Crispy Gamer

Trauma Center: New Blood (Wii)

Saving humanity has been a core component of videogames practically since their inception, but Trauma Center: New Blood takes a unique approach to such heroism. Instead of destroying alien invaders or rescuing princesses from castles, you're tending to the sick and wounded as a world-class surgeon. Suturing lacerations and disinfecting abrasions may not sound like activities that would make for pulse-pounding gameplay, but New Blood is every bit as exciting as a fast-paced shooter, and quite possibly even more demanding.

New Blood's plot is the wonderfully ridiculous sort of story that's usually reserved for Latin American telanovelas. You've got the young but brilliant doctors Valerie Blaylock and Markus Vaughn, a black-ops medical organization called Caduceus, kidnapping, arson, theft, secret research and a mysterious and deadly pathogen called Stigma. It's all completely over-the-top, but it provides an appropriate and welcome counterbalance to the grisly nature of the gameplay. The surgery itself isn't exactly what you'd call realistic -- you'll use a gel that does everything from stop bleeds to cement broken bones in place, for example -- but excising tumors from someone's intestines or pulling shards of glass from a chest is a bit gruesome, no matter how futuristic the surgical tools are.

Several tutorials walk you through the control scheme, but if you've played either of the other Trauma Center games, feel free to skip them, as nothing much has changed. Select your scalpel, laser, drain or other surgical implement by moving the thumbstick on the Nunchuk, then use it by pointing with the Wii remote and pressing A, B or a combination of the two. A nurse guides you through the early surgeries, walking you through each step of the procedure and teaching you how the tools and techniques at your disposal can be used together to save lives. Once those training wheels come off, you're on your own, and the cases instantly become far more exciting and satisfying.

When you're successful, that is. Although the controls are clever and quite easy to learn, they require an extremely steady hand. Even on the lowest difficulty, there is little room for error in any of Trauma Center's cases, and the punishment for a slip of the wrist is severe. A small mistake can set off a chain reaction that will doom your operation to failure, and you may find yourself having to repeat procedures over and over again because your aim with the laser was off a slight bit or your finger slipped off one of the buttons as you were using the forceps. Adding to the pressure is the fact that you are not only fighting your patient's ever-lowering vitals, but also the clock. Each operation is timed, making quick, controlled movements even more vital to success -- much like in real surgery.

Knowing which tool to use when isn't enough to save the day, however -- you also have to determine the correct order and pacing that each surgery requires. Learning what to do when presented with several blood pools in need of draining, a handful of tumors and a half-dozen cuts is usually the result of a frustrating and lengthy amount of trial and error. Unless you get quite lucky, you will more than likely fail an operation several times before learning the best method for treating the patient, especially since your goals are sometimes only vaguely defined.

The learning curve for New Blood is steep, but you'll find that surgeries that once drove you nuts become child's play after you gain a few more hours' experience. That's not to say that the game ever becomes easy, however, just that it keeps pace with your growing skills to keep the action challenging right up until the very end.

You can choose to use either Markus or Valerie for each procedure. The operations themselves are identical for each character, so your choice will likely be based on the doctors' use of the Healing Touch, the special gift that makes them such exceptional surgeons. By drawing a star on the screen with the Wii remote -- which can be annoyingly tricky if you've had too much coffee -- Markus can stop time, and Valerie can protect her patient from damage for a brief period during surgery. Choosing the right doctor for a particular procedure can mean the difference between success and failure, especially as the surgeries become more and more complex.

In a truly brilliant move, New Blood supports co-op play, letting you and pal swab, cut and suture your way through any of the surgeries or challenges in the game. Orchestrating your efforts can be a bit awkward -- and leads to more than a little bit of finger-pointing when a patient dies -- but the team play adds immeasurably to the game's overall appeal and replayability.

Trauma Center: New Blood is challenging, even punishing at times, but if you've got the patience to muscle your way up the learning curve, you'll feel like an absolute champ every time you successfully save a life. If you manage to pull off an A-ranking on one of the procedures, you'll probably start thinking you can fly or part seas, or at least add the title of 'Master Healer' to your business cards, and few games can justifiably claim to provide that ratio of effort to reward. There's really nothing else quite like New Blood (well, except for the other Trauma Center title for Wii, that is), and the co-op play makes it particularly irresistible.

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.