Trauma Team: A Work of True Control Fluency on the Wii
Ask yourself this: How many game series do you know that not only have installments on both the DS and the Wii, but also manage to play similarly on both systems despite the entirely different control styles? There aren't a whole lot of games that probably fall into that criteria and if any do come to mind, it's probably the Trauma Center series. Aside from the already unconventional surgery-centric nature of the gameplay, the games have always stood out because of their smartly designed controls, able to take the processes behind being a fictional doctor and then translating them into strokes and movements that just feel natural. It is in that regard that Trauma Team puts the series at its highest point yet. With the inclusion of several other occupations in addition to surgery, Atlus has proven it knows how to be creative, compelling, and flexible with the unique strengths and constraints of the Wii. The game isn't without its pacing problems and the story also usually isn't anything to write home about, but what Trauma Team does right, it does superbly and makes for a great showcase as to why the Wii is still a viable alternative for this console generation.
But although the four styles control pretty similar, the uses of those controls and the situations you're put in ensure that they all ultimately pan out to play quite differently from each other. This helps give the game a lot of variety and makes playing as each doctor really enjoyable, since the pacing and methodology of your antics change between each stage type without forcing you to relearn the fundamentals. In surgery, for example, the emphasis is on finesse and using everything the game teaches you about the human body to cure patients with multiple tools. During those stages, the motion controls are used to simulate things like suturing, cutting, using forceps, and performing defibrilation to great effect, only ever using buttons when you'd actually be pressing down on something, a tactic that's subtle, yet nonetheless works brilliantly. The controls are designed to work well for both the Wii and the game's myriad situations, a philosophy that works excellently in execution and does a lot to immerse you in your medicinal work.
Likewise, orthopedics and endoscopy translate very well to the Wii's controls and are fun to play, with the nunchuck and remote being used to uniquely emphasize the delicate methodologies behind each school of medicine. In the former, since you're often made to work with bones, the game will force you to use things like drills and picks with both precision and light touches, so as to avoid damaging patients. The latter, meanwhile, has you physically controlling the endoscopic camera by actually pushing it bit by bit with the remote. Although endoscopy does have the most potential to tire out your arm if done too forcefully and extensively, it's still rewarding in its own ways, as it allows you to actually explore stylized renditions of the human body in more intimate ways compared to the other roles.
The best of the bunch, however, is definitely first response. While the other three are very fun in their own right, first response makes the game extremely hectic and intense. Although you're tasked simply with keeping people alive with a limited set of tools until paramedics can transport them to hospitals, you usually have to pay attention to multiple dying patients simultaneously. This means that you're allowed and in fact often have to switch between people in the middle of treatments to prevent deaths. Not only do you have to stay on your toes to ensure people's vital signs are as optimal as possible, however, but you also have to do so while taking into consideration the different injuries and ailments each set of people usually has.
This is where first response becomes extremely fun, as the fact that you're constantly switching between people while continuously using drastic, dramatic measures and movements with the controller to save them means that more often than not, you're getting a real adrenaline rush out of every stage. It's not out of the ordinary, for example, to be giving one patient an emergency blood transfusion in one second, performing emergency resuscitation the next second on another patient with Wii remote-aided poundings, and treating wounds on yet another person the second after that, all the while still having another one or two people to juggle with as well. Although you're usually allowed to have a few patients die in only this mode, the urgent nature of the situations at hand mean you'll be pushing both your mind and your speed to treat people as quickly as possible to avoid losses. It's this sort of constant anarchy that makes first response so addictive, since Trauma Team gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you turn the tide and actually save lives when everything would have otherwise been forsaken. To say that those stages are easily the best part of the game despite all of the fun the other occupations offer just shows how fantastically designed the first response portions really are in the game.
The two remaining doctoral jobs that make up Trauma Team's gameplay are significantly more slowly paced. The roles of diagnostics and forensics take you away from the surgery room and emergency situations and instead put you into more sterile environments. It is here that the game's other main style of playing, the point and click adventure, takes place. As a diagnostician, you perform various examinations on patients and examine their scans and bodily statistics to narrow down the possible disease candidates you'll eventually have to commit to. Meanwhile, as a forensic scientist, you take clues from dead bodies, testimonies, and the like to try and piece together the stories of various victims and how they all died. The game even often asks you to justify your logic with things like quizzes and minor calculations to ensure that you're paying attention to the work you have at hand. Although these sound like professions that would be complex to put into a video game, Trauma Team does a good job of making the proceedings logical without being condescending or implausibly untrue to the real counterparts.
None of this is mechanically bad, playing out a lot like the Phoenix Wright games. In fact, even in these areas, Atlus made very good use of the Wii remote, such as having the Wii remote's speaker act as part of a stethoscope. Unlike Capcom's lawyer series, however, the problem with both of these modes is that they're just not all that engaging most of the time. While it's to be expected that they don't contain the exact same sort of drama and excitement as the surgery and company, there tends to be little incentive to care about the tasks at hand other than the fact that you have to finish a number of their stages, as well as everyone else's, to have access to the game's finale. The problems you deal with in both diagnostics and forensics are usually presented in a dull and predictable fashion, which makes completing them an exercise in tedium, boredom, and frustration. This wouldn't necessarily be as much of a problem if there were fewer episodes of them each to complete compared to the more action-oriented stages, but unfortunately, not only are they just as numerous, but they also take up significantly more time, making the ordeal of going through them feel like they're grindfests in the worst sense.
You also might have noticed up until now that no real mention has been made of the story. That's because much like the gameplay in forensics and diagnosis in Trauma Team, the game's plot is hardly one of its strong points. If you've played any of the previous Trauma Center games or have watched your average medical drama, you can fill in most of the epidemic-centered plot for yourself already without playing it. The game attempts to weave some sense of continuity by having the same cases crop up across the different professions sometimes, but their episodic nature means you probably won't pay too much attention to anything other than obvious references that are employed to remind you of what happened. That isn't to say that the plot isn't entirely without some redemption. A couple of the cases that on the forensics stages are actually ironically among the game's most interesting (and gruesome) despite the middling gameplay you're made to endure through them. On top of that, some unexpected twists do show up towards the end of the game that put an interesting spin on the otherwise unremarkable previous proceedings, but they show up far too late to bring up the plot's quality as a whole. It's because of these problems that Trauma Team is a textbook case of playing the game solely for the gameplay and nothing else, even more so than a lot of today's offerings on the market already.
Thankfully, even if the story backing up Trauma Team isn't typically worth bragging about, at least its presentation is outstanding. Outside of the four surgical professions, Trauma Team extensively uses two-dimensional assets for everything from the menu navigation to the graphic-novel style cutscenes, as well as the gameplay portions for forensics and diagnosis. You can tell that Atlus has a major sense of style and hired the right graphic designers, as all of those assets are beautiful to look at and watch, even if some of it is otherwise just there for mundane, ordinary purposes. The cutscenes themselves could benefit from a bit of a larger variety of character frames since they're not heavily animated, but even then, they're still pleasing to watch. Likewise, the actual polygonal and textured portions found in surgery, first response, and the other levels are well-done and look appropriate, although they don't particularly push the Wii's hardware, either.
The other technical aspects of Trauma Team's are usually very strong, as well. The sound design does a very good job at immersing you in the surgeries and keeping your mind focused for the entire time. Trauma Team's music also does a great job at fitting in with the gameplay, including the forensics and diagnosis. Although musical Atlus hotshot Shoji Meguro didn't work on this installment, his style of compositions is excellently emulated and all but ensure the game puts you in a trace-like state while playing each stage. The voice acting does, however, suffer from a case of consistent stiffness. This is more to be blamed on the story the game gives the actors to work with, however, than anything else. On their own, the actor's performances are solid, if never memorable, and Atlus USA's translation is great once again; it's just that the material everyone had to work with wasn't all that great.
Trauma Team is, if nothing else, a step in the right direction for Atlus to take with its series. After four games that focused exclusively on surgery, it was high time that they started to consider incorporating other professions into the gameplay. To that end, they succeeded well in adding variety by giving you five new types of doctors to work with for this new installment. While forensics and diagnosis will require further tinkering in order to become truly worthwhile parts of future Trauma Center games, the gameplay and motion controls provided in surgery, first response, orthopedics, and endoscopy are so strong, immersive, and entertaining that they easily define what makes the package great overall. They don't completely make up for the game's faults, but they certainly make them forgivable, since the high points that they do provide are really unlike most anything else you can find in today's games. Much like its predecessors, it is a game that lives and dies by its unconventional nature at every turn and thankfully, it succeeds at that mission where it really counts. If you're in search of a Wii game developed by a third party, yet still retains such a fluent understanding of how to marry controls and gameplay on the system, then Trauma Team is definitely a beautiful example of that.