The DS’s popularity was driven by big name titles and established franchises, like Metroid and Mario Kart, but it was sustained by bizarre original games that the dedicated gamer wouldn’t normally play. Nintendogs and notably Trauma Center: Under the Knife expanded the demographics and gave the DS some of its success. Nintendo hopes to imitate that success o their new Wii console, with similarly oddball games. How well the Wii will fare is yet to be seen, but Nintendo is taking a pretty direct route in terms of uncommon content—namely, a reworked port of Trauma Center, cleverly subtitled Second Opinion.
The original became a cult hit on the DS, on par with Phoenix Wright, but some elements of the game felt rushed. The remake, Second Opinion, isn’t just a straight port but a graphical, storyline and most importantly, control overhaul on the Wii. Second Opinion has all of the charm of its predecessor and even more adrenaline laced difficulty, but there are a few issues which weigh it down just a bit.
Let me begin by saying even if you have the DS version, have beaten it and even mastered it inside and out, Second Opinion is still well worth your money. The step up in presentation and control is enthralling for any fan of the original, myself included. I expected the lack of tactile response, the kind you can only get from a stylus, to be a detriment to the Wii version. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong—if anything, the Wii remote feels more natural and intuitive than the stylus. The control scheme has actually been streamlined in a number of ways, mainly from the addition of the nunchuk.
On the DS, selecting tools was accomplished by tapping icons that bordered the touch screen. In Trauma Center bare seconds can make the difference between a saved patient and a dead one, and this selection method was cumbersome in such fast-paced gameplay. On Wii, each medical tool is assigned to a different direction on the nunchuk’s analog stick—readying a scalpel or gel is as easy as a half-second stick-tilt. After a few operations I had the direction of each tool memorized, and I was far more comfortable with the controls.
Most other tools are context sensitive or one-use affairs, like the penlight or bandage. The real show-stealer is the defibrillator; if you haven’t heard by now, it’s used by pushing the Wiimote and nunchuk forward like shock paddles. I was pleased to see that it appeared in multiple operations, as it contributed more to the hectic experience. Another bit of added realism was the forceps, which are used by squeezing the A button and B trigger simultaneously, like pinching a real pair of tweezers. Rumble feedback takes the place of the stylus’s tactile input, so when you’re cutting on someone, you can feel the pressure vibrating through the remote.
The controls and tools aren’t the only elements that have seen upgrading; the story has been reworked to include a brand new sixth chapter and a second playable surgeon. I would’ve liked more operations with the enigmatic Dr. Nozomi Weaver, because her missions are more exotic than the ones Dr. Stiles faces. By the end of her rather brief campaign, you’ll have transplanted a kidney and even operated in a pitch-black tunnel. I hope to see Weaver in later installments of Trauma Center, possibly in her very own game. As for the sixth chapter, it cleverly works the somewhat unimaginative ending of the DS game into Second Opinion’s extended storyline, instead of just pretending it never happened. If you’ve played Under the Knife, I’ll just say it’s like getting another chapter at the end of that game, almost like an expansion pack.
Trauma Center relies mostly on the strengths of its gameplay, because that is where most of its punch lies. I don’t mean to say that Second Opinion is an ugly or cheaply made game, it’s just behind the times. Compared to other next-gen games, even the graphically modest titles on the Wii, Second Opinion looks like a DS game with a serious facelift.
The presentation is by no means unattractive. The body interiors, tools and backdrops are done in a tasteful, stylistic fashion that will be playable by the most medically-sensitive of people (my dad was one exception, but he’d recently had invasive neck surgery, so I suspect other reasons for his aversion). Most aspects of the DS graphics have been replaced by prettier, more eye-catching effects, and most of the G.U.I.L.T. strains have new, ickier designs. I liked the ones that move around with a pair of nasty little claws. The art style of the entire game has been revamped to look edgier, more adult, and less generic anime. This might offend DS purists, but I prefer the leaner, more serious Derek Stiles, MD.
And yet, there are aspects of the graphics that I wish were more impressive. Characters are still represented by flat, sparsely animated cutouts, and the story is told in a traditional RPG “talking heads” fashion. The background pictures, while freshly re-rendered, are still static and tend to repeat too much. The operations are the real meat of the game, but livelier, more animated story scenes in between would help the plot flow easier.
Music and sound suffer from a few of the same problems. There are many more voice samples this time to accompany the text, but you’ll still be reading most of your instructions. The catchy tunes that play between operations, and the life and death music itself have been rescored to have more gravity, and I only wish there was some new music to accompany the great pieces from the DS version. Dr Weaver is the only character to get any new music, and you don’t hear hers enough. That said, most of the sound effects are new, from the swipe of the suture to the cringe-inducing snag of a vital-dropping miss.
It’s pretty clear by now that I like this game—a lot—and I’d definitely suggest it as a purchase. It is a sterling example of what the Wii is for; Second Opinion breaks ground in a quirky, creative new genre and utilizes the Wii remote with impressive effect. Three difficulty levels make it easy for most anyone to pick up, but if you’re a veteran of Under the Knife, you can crank if up to the highest setting and make it ridiculously hard the way it was on DS.
Even if you’ve seen every corner of Under the Knife, Second Opinion is a great launch title and I recommend it to new Wii users and fans of the DS game alike. Its updates make it enough to merit the price of a remake. It also shows us some room for improvement, and as only the second gaming in the series, I’m looking forward to some amazing sequels. What’s next? I’d like a small sandbox setup, that lets Dr. Stiles make his rounds in the hospital, random medical emergencies, maybe even trips out in an ambulance as an EMT. Fully animated character models, with full voice acting to back them up wouldn’t hurt either.
Atlus has one heck of a franchise on their hands, and I can’t wait to see more Trauma Center on the Wii.