remote. The presentation of the small, bite-sized actions is what set Trauma Center apart, with numerous small parts connected in one large operation. It did a great job of approximating the feeling of actually operating. (I assume, since I’m no doctor.)

Despite some mechanical similarities to mini-game fests, Trauma Center played more like an old-school arcade game. The games emphasized playing for score and they were hard, brutally so in the way that quarter hungry from the 80’s were. It really gets that one more try mentality down. You always want to try the next operation or retry the last one for a better score.

Thinking about it now, it greatly resembles Guitar Hero. They both have non-traditional controls, prominent scoring and essential non-violent game play. Sadly, Guitar Hero was a phenomenon and Trauma Center barely a blip. Maybe that just proves that Rock stars are inherently cooler than Doctors are. Of course, even Guitar Hero seems to have run its course now. The all too brief days of non-violent games has already ended, if it ever existed. Now it is back to all violence all the time.

Trauma Team feels like the last gasp of the series. The previous games’ uber-difficulty has been neutered, hidden away in bonus difficulties safe from casual eyes. I can’t fault them for that, the earlier games bordered on sadistic. There are new diagnosis and forensics modes have no pressure and no score, playing like somewhat less charming Phoenix Wright cases. A worthy evolution of the hospital milieu or a betrayal of the arcade-ish roots? I side with the former but there is a certain case for the latter, slim though it is.

The story side has always been where the games shined or faltered. Trauma Team claims to turn the focus away from the sci-fi super viruses of previous games, but I’m not sure it fulfills this even in the time I’ve been playing. The cast includes a superhero doctor, ninja doctor and Vader-masked convict doctor, as well as an annoying robot buddy for the grizzled Dr. House stand-in. It doesn’t border on ridiculous, it choke slams ridiculous off a skyscraper. But I like it and I’m scared I won’t get to play any more games like this for a long time.