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Nintendo DS Review: Lifesigns Surgical Unit

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This Japanese hospital soap opera might leave some players desiring more splatter and less chatter, but this title offers alternatives in the series. The overall entertainment creates a decent role-playing experience and extensive storylines rarely seen in video games.

The beginning dream sequence orients the player to the soap opera storyline centering on a new intern named Dr. Tendo. The gossipy dialogue and character actions border extreme at times to keep the interest high. His father factors into the main subplot as well as several other female characters as creators simulate realistic situations into the storyline. If you botch a surgery (11 total), you just go back to your last save point. The storyline progresses when you find the correctly chained combination of action.

A deeper experience would’ve put the player’s decisions paramount after some helpful background on hospital administration/operation (check the manual for some helpful and educational information), which would’ve boosted the learning elements even more. Still, overall the game doesn’t really strive for realism in this installment and it does entertain – just takes a while to get to the entertainment sometimes because of the action combination format.

The game usually forces interaction with every character/area (including patient’s significant others, colleagues and staff), which also creates a hit or miss game play format as Dr. Tendo gathers notes and other intel (seen in the inventory) throughout his sometimes-tedious exploits. Some patient characters storylines create an interest making the players emotionally invest in the game, prompting continuation so they see the results.

Realistic action and instructions provide some learning and useful skill building. For example, left and right is determined from the patient’s perspective, not from the DS console. Translation is key in this text heavy game. Most players can pick up situations within the context, but some confuse.

The colorful graphics feature detailed characters amid 2-D settings. Some examination scenarios tempt players with some hanky panky touching (sound effects and responses also reflect this action). Real medical situations (covered in initial game warnings and notices) could be much more graphic at times, but mainly stick with a lighter tone.

The surgeries morph into 3-D graphics plus players can replay them when successfully completed. Occasionally Dr. Tendo will find himself out of the hospital, where the game offers up some non-surgery minigames (five total), like collecting rolling fruit from an overturned fruit truck or playing air hockey. There are multiple endings and individual surgical procedures can be replayed from a menu once the main story has been completed.

The cutting and related surgery sound effects are done well. Overall, the game needs more active action instead of passive. Released in Japan in 2005 as Kenshuui Tendo Dokuta 2: Inochi no Tenbin. The upcoming European title, Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs better describes this game. We’ll see if the Life Signs 2: Balance of Life, currently available only in Japan, will come stateside soon.

Lifesigns Surgical Unit is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Violence and Partial Nudity.


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