Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Truth Can Never Truly Die

"The dead shall speak. Let's put together the truth of what happened here.
"Trauma Team"

Trauma Center: Under The Knife (2005) was one of those quirky Nintendo DS games that really showed off the use of the dual touchscreen system (years before we all got our fingers attached to our smartphones). It was a medical simulation game, where you assumed the role of a surgeon and used the stylus on the touchscreen to perform surgery and fight off a bio-terrorist attack of superviruses. Calling the game a cult-hit might be going to far, but it had its share of fans, and became a series that was published on both Nintendo DS and the Wii. The series is known as Trauma Center in the English-language world, while in Japan, the series is known as Caduceus.

Trauma Team (2010), known in Japan as HOSPITAL - 6-nin no Ishi ("HOSPITAL - The Six Doctors") is the most recent entry in the series, released for the Wii. In the original game, you only played a surgeon, but as the title suggests, Trauma Team has you assuming the role of six different medical specialists working at the medical facility Resurgam First Care. Prisoner CR-201 (Surgery), Maria Torres (First Response), Hank Freebird (Orthopedics), Tomoe Tachibana (Endoscopy), Gabriel Cunningham (Diagnosis) and Naomi Kirishima (Forensics) each have their own storylines, which occassionaly intertwine with the others (a patient Gabriel diagnoses might be sent to Surgery, for example). As each of the stories develops, the specalists all notice that a medical threat is looming and they need to work together to fight off a new and aggressive virus.

To make it clear right away: this is mostly an action game, where you use the motion controls of the Wii to simulate medical operations. For example, in Surgery you'll be cutting people open to remove tumors, while in Endoscopy you'll be shoving down a cable down a patient's throat to check out lungs and other organs. These parts are not as difficult as the original Trauma Center (luckily!), but it's still nothing at all like the mystery adventure games I usually review here. So why a review? Well, while most specialists don't really belong here, Diagnosis and Forensics are actually pretty much mystery adventures on their own, and really deserve a special mention. As such, this review will only focus on these two specalisms and not the game as a whole. So I'm only looking at the game as a mystery game.

The field of forensics is of course obviously very closely linked to mystery games. In this part, you play as Naomi Kirishima (a protagonist from earlier games), who is given the job of solving unsolved cases. This usually means you need to investigate corpses and other material for clues. You also get the chance to go out to the crime scene and gather evidence there with gear like luminol (bloodtest) and fingerprinting tests. The usual CSI-stuff. Your investigations give you clue cards, and you can combine clue cards with each other to generate new clues (deduction). For example: an Exit Wound and an Entry Wound combined together result in the Trajectory of the Weapon. Combine all the clues together and arrive at the truth. A simple, but effective way to structure a mystery game.

While the gameplay in Forensics isn't particularly original (every other mystery game uses a variation of the clue card system), it's done quite well here, even if it's not really difficult. Of course, Forensics is only a part of the larger game that is Trauma Team, so of course you shouldn't expect a supecomplex mystery plot from it. Still, the game has you investigate a wide variety of crimes with just enough surprises in each of the episodes to keep it from becoming stale.

It's Diagnosis that's actually surprisingly original though. In fact, I think a lot of people won't even associate it with the mystery genre immediately. As Gabriel Cunningham, you need to find out what your patient is suffering from. You have several options to gather your 'medical clues' (symptoms): from simply asking your patient what is wrong with them, to making visual observations and doing various medical tests (like bloodtests and MRI scans). During your diagnosis session, the situation of your patient occassionally changes, making it necessary for you to adjust your diagnosis.

So how is this a mystery game? Well, like I wrote in this post on clues, a lot of mystery novels have you determine the identity of the murderer by first figuring out the characteristics the murderer must have, and then comparing those to the characteristics of all the suspects. You actually do something similar here. After a preliminary diagnosis, you're give a list of possible diseases the patient may be suffering from, and it's then when the sleuthing begins. You need to read through the details (symptoms) of each of the deseases and compare them to what you found. Sometimes you have multiple candidates for your 'culprit'. You'll be making additional tests then, for example brain scans or bloodtests, to determine the exact identity of the disease that the patient is suffering from. This way of working is a lot like the method of clueing I wrote about, and in fact, I think this is one of the few games that actually present its mystery-solving process as such. Which is quite unique, as Trauma Team isn't really a specialized mystery game. It has a bit of a House-vibe to it, but I really think that the Diagnosis part of Trauma Team, where you hunt for the identity of not human criminals, but the identity of diseases, is one of the more original mystery games I've played in recent years.

For people who aren't good with action games, I can't really recommend Trauma Team though. Forensics and Diagnosis are just a part of the game, and you need to complete the stories of all specialists to unlock the second half of the story for everyone. The game is not as difficult as previous entries in the series (in fact, it's a lot easier), but still, trying to stabilize four patients in First Care can be quite stressful if you're not used to motion-controlled action games that also require precision.

That said though, I do think Trauma Team might actually be one of the best mystery games on the Wii, even if it's only partly a mystery game. I enjoyed the game as a whole, so if you're interested in a bit of medical simulation with an interesting approach to mystery games, try it out.

Original Japanese title(s): 『HOSPITAL  6人の医師』


  1. There's another mystery game called Disney's Guilty Party, did you play it ? I liked it

    1. Know of it, but never played it.

    2. Ok, actually I was not expecting much from this game so it surprised me because it was really good, and it has good reviews