First introduced as an unlockable in Resident Evil 4, the action-based "The Mercenaries" mode set a new standard for what players could expect from hidden extras.
"The Mercenaries" was a fast-paced arcade-style timed shooter that had players gunning down enemies for points. It was fun, polished and added hours of gameplay to an already full-featured, triple-A experience.
Broken off on its own as a full retail experience for the Nintendo 3DS as Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, does it hold up? While the core gameplay translates well to Nintendo's handheld, The Mercenaries 3D feels like a shell of an experience that, once I was done, left me wondering: what do I have to do to unlock the rest of the game?
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D (Nintendo 3DS)
Release date: June 28, 2011
The Mercenaries 3DS plays it safe, carrying over the core mechanics and goals from "The Mercenaries" mini-games you're already familiar with. There's no real campaign or story here to be told -- instead, the game is broken up into "missions," the goal of most of them to kill as many enemies as possible within a set time limit. While this does get changed up a bit as your progress -- there will be a timed boss battle or a wave-based mission, for instance -- that's the meat and potatoes, and you shouldn't expect much more.
Of course, it's not as much about clearing the missions as it is about clearing them well. Final grades are based on points, which can be earned by stringing together combos (successive kills), finding point- and combo-boosting items, and extending your time limit in a number of ways. While it's pretty easy to simply survive stages, your final grade and score will depend on your skill. If you're big on topping your own personal bests, you'll find yourself going back to stages you've already completed in an effort to squeeze more points out of each mission. Sadly, the game features no online leaderboard support, which is baffling for a game on a console that supports a persistent online connection as well as a friend list.
On the default control settings, I had very little trouble hopping right in, running around and blasting enemies to bits. The Mercenaries 3D feels and play likes Resident Evil 5's third-person action, which is to say it's serviceable for what you're required to do, but not best in its class. Compared to most modern shooters, The Mercenaries 3D certainly feels stiff and clunky. And with most foes designed in such a way that shooting them in the foot and then knocking them over with a context-sensitive melee attack is your most efficient option, it certainly encourages repetitive behavior more than most shooters. With that said, it's an enjoyable (if somewhat brainless) gameplay loop in short bursts.
The Mercenaries 3D contains five missions with a varying number of sub-missions, for a total of 20 stages. Remove the first set of missions which act as straightforward tutorials, and you're looking at fewer than 20 missions, the entirety of which can be unlocked in a few hours. The game does feature eight playable characters, each of which has his or her own set of weapons and scoreboard. While I suppose you could count each mission as a fresh experience when played with a different character, that seems to be a far stretch -- the core content never changes.
Capcom has included a number of unlockable extras in this thing, in an attempt to bolster its replay value, but much of it feels insignificant. "Skills" can be obtained and then upgraded through use, but few have a notable impact on how the gameplay feels outside of allowing you to reach higher scores on missions you've already completed. There's also an achievement system built into the game, as well as unlockable secondary costumes for all the players. But unless you're a gaming completionist or high score junkie, there really isn't anything compelling beyond that final mission.
It's been publicized quite a bit as of late, so I might as well mention it: there's no way to reset your data on The Mercenaries 3D. That is to say that once you've earned scores, unlocked missions and content, the roaches that survive a global nuclear meltdown will be picking up The Mercenaries 3D from where you left off. If you're buying the game new, you should know that this should have zero impact on you; I can't think of a good reason why you'd want to reset the content and start from scratch. But with only one save file and most of the game being about unlocking content and besting your own personal times, buying even a half-completed used copy of The Mercenaries 3D might be a bit of a drag.
Outside of the single-player missions, there's also a "duo" mode which allows you to cooperatively blast through enemies either locally or via the Internet. I didn't have any problems finding online games and the play was surprisingly smooth, although I was plagued with people quitting on me. Playing with friends should resolve that issue, although the lack of voice communication is frustrating regardless of who you're playing with. I was also disappointed to find that only around 12 of the game's 20 missions were playable in duo mode. This does make some sense, however -- most of the missions, even the largest ones, are small, cramped environment loops. Even so, it's disappointing that Capcom didn't choose to include a few co-op specific stages to reinforce the game's content.
At first glance, The Mercenaries 3D looks shockingly good for a handheld, doing a great job of emulating the look and feel of both Resident Evil 4 and 5. Like many 3DS games, the 3D effect isn't really necessary to the gameplay; nothing really seems designed around the depth affects. Regardless, I still found myself playing with it on most of the time simply because it didn't offend my eyes and added a little extra "kick" to the visuals.
But not all is well with the visuals, as the more time I spent with The Mercenaries 3D, the more the cracks began to show. Particularly, some of the game's animations are mind-numbingly horrendous. One notable offender was a large bat-like Bio-Organic Weapon boss. When it just sat there and looked menacing, I was impressed. But as it moved towards me, it was like I was being assaulted by a flipbook. To be fair, however, this stuff never really has an impact on the gameplay, and much of The Mercenaries 3D still holds up quite nicely.
Also included on the game cart is a "pilot" version of the upcoming Resident Evil: Revelations, an all-new story-based game slated to hit the 3DS next year. Unfortunately, the trial does a miserable job of demonstrating what Capcom has in store for fans. It's abysmally short; I was able to complete it under three minutes time. It also barely scratches the surface of what the final game will have to offer.
While The Mercenaries is all about action and shooting, Revelations will take a more traditional path and will merge action with exploration and puzzle solving. The trial only focuses on moving through a small area, and then encountering and shooting three of the same monster before it fades to black and your experience is over. This is particularly disappointing because Revelations is one of my most anticipated games of 2012, and I've seen what's in store -- it's a lot more than repeatedly shooting monsters with a pistol.
Despite its shortcomings, The Mercenaries 3D isn't an entirely horrendous experience. Played in short bursts, there's quite a bit of fun to be had here. It's simply a shame that this full-priced retail title based on a bonus mini-game still feels like, well, a bonus mini-game. The Mercenaries 3D almost feels like a project Capcom used to test the 3DS waters for what's sure to be next year's more complete Resident Evil experience.
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