Version tested: Wii
Uniquely, the Trauma Center franchise almost has an entire genre to itself. Seemingly content that Atlus has the 'surgery sim cum fantastical bioterrorist soap opera' sewn up, few developers have attempted to impinge on its territory, with DS title Lifestyle: Hospital Affairs about the only notable rival.
This may have led to Atlus taking its eye off the ball somewhat, with recent titles suffering more than many sequels from the law of diminishing returns. After all, there's only so many times you can drain the cytoplasm, slice out the tumour, apply the gauze and rub in the antibiotic gel before the sudden need to perform CPR becomes the predictable norm rather than a shocking mid-op twist. While the games have always suffered heinous delays making their way to Europe, the fact that the still-enjoyable DS iteration Under The Knife 2 shows no sign of being localised two years after its US release perhaps tells its own story.
Sensibly, then, Atlus has decided a reboot is in order with this new Wii game, splintering the narrative into six pieces, each focusing on a different doctor and a different discipline. Gone are regulars Derek Stiles and Angie Thompson, and noticeably absent (for the most part) are epidemics of bizarre synthetic diseases. The result is the freshest Trauma title since the first Under The Knife, and perhaps the series high point to date.
Naturally, there's still a fair bit of 'normal' surgery, or as normal as surgery gets when you're controlling a red-eyed amnesiac with indie-band hair who's currently serving a 250-year sentence for mass murder thanks to his apparent involvement in a bioterrorist attack. The mysterious CR-S01 (if CR doesn't stand for Chiral Reaction, I'll eat my forceps) is offered the chance to slice a mere two years from his sentence if he assists in a particularly tricky procedure that's actually child's play by the series' rigorous standards. As it wouldn't be much of a game if he immediately returned from whence he came, he naturally stays on for a few more ops, each gaining in intensity until you're defibrillating an eight-year-old with the FBI about to burst through the ER door.
There's nothing here that will be unfamiliar to franchise vets, but the controls feel more instant and precise than ever. Additional icons over wounds act as helpful reminders of which tool to pick up next, eliminating the awkward fumbling that could occur in the previous games when you forgot whether this was the GUILT strain that liked to lacerate internal organs, or the one which liked to disappear and cause random tumours. It's as much fun as it ever was, with the frustration factor significantly lessened. A good start.
After Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, paramedic Maria Torres is the second feisty and shouty Latina with enormous bosoms I've played as this year. Her First Response procedures are essentially surgery combined with plate-spinning as you switch between patients at the scene of explosions, crashes and collapsed Ferris wheels. With a limited toolset you often need to improvise, jamming biros down throats, applying tourniquets to stem bleeding, and cutting victims' jeans off to reveal that yes, they have got huge pieces of metal sticking out of their legs.
You'll occasionally need to talk to patients to find out where they're hurting, but often they merely shout that their friend/daughter/second cousin is trapped in the rubble, thereby giving you another ball to juggle but an extra chance to improve your score. It's a real balancing act, perhaps slightly tougher than most disciplines, and certain to appeal to those who've aced the ultra-hard X missions in the previous games.