Review: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

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2011 has been a year full of gaming controversies. Some, like the PlayStation Network security breach, deserved the intense scrutiny. But others, such as the outrage over Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D having a single, non-eraseable save file, were manufactured controversies from the increasingly annoying crowd of gamers and bloggers who just have to find something to get angry about whenever a new game launches. Many cartridge-based games have had similar save systems in years past (I know I’ve encountered more than a few on the DS and GBA), but I don’t remember anyone caring before.

The saddest part of this unnecessary hullabaloo is that it has unfairly painted what is a very good game in an unsavory color. A game that, I should point out, has no story to speak of and lacks a traditional sense of progression, and thus really doesn’t need multiple save slots any way. Capcom isn’t in the business of developing games with the secondhand market in mind, folks.

If you’ve played Resident Evil 4 and/or Resident Evil 5 to any great extent, you will have surely spent ample time in The Mercenaries, a timed score attack side mode in which you jump into different maps themed after environments from the campaigns, playing as your favorite Resident Evil heroes and villains in a race against the clock to kill enemies and pile up points.

The Mercenaries’ gameplay is intense and suspenseful, as baddies swarm from all directions while you attempt to evade attack, keep your kill combo streak alive, find hidden crystals to extend the clock, and survive with your score intact until the mission timer hits zero. At the end of a level, you are given a letter grade based on point total and potentially a gold star for exemplary performance. By accomplishing special objectives, you can earn achievement-like medals. This is “just one more game” high score hunting at peak satisfaction.

The Mercenaries 3D is this same side mode crammed into a video game combo meal containing identical content and gameplay from both RE4 and RE5, plus a few extras and expanded features. 30 missions are available to unlock in total, and there are eight playable characters (Chris, Jill, Rebecca, Claire, Hunk, Barry, Krauser and Wesker) to pick from, each with unique weapon loadouts, unlockable costumes, melee specialties and mission grade slots (something else that mitigates the whole save file nonsense.) The missions take place in landmark villages, castles, mines and ship decks that will be instantly familiar to any Resident Evil fan, and these locales are brimming with recognizable enemies. Robed cultists, sack-headed chainsaw dudes and clawed gladiators return from RE4, and infected African villagers, massive, axe-wielding executioners and gatling gun Majini show up from RE5, among other terrifying monsters.

In a round about way, this game is Resident Evil 5 on a portable, and the fact that Capcom got a mobile-friendly version of the MT Framework engine running on the 3DS is an impressive feat all on its own. While the 3D effect is largely useless yet again, the polygonal graphics pack a powerful punch of detail that comes shockingly close to replicating RE5’s visuals. From screenshots I’ve seen, I’d say the graphics are a cut above the HD re-release of RE4 that’s coming to PS3 and Xbox 360 later this month. So between this and Super Street Fighter IV (and Resident Evil: Revelations coming up), Capcom appears to have a firm grasp of the 3DS hardware.

In terms of gameplay, The Mercenaries 3D plays tighter than both of the full Resident Evil games it is derived from. The controls and animations remain somewhat stiff and tank-like (this is still Resident Evil after all!), but Capcom has greatly improved playability based on the feedback gained from RE5.

For one thing, you can finally shoot (and reload and use herbs) and move at the same time, holding down the right shoulder button to enter aim mode and the left shoulder to lock aim while you slide the Circle Pad to strafe, walk forward, and back up. This is huge!

From the options menu, you can now switch aim mode between the default over-the-should, third-person perspective and a new first-person shooter view. The touch screen also makes for a much cleaner and more intuitive interface. A mini-map on the right side of the bottom screen keeps you aware of your surroundings at all times, and six inventory slots on the left side sit in comfortable reach of your left thumb for quick weapon swapping, reloading, and herb usage, without ever needing to pause or look away from the top screen action.

Also new is a skill system. At any given time, you can take a character into a mission with three skills equipped, enhancing performance in areas such as damage reduction, weapon power and handling, reload speed and critical hit rate. These skills, of which there are 30 to unlock, increase in level and effectiveness through extended use.

Missing in action, however, are online leaderboards, which is a major omission in a score-based arcade game of this ilk. Capcom did incorporate local and online co-op for two players, and the multiplayer performance is exceptional. But without leaderboards, it may be tough for some players to stay dedicated to replaying levels when there is no way to see how your scores stack up against others.

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D does have a lot going for it, but its value will vary wildly from player to player. In my opinion, it is among the top experiences currently available for the 3DS, and after logging 15 hours (and counting) I can’t imagine not having it in my handheld gaming rotation right now.

However, as a slightly deeper portable iteration of a side attraction from other, full-length Resident Evils, it does seem somewhat incomplete by itself. Hell, even the Resident Evil: Revelations demo Capcom slapped onto the cartridge is a waste, clocking in at no more than five measly minutes long. Lame!

Bottom line — The Mercenaries 3D is a game that you will either play through once, put down, and then forget about in a matter of hours, or that you will spend days and weeks with, compulsively replaying every stage to beat your previous high scores, try out new characters, and unlock extra costumes and skills. If you can appreciate games that forgo story and conventional level progression and simply challenge you to compete against yourself for personal gratification, this fantastically addictive game will be worth every penny you pay for it. But if you expect greater substance from your video game experiences, the straightforward gameplay and limited variety will leave you wanting a whole lot more, and you are probably better off saving your cash for Revelations.

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Pros:
+ Addicting score attack gameplay
+ You can move and shoot…halleluiah!
+ New skill system, touch screen inventory and control options
+ Graphics nearly on par with Resident Evil 5
+ Fun cooperative experience

Cons:
– Iffy value as a standalone game
– Not much variety to speak of
– Missing leaderboards
– Revelations demo is a sham of a purchase incentive

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Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 6/28/2011
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2 (local and online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!