Atlus is one of Nintendo’s most creative third party developers. They make games that explore new ideas, experiment with new forms of control, and challenge gamers with nearly insurmountable difficulty. Back in 2005, Trauma Center: Under the Knife was just such a game. The concept of a surgery sim had been explored before, but the DS’s touch screen made it work for the first time. The story was pure anime drama, the gameplay was fast and addictive, and the game was punitively hard.
The Wii arrived on the scene nearly a year later, and Atlus wanted to show their support for the new platform. The console’s unique interface was a perfect fit for Trauma Center, and so Atlus reworked the first game for Wii, with the clever subtitle Second Opinion. The game was a sleeper hit launch title, doing more to validate the Wii’s bizarre controller than most other launch games, with the possible exception of Wii Sports. The hasty development schedule forced Second Opinion to be a remake, but it still stands as one of the best examples of how to remake a game.
Now, with more time and familiarity with the platform, Atlus has made a fully fledged sequel, titled Trauma Center: New Blood. New Blood fixes most of the problems caused by Second Opinion’s rushed development, and is one of the most satisfying sequels of 2007.
New Blood is named such because is introduces a whole new set of characters and a fresh story. It’s a good entry point for newcomers to the series, because you don’t have to be familiar with the previous games to understand New Blood’s plot. The game takes place a decade after Second Opinion, and centers on the exploits of Doctor Markus Vaughn, Valerie Blaylock and their helpful assistant Elena Salazar. The story starts in Alaska but quickly transitions to other locations, as Markus and Valerie are hired by Caduceus, the international research institute from the earlier games. The story is better written and more believable this time—while the surgeons are fighting a new super disease called Stigma, they perform far more realistic operations than Derek Stiles ever did. The GUILT operations in Second Opinion were fun at first, but they got repetitive and felt too much like an arcade game. Stigma shows up periodically in New Blood, but only when the story needs it to, which leaves you more time for pacemaker maintenance, transplants, first aide, and other realistic operations.
Second Opinion nailed Trauma Center’s controls for Wii, and New Blood doesn’t mess with what works. It keeps the quick tool selection on the Nunchuk stick, and the pointer still controls the surgery. The A button and B trigger operate the various tools, and for a couple they are pressed at the same time (for instance, as if you’re squeezing the forceps with your thumb and forefinger).
Context sensitive tools like the defibrillator paddles return, and are joined by new actions like heart massage (shock paddles are too dangerous for patients with pacemakers). Strangely, Atlus also included the ability to use only the Wii remote and select tools with the D pad. This was an okay addition I suppose, but playing with both the remote and Nunchuk is far more comfortable and efficient. Even if you decide to ditch the Nunchuk, the controls are mostly unchanged. Instead of jerking around with the controls, Atlus designed better operations around them.
In New Blood you’ll face the most strenuous operations the Trauma Center series can muster up. Gunshot wounds, shattered ribcages, torn ligaments, necrotic third degree burns and a double liver transplant are all waiting for you. “Marathon” surgeries return, with two new chapters requiring work on multiple patients. One chapter has the doctors in a field tent during a guerilla attack—you can expect to be picking buckshot out of a guy’s chest. New Blood also dishes out special challenge operations that are completely unrelated to the main story; the goal is to heal as many people in the time allotted, and there are a lot of them. It might be too much for a single doctor to handle, and that’s where New Blood’s best feature comes in.
This sequel adds full co-op multiplayer to the Trauma Center series, the reason why there are two main characters in the story. Every level can be played as a team, with special rankings awarded for co-op play. These rankings can be uploaded to online leaderboards via Wiiconnect24, so you can show off just how talented a team of surgeons you are. In fact, you and a friend could start the game as a team and play all the way to the end without ever tackling solo mode, and therein lies one of New Blood’s biggest problems.
New Blood maintains the grueling difficulty that made Trauma Center infamous, but makes no adjustment to that difficulty between solo or co-op modes. In other words, all of the operations are designed to be challenging for a team, but if a single player tries to tackle some of the levels alone, the game will be almost impossibly hard. All of the complications that arise in co-op mode are still there in solo mode, so a single player will be juggling things that are really meant for two people to handle.
This isn’t a huge problem on the easiest difficulty, but when you crank it up to medium or hard playing through the story alone becomes a daunting task. The challenge missions can only be played on hard mode, and they practically require two people to finish. I have no doubt that hardcore players can manage it (and they will probably relish the insane challenge), but the difficulty is still rather lopsided. In a way it reminded me of Guitar Hero—that transition to those harder modes is a killer. Atlus should have balanced it out, so both modes would’ve been challenging but fair.
New Blood is still very enjoyable on the easier settings even for new players, and difficulty aside, everything else is a big improvement over Second Opinion. Atlus followed the advice of critics and recorded full voice acting for the entire game, which needless to say makes the story a lot more immersive. While Derek Stiles’ emphatic “Let’s begin the operation!” was kind of cool in the first two games, the acting and dialogue for New Blood lets you take the characters a little more seriously. New Blood has a good deal of original music, and continues the Trauma Center tradition of pulse-pounding pieces that make operations all the more hectic. A few of the pieces had remixed tunes from the older games, and I appreciated the nostalgia.
Of particular note is the opening cinema. The developers must be House M.D. fans, because New Blood’s opening is uncanny in how it mimics the TV show’s opening credits.
The rest of the graphics are mostly unchanged, which is probably for the better. The organs and patients are still pretty abstract, so squeamish players don’t need to worry about a lot of blood or realistic viscera. The art style is also the same, with the familiar clean, bright anime look from Second Opinion. Cutscenes are presented with static backgrounds and flat character portraits, and while this works, it’s starting to feel a little stale. Some more graphical flair, at least for the cutscenes, would be a welcome improvement.
Even with its jarring difficulty curve and somewhat primitive visuals, New Blood is still one of the best sequels I’ve played. It does so much right that its flaws can be easily excused after a few hours of play. The operations are more fun and the new co-op mode is a blast, making New Blood one of the Wii’s stranger party games. The story is also well thought out, with just enough camp and drama to make it charming. New Blood also sprinkles in a few nostalgic references to the past games. Derek Stiles and Nurse Angie make a nice cameo, and there’s a truly epic challenge operation after the end of the game that’s sure to please long time fans of the series. At this stage, it’s easier to point out ways to improve the Trauma Center franchise, because New Blood isn’t terribly flawed or broken in any way.
First off, I’d like to see Atlus grow the game world a bit. Put things into 3D, so we can finally have fully rendered and animated characters and cutscenes. Also, add some dynamism to the characters—make them more than just talking heads, let the player control them in a virtual world. Let the player roam the hospital and make rounds, checking up on patients and helping with spontaneous emergencies (this would make it feel more like House too). The story wouldn’t feel as static as a result, and it would give the player a better feeling of being a doctor.
I’d also like the chance to drive an ambulance around a small city as an EMT. In previous games, the doctors usually found out what had happened to the patient after he or she had arrived at the hospital—there were very few operations that happened on-site in an emergency. I think it’d be cool to play as the guy who arrives first at the scene, operate to stabilize a patient for transport, and then do the more involved work as the surgeons back at the operating room.
In any case, Trauma Center New Blood is one of the better Wii games of 2007. It’s a solid new installment in the series and as the first true sequel, it does a great job. I recommend it to fans of the series, or newcomers who are curious about the strange and unique franchise on the Wii. With a lengthy story and a fleshed out co-op mode, this game will keep players in the OR for a while.
Atlus one-ups themselves with the first real sequel in the Trauma Center series. New Blood features an all new co-op mode and a fresh story to go with it, featuring two new doctors. This co-op comes at a price, though; Atlus made every operation challenging for two players, and didn’t bother scaling it back for solo gamers. If you can stomach the difficulty, New Blood is an excellent Wii game.