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Lifesigns: Surgical Unit Review

Genres: Adventure Simulation All
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Spike
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Review Date: 13-5-2009
Review Platform: DS
Review Region: USA Available In USA
Est Playtime: 8+ hours
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

In Lifesigns: Surgical Unit you play as Dr Tendo, an intern at Seimei Medical University Hospital. As an intern you wonít just be dealing with patients and their illnesses, youíll also be dealing with their family and the other doctors at the hospital. Dr Tendoís life isnít simple with an estranged biological father, a recovering alcoholic as a supervisor, and a newly found half sister.

lifesigns_surgical_unit022Lifesigns is an adventure game occasionally populated by mini games and surgical simulations. Itís more of an adventure game than a simulation game like Trauma Center because this where you spend most of the playtime. Itís also worth pointing out that the first Lifesigns game came out before Trauma Center. Even though this is a sequel the first Lifesigns hasnít been released in the English speaking world.

lifesigns_surgical_unit006Gameplay wise Lifesigns involves moving from area to area talking to people, as in any adventure game. Thereís a medical record that contains pictures of objects or things that characters have said to the player. Using the stylus you drag these pictures down onto the characters which then trigger conversations. Every once in a while youíll be presented with a mini game, like catching fish or serving Takoyaki at a festival. Sometimes these mini games affect the outcome of the chapter. Each of the five chapters has up to three possible endings although the way these endings are chosen can be abstract/arbitrary. The aforementioned mini games really have nothing to do with the story so why do they affect the outcome? The gameís five chapters also contain surgical operations and this can again affect the outcome. Usually you just need to finish the operation within a certain time frame. This makes sense when two operations are back to back but this only happens once, so itís again arbitrary. The operations have a 30 minute time limit which is extremely generous as most can be finished the first time around in less than 10 minutes.

lifesigns_surgical_unit003Before you perform any operations you first have to diagnose the patientís medical problem, which normally takes place at the beginning of the chapter. The game doesnít properly explain the ways you can do this. Basically you have to find the symptoms using the stethoscope, rubbing, or looking. Rubbing might reveal sore areas but also checks the patientís pulse when done on the wrist and/or jugular. Finding a symptom adds itís to the patients chart and there are multiple symptom to find. After the diagnosis youíll spend the time until the patientís operation talking to other doctors and dealing with the patientís family or other problems.

lifesigns_surgical_unit025Lifesignís is much more medically accurate that the Trauma Center series with the pre-op meetings littered with medical terminology. To the point where I had no idea what the game was asking me to do. This where the L and R buttons come in; they display a fading line in the area the player needs to manipulate. However, and this is the part that I take exception with, the longer the buttons are held down the more the patientís vitals drop. Youíre punished for knowing what to do. The line is also hard to see because it fades quickly and when the ĎConcentrateí buttons are held down itís drawn against a dark blue background. For cutting procedures you have to stay inside this line, and the more you waver the more the miss limit drops. Once it reaches zero you lose patient vitals and have to start cutting again. Unlike Trauma Center the player canít choose what surgical instruments to use, itís determined by what stage they are at in the operation. The tools are activated not by moving the stylus but by pressing the L or R buttons again. Mixing buttons and the stylus is rarely a good idea. I actually got stuck during an operation that involved removing part of the cranium because Iíd forgotten about pressing L or R.

lifesigns_surgical_unit015The gameís story has a Japanese feel to it and has soap opera trappings. Tendoís newly discovered biological father works at the hospital, he has a newly discovered half sister, and the last chapter gives daytime soaps a run for their money. The story takes places for about half the game in Seimei hospital but the other half is on a tropical island. The tropical island arc is the best section because the characters are meeting for the first time and the number of characters and locations is smaller. I didnít connect with the hospital characters because to a certain extent you need to have played the first game to know them. This is definitely the case for the last chapter. Thereís a small amount of non-linear romance in the story where you can date one of three girls. The player doesnít necessarily get a full choice because itís tied to how you performed in earlier operations. Lifesignís has quite a few typos and errors in its dialogue which is unacceptable for a commercial product. The writing is also a bit dull as itís written in a casual tone.

lifesigns_surgical_unit013The graphics are generally standard with animation consisting of eyes blinking and mouth moving. However the game has scene specific animation which is always missing from other games, like Trauma Center. If a patient collapses the game shows them on the floor. Itís something that keeps you engaged with the flow of the story. The music sounds old school synthy, a bit cheap perhaps, but it still has a few catchy tunes.

Lifesigns tries doing things few other games of its type do and thatís being non-linear. Unfortunately the way the non-linear aspects work is arbitrary and doesnít connect well with the story. Being a sequel the game works best if youíve played the first, which hasnít been released in English. This means that I didnít connect with part of the story, although I did with the island arc which features new characters and a closed setting. The non linear aspects of Lifesigns could have been done better and the diagnosis and operations sections need better explanation which is a few of the reasons why the gameís only decent.