I finished Okami at the end of last month. This left me with a three week gap to fill before the Wii release; what to do? I’d been thinking about Lego Star Wars II, but, for whatever reason, that wasn’t grabbing me at the moment. FFXII was tempting, but I’ve been thoroughly annoyed by Final Fantasy games in the past, initial reviews left me in two minds about the game, and there was no chance that I’d finish it before the Wii appeared, at which point I’d spend the next couple of months playing Zelda.

I’d been hearing various favorable mentions of Trauma Center over the last few months, enough that I was considering picking up the Wii version. But the Wii version is apparently a remake of the DS version, and I didn’t see any reason why the DS interface wouldn’t be better: a stylus is probably a more natural substitute for a scalpel than a remote control, after all. And its scale fit admirably in the time slot I had, and it would give me another chance to explore the opportunities that the DS’s interface opens up.

So I gave it a try. It’s a surgery game: there’s a bit of a story, but you spend most of your time operating on patients. You have a menu of tools that you can select, and you have to switch back and forth between them as necessary to accomplish tasks. In a simple case, you have to put antibiotic gel on where the initial incision will be, then cut the body open with a scalpel, then maybe drain some blood or suture some wounds, maybe cut out an infected area and take it out with tweezers, then sew up, put on antibiotic, and bandage.

As levels progress, they throw more stuff at you at once, and if you don’t act fast, the patient’s health declines. (There’s a magic thing you can inject to raise the patient’s health level, but it takes a fraction of a second to switch tools, and a bit of time to fill the syringe and do the injection.) Then you start running into lots of things that get worse if you don’t pay attention to them: the current stage that is annoying Liesl (because it’s much much harder than any previous stage) requires you dealing with five wounds at once, all of which need injections to be stabilized, trying to find time to actually completely fix one of them (inject lots of stuff, cut around the area, pick out an object with tweezers, use the tweezers to attach vessels, and put in a bit of a stitch, and woe unto you if you have to stop in the middle) while barely keeping the others from bursting.

Not deep, but fun. I have no complaints about the threadbare plot: the game play is what it’s about, and why try to hide that? Having said that, as the game went on, some warts started to show.

For one thing, the plot starts to revolve around organisms infecting people. Stopping them requires doing stuff like lasering moving targets, and for whatever reason I didn’t like that part of the gameplay as much as the more realistic (well, it’s still only a stylus on a screen, but at any rate less fantasy) aspects.

For another thing, after a couple of days of playing it, my body (especially my upper back) started to really hurt. I’ve had RSI problems since grad school, but they’re actually quite well under control, and video games don’t trigger them as long as I avoid six-hour marathons. Most DS games aren’t too bad, but this one really does a number on me – something about being really tense, tightly gripping a very skinny stylus, and being hunched over looking at the screen, did really bad things to my body. Once I realized that this was a problem, I started unrolling my back and stretching between attempts on a stage, and with that it does seem possible to play the game without killing yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend playing more than an hour or so at a time.

(It will be interesting to see how the Wii does in that regard. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be relatively good on the RSI score: it should allow relatively broad movements, and the fact that your hands are separated means that you won’t have to bend your wrist if you don’t want to. We’ll see.)

So I haven’t quite finished the game, and while I might still finish it, the odds are low: I’m on the last wave of levels, they’re just harder versions of things I’ve seen before, and I’m not particularly in the mood to struggle with that right now. I probably would finish it if it weren’t for the RSI problems, though. It’s a quite short game – I’ve played it for 5 or 6 or so hours all-told, and have an hour or two left – but that’s appropriate given the game play. I’m certainly glad I bought it: I got exposed to something new, and it filled a gap.

Now, I just have to wait another 7 days and 11 hours…

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