Difficult games can be great, but there's many different ways to go about it. Some games, like Ikaruga, require an even division of reflexes and memorization, while others take the Space Giraffe route, where familiarity with the game's systems lead to a free-form style of play that's as deep as it is rewarding. And then there's Trauma Center: New Blood, where all the difficulty comes from the controls. Mastering them can make you feel like a laser-guided god of surgery, but the journey to that point will have an incredible amount of frustration to go with the huge number of surgeries and the drama surrounding each.
New Blood doesn't stray from the formula put down by its prequel. Each surgery has its own play mechanics requiring proper use of the eight primary tools, and is bracketed on either end by a story sequence. Dr. Stiles and his assistant are replaced by a Markus and Valerie and the assistant they share, and there's a new man-made disease called Stigma wreaking havoc, but if you've played Trauma Center before you've got a good idea what to expect. Thankfully that means an interesting story filled with well-voiced characters in situations ranging from dramatic to goofy (such as an Iron Chef-style surgery show), all of which bring life to some of the most creative uses of motion-controlled gaming on the Wii.
...Trauma Center: New Blood is a fun and rewarding challenge.
While pointing and shooting has its place, and is a lot of fun to boot, using the pointer as a scalpel to slice someone open for easy access to the jiggly internal bits has an undeniable appeal as well. Those bits then need to have foreign objects extracted from them, or to be drained, lanced, sutured, injected, or zapped with the defibrilator, and this is where Trauma Center both shines and turns infuriating. New Blood maintains the difficulty of its predecessor, and it takes major ninja-level skills to advance to the end without choking down a giant-size serving of pride and dropping to an easier difficulty level.
Take the version of Stigma named Brachion, for example. This disease is a central core that sends out several arms comprised of circular pods, each of which has a grapple on the end. The central core is sending out venom through the arms, and each pod lights up as the venom travels along it until it reaches the grapple, at which point the patient takes damage. Fighting this involves using the syringe to inject the purple serum into the grapple, cutting the grapple off with the scalpel, and then using the forceps to put the grapple in the tray. The forceps can also be used to pinch the arm pods, causing that dose of venom to be used to re-inflate the pod. Of course, if even one dose of venom gets to the end of an arm that's had its grapple amputated, then all the grapples regenerate. This is the level where certain problems with the controls go from being quirky to maddening.
The controls themselves are incredibly precise, but this also means that Trauma Center requires incredible precision from the player. Pinching the arm-pods requires hitting the A and B buttons at the same time, for example, and small hand jiggles can cause the pointer to go off target. Combine the pinching motion with the tension of being on the final section of a difficult task and it's very easy to see exactly what needs to be done while being physically unable to do it. Holding the remote still while being a bundle of nerves and moving finger and thumb simultaneously requires incredible self-control, and while success is wonderful, getting there may not be wonderful enough to justify the effort.
It's nothing that bloody-minded determination can't overcome, but there are other nagging issues cluttering up the works as well. New Blood is obviously designed with wide-screen in mind, and the HUD layout on a standard square tv can cover up necessary bits of the patient. Losing a surgery because an aneurysm that was covered by a character portrait burst wide open is the opposite of fun, especially when the character had stopped talking twenty seconds ago.
When it works, though, which is more often than not, Trauma Center: New Blood is a fun and rewarding challenge. Each patient is something different, but the theme of the game keeps Trauma Center from becoming yet another minigame-fest. You can choose to play as Markus or Valerie at the start of most operations, and their special power of the healing touch can change the entire flow of the surgery. The new co-op mode even enables two-player simultaneous surgery, making certain levels much easier so long as you and your friend have decent communication skills. Add in full online ranking for each operation to the always-available level select and New Blood gains some major replay value. Just don't forget to bring a cool head, steady hand, samurai reflexes (like ninja reflexes, but much cooler), and the patience of a saint. It turns out that killing people is a lot easier than putting them back together.