Dr. Feelgood

You're not a doctor, but Trauma Center lets you play one on TV.

For most of us, the closest we get to practicing medicine is telling a depressed co-worker, "Somebody's got a case of the Mondays."

But that doesn't stop us from living vicariously through TV doctors. Now, with Trauma Center: Second Opinion, you can take your surgical dreams one step further. Thanks to the Wii' s revolutionary control scheme, you can scrub in and page your inner McDreamy.

Within minutes of turning on Trauma Center, you're thrown into the bizarrely addictive fun. As the inexperienced Dr. Derek Stiles, you'll learn how to pluck glass shards from muscle, clip aneurysms, and even zap throat polyps with a laser.

None of this would be possible without the incredibly responsive Wiimote. Each level (or "dying patient") tests your steady hand, with the controller acting as scalpel, clamps, and sutures. An incision is as easy as slicing downward, while using your forceps is accomplished by pinching together your fingers. Your goal is to work quickly but precisely as the heart rate falls. Best lay off the Jolt Cola, shaky.

When the excitement peaks, you may find yourself thrusting the Wiimote and Nunchuk controls toward the screen to shock a suicidal teen back to life. Bonus points for yelling "CLEAR!" and "DON'T DIE ON ME!" to keep your neighbors guessing.

In addition to your scalpel, you alone wield a mysterious surgical power called "The Healing Touch." This is much different from "The Bad Touch" -- which my doctor calls "checking your prostate." No, this magical healing ability slows time, allowing you to operate faster if the patient's arteries unexpectedly, say, blow out like an old tire. Which they will.

Saving lives means memorizing a surgical sequence. After an accident victim eats a glass door, you'll have to disinfect the area, then cut, then drain the blood, and finally yank out the glass.

Think of it as a 21st-century answer to Milton Bradley's "Operation." Except instead of a buzzing red nose, the patient flatlines, the medical board is notified, and you're told you had "no business treating patients in the first place." Jeez, a simple "Game Over" would have sufficed.

Before long, the game gets wonderfully weird -- like Houseduring sweeps. Prepare for hasty roadside surgery in the dark, saving a heart attack victim at 40,000 feet in a thunderstorm, and even disarming a time bomb with your scalpel. Hope you have a good HMO.

Adding to the appeal of Trauma Centeris the cheesy, General Hospital-worthy storyline. Heavily emoting doctors wrestle with the ethics of euthanasia, have sexual tension with hot nurses, and yell "I WILL save this patient!" upon entering the emergency room. It's Grey's Anatomy meets Dragon Ball Z.

Though fun at first, the silly plot -- which involves a "medical terrorist group" -- eventually gets in the way by injecting too much sci-fi. After you complete such grounded-in-reality operations as setting broken bones and transplanting kidneys, Trauma Center takes a strange left turn and becomes Alien vs. Predator vs. Hospital. The last third of the game involves killing intelligent microscopic bugs that enter the bloodstream, which can only be destroyed by wildly zapping them with a Lasik. Diagnosis: too much Galaga, not enough Doogie Howser.

Creepy-crawlies aside, delivering a game that mixes hemorrhaging lacerations with high scores makes Trauma Center one of the best new releases for the Wii, especially for fans of medical dramas. Just don't start thinking you can pull chicks like McDreamy. You're more like McNugget.

 
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