Surgery - hardly a common theme in gaming. But then the DS has shaken things up. Trauma Center: Under The Knife is a prime example of a game that couldn't exist on any other platform, so get your spare stylus primed because by the end of it you may have worn the first one down to nothing.
The premise is simple: use the stylus to perform operations on patients with a range of ailments. The plot, however, is straight out of the anime cookbook, with a healthy mix of terrorism, biological warfare and a load of blood. You play Dr Derek Stiles, a rookie at Hope Hospital in Angeles Bay. Soon, your potential sees you transferred to Caduceus International, an organisation set up to research the world's untreatable diseases. This is where you begin to tackle GUILT (Gangliated Utrophin Immuno Latency Toxin) - a new world-threatening virus that's rumoured to be in the hands of terrorists...
In the world of Trauma Center the bottom screen of your DS becomes the operating table, housing the patient and ten essential tools (the obvious scalpel, bandages, stitches and so on, as well as some more futuristic devices and potions including an antibiotic gel that heals wounds).
The tools are laid out on either side of the patient and are represented by small icons, but the similarity of some of these pictures can make it very tricky to switch between tools. Still, that's just something you're going to have to master if you're to crack this game.
The top screen plays host to your anime assistant. As you begin your career she offers advice and will point you in the direction of the right tools; simply tapping the 'call' button on the touch screen triggers these hints. But as the operations become more complex, you're left to do more on your own.
Most operations follow a broadly similar pattern that sees you starting by slapping antibiotic gel over the area to be operated upon then making an incision. By selecting the scalpel the DS becomes a lethal blade, and by using a line of dots as a guide you have to make your incision as quickly and accurately as possible. Your incision - and any other action you perform - is rated on a scale of Bad to Cool, though you don't have to be amazingly accurate to get by.
How you perform, along with how much time is left on the clock, decides your final ranking, and believe us, it's hard to get anything above 'C: Rookie Doctor' to begin with. If you run out of time or your patient's heart rate hits zero it's game over.
And yet there's a strange fascination that drives you to get through the levels, mostly because you can't wait to see what you're going to have to do next. When Derek is transferred to Caduceus, the game gets decidedly weird. The medical techniques remain the same, aside from a few rather oddly placed puzzles - you're called upon to defuse a bomb, for instance. The story also dictates that the operations get harder, and you'll find that trying to operate on a plane struck by turbulence is a tricky business...
The plot that links the operations in Trauma Center is excellent - it's fun, imaginative and, on the first viewing at least, you don't find yourself skipping the dialogue. The characters are engaging and you begin to feel for your patients, which piles on the pressure when you're moving the stylus up and down to revive a little girl.
However, the story isn't without its flaws. For a start, defined save points mean that every time you load a game (or fail an operation) you have to trawl through loads of dialogue. If you get stuck on a particular operation it's easy to get annoyed with the patient, and nobody wants a frustrated surgeon. Also, this has to be one of the hardest games on the DS. Don't get us wrong, the early operations are a cinch. It's when you have to start moving between the tools with ninja-like agility that Trauma Center becomes almost unbearably frustrating.
Still, frayed tempers aside, Trauma Center is engaging, fun and highly original. If you look past the monotony of repeatedly wading through anime banter and the difficulty of the game, you'll get addicted to slicing and dicing. Just don't practise on your friends.