"It's the pump unit you implanted in my pancreas seven years ago..."
So says Elena Salazar, the 20-year-old nurse who also happens to be a former patient of Dr. Vaughn, the super-powered surgeon at the remote Montgomery Memorial Hospital in Alaska, a country described by Trauma Center New Blood, the latest in the Atlus-developed video game operation sim series, as "the frigid northern extremity of America". Days of our Lives, eat your heart out.
New Blood is absolutely hilarious, fiendishly difficult and, somehow, hideously addictive. The characters, the dialogue, the sexual innuendo, the wonderful cliff hangers, "...except the patient... is me...", the entire game is impossible to take seriously, which is an incredible contradiction, since the actual gameplay on offer deals with some of the most sombre themes of any game series around. You're a surgeon, saving people's lives, cutting out tumours, repairing broken bones, pulling bullets out of hearts, replacing little girls' pacemakers, it's all incredibly grim, and yet funny. Trauma Center truly is one of the weirdest games on the planet, and quintessentially Japanese.
As in the first Trauma Center title on the Wii, Second Opinion, New Blood challenges you to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck as if your hands to guide various surgical tools, selected using a radial system and the Nunchuck thumb stick, during insanely difficult operations and save patients' lives before their vital signs flatline.
In between operations a fully fleshed out, and quite silly story plays out, told through full voice over and still cartoon images of the characters. Set seven years after the events of DS game Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2, which hasn't been released in Europe, New Blood follows the story of doctors Markus Vaughn and Valerie Blaylock, two world-class surgeons (you're able to pick which one you want to play as during each operation) who share the same astonishing surgical technique known as the "Healing Touch". For Markus, this triggers Slow Time, allowing him to cope with multiple problems easier. Val gets Anesthesia, which temporarily stabilises the patient's vitals. Healing Touch is kind of like a mystical super power brought about through spiritual meditation, although Val learns it through a different process: "It wasn't the technique that was important for the Healing Touch; it was the opening of my heart." But to trigger it you need to perform the same action for both: draw a five-point star. The two docs begin the game in a remote hospital in Alaska, but eventually return to Concordia Medical Institute in sunny Los Angeles and combat a mysterious disease called Stigma. Quite brilliantly, the plot, which is full of dramatic twists and turns, evolves into part sci-fi thriller part daytime soap. Imagine The Andromeda Strain spliced with Dallas.
Gameplay wise, the headline new feature is the implementation of a fun cooperative mode. Here, a second player can use a second Wii Remote/Nunchuck pair and assist in the operation, which, you quickly discover, is absolutely essential for success, especially on the medium difficulty and above. That's because New Blood, like its predecessor, its brutally difficult, right from the off.