There used to be a time when games didn't really have plots. In the days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the most important thing about the game was the high score in the corner. There are still score attack games nowadays, but most of those are either pure puzzle titles, or the score is tied to a plot. That is perhaps why Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is such an odd game. The Resident Evil series is known for its increasingly complex and often ridiculous plot, with story lines occurring over multiple games. There are even games dedicated to retconning or rebooting bits of the plot for later games in the series. Like it or hate it, Resident Evil has always been about the plot. However, The Mercenaries 3D is all about the gameplay; it's a first for the franchise and sometimes unheard of among modern action games.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D doesn't add anything to the overarching story — actually the game has no plot at all. There's no interaction between characters, no reason for going on missions, and not even a vague clue as to why your characters are busy depopulating small villages full of monsters. The Mercenaries 3D, much like the minigame on which it is based, is a pure score attack game. This isn't a huge loss, but it may be disappointing to Resident Evil fans who are hoping for a little more story line. Even a vague plot could have done a lot to make the main missions feel more like a complete game instead of a minigame.
The controls in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D are simplified, but in a good way. They retain most of the important features of Resident Evil 5 and add a few new ones. Movement and combat are identical to Resident Evil 5, with one big difference: By holding down the L button while aiming, you can move around while in firing position. You can't fire, move and precisely aim at the same time, but being able to slightly adjust your position makes things much easier. The enemy AI clearly wasn't designed to compensate for a character that can shoot while stepping backward. Many boss creatures are unable to damage you while you do this, and you can backpedal and shoot them while they frantically try to get within attack range.
The inventory system has also been simplified. Instead of the nine-box system from Resident Evil 5, you simply have a predefined inventory of three weapons, one healing spray and two explosives. The explosives are determined by the level you're in, and the weapons are determined by your character's weapon loadout. Each character has a predefined weapon loadout, although you can spend Play Coins to unlock the ability to switch loadouts between characters. Every item in your inventory is quickly accessible, and there are dedicated buttons for instantly healing or switching weapons. However, the simplification comes with some downsides. You can't drop a weapon, and that's a problem because it influences the drop rate of ammunition. If you want to use a certain kind of pistol, you'll be stuck with whatever was included in the loadout. The knife is now also an equippable weapon instead of having a dedicated button, which slows it down and makes it less accessible than in previous games.
One of the biggest disappointments in the game is the limited number of characters. There are eight characters, but only three of them can really be considered "new." Barry Burton, Rebecca Chambers, Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker were all in Resident Evil 5 or its DLC, and they're ported over almost identically. HUNK and Jack Krauser are both from Resident Evil 4's version of The Mercenaries, but they have completely new move sets. The only truly new character is Claire Redfield. This seems like a minor complaint, but for a game dedicated to just The Mercenaries, it is strange that it has the same number of characters as Resident Evil 5's minigame. At very least, one would have expected the entire Resident Evil 5 cast to be included, but characters like Excella, Josh and Sheva are missing in action. The game offers one new costume for each character, but that's a lackluster bonus. You can swap weapon sets for each character, and that technically gives more variation than Resident Evil 5 had among its characters, but swapping weapons doesn't change melee moves, and those are a big part of the game.
Likewise, there's a pretty disappointing variety in enemies. While the Ganado and Majini are well represented, most of the stronger monsters are absent. The Executioner, Garrador and variations on the Chainsaw Majini are all in the game, but some of the cooler monsters are missing. One of the neat things about The Mercenaries minigame was that each stage had its own boss monster. In The Mercenaries 3D, you'll find a random smattering of the mentioned baddies, and it makes the various levels feel less distinct. It really would have been nice to see more of the enemies who normally didn't show up. The infected dogs or creeping Reapers would have added some much-needed variety.
Despite these complaints, the basic gameplay of The Mercenaries 3D is a boatload of fun. Each level is laid out as one of a few different maps from either Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 5. You're thrown into the map, 150 enemies swarm you, and your goal is to kill as many as possible before time runs out. It sounds simple enough, but there are a lot of factors to keep in mind.
Time is important, so the more time you have, the more enemies you can kill. Any time left on the meter once you kill 150 foes is added to the score at the end of the level, and it's almost necessary to do so in order to get a high rank. Time can be earned in two ways: find time bonuses hidden throughout the level or perform a melee move on an enemy. Shooting a foe in the head or leg stuns it, allowing you to perform a melee move; successfully killing an enemy with a melee move adds five seconds to your time. A big part of the game is figuring out how to best string together melee kills while staying alive. The second major part of the score is the combo bonus. By killing enemies quickly, you build up a combo, and the higher the combo, the more of a bonus you receive.
The game isn't too difficult early on, though things get rougher as you progress. The unlockable EX missions are surprisingly rough, and even the easiest one is far more difficult than anything in any previous versions of The Mercenaries. The enemies get faster, more durable and more aggressive as the game wears on, and by the EX missions, even regular foes can be formidable. Even at the highest levels, the challenge isn't just about surviving. You can run away for two minutes and easily live to see the end of the mission, but the tough part is surviving while also maintaining a good score.
The Mercenaries 3D has about 30 different missions set over a variety of maps. This doesn't really equal 30 full missions because most of the early chapters are tutorial stages that don't even have a combo meter or a full group of enemies. The game doesn't really get into swing until chapter four, so there are only about 15 "real" missions. This isn't too bad, but it matters if you enjoy score attack games. If you don't enjoy replaying the same stages to get a high score, there is absolutely nothing here for you. The game can be finished in about three hours or so if you only want to see a stage once.
A nice extra value is the addition of online multiplayer. Like Resident Evil 5, you can take on almost any stage in the game in Duo mode, where you have two players instead of one. The number of enemies and stage layout are roughly the same, but the score requirements are increased, and dying means that you need to be revived by an ally instead of yourself. It's incredibly fun, and frankly, the game feels like it was meant to be played co-op. The best parts of the game are working together with a friend to fend off a horde of Ganado while stringing together a ridiculously long combo. The Mercenaries 3D's online play worked surprisingly well. It would take a few tries to get connected, but once I was, I didn't suffer any problems. The gameplay was smooth, barring lag, and everything usually felt natural. There were a few situations where I would lose a combo or an enemy wouldn't die due to lag, but this usually preceded my partner disconnecting. It was a good experience and surprisingly fun for a handheld online title.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D has a fair number of unlockables going for it. For one thing, there are Perks. As in most modern competitive shooters, Perks grant your character a small passive bonus, such as increased handgun damage, new melee moves or passive health regeneration when near an ally. Unlocking them requires you to finish stages with a high ranking, but the Perks also level up when you finish levels with them equipped. You can also get new costumes for your characters, but they're merely cosmetic differences. There are also a wide variety of achievements depending on what you do in the game. You can get tiny pop-up trophies when you finish a stage without missing a shot, kill multiple enemies with a single grenade, or revive a friend from death multiple times. There's no real point to these trophies; there are a couple of unlock Perks, but otherwise, they're just for show.
Some controversy has surrounded The Mercenaries 3D because the game does not allow you to delete your save data, so anything that is unlocked remains unlocked forever. This does not cheat a player out of any gameplay because every stage in the game can be replayed, and there's nothing that is rendered inaccessible. The game has no plot whatsoever, and nothing is lost by playing someone else's save data. However, certain aspects of the gameplay are lost. Achievements that are unlocked remain unlocked, and Perks can't be "downgraded" to a lower level. In the long run, these are minor problems, and there's no reason you couldn't pick up a used copy of The Mercenaries 3D and have just as much fun. People who enjoy unlocking things will want to be warned about this, and for them, a new copy is the only way to go. If you don't care about who unlocked your Perks or achievements, then a used copy is pretty much identical to a new one.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is one of the best-looking titles on the 3DS. The characters and visuals are not exactly on par with the console versions, but they're close enough that it's surprising to see it on a handheld. Unfortunately, characters only look good up close. Any enemy who is far away takes such a massive frame rate hit that he begins to look like a stop-motion character. It doesn't have a huge impact on gameplay, but it's disappointing to see. The larger boss creatures look hideous if they're even a minor distance away. The 3-D effect is also quite lackluster. There's very little pop to the effects and almost no reason to keep it on. Compared to games like Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D, it's sad to see so little effort put into using the game's 3-D visuals. The sound effects are reasonably solid, although they lack some of the impact that the console versions had, and some of the audio cues are missing. The music is mostly generic techno themes, which fit the gameplay but are unlikely to be memorable after the game is over.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D doesn't have a lot going for it. It's an extremely fun game, and the basic gameplay is incredibly solid, but the problem is that it's a relatively limited score attack game. If you don't enjoy challenging your own high scores, there is nothing here for you. If you're the kind of person who spent hours playing The Mercenaries or The Mercenaries Reunion minigames in Resident Evil 5, there's a lot to like here. Everyone else will find a short and unsatisfying adventure. Resident Evil fans wanting something meatier will have to wait until Resident Evil: Revelations hits next year. It's difficult to say that there's $40 worth of stuff to like here, even if you are a fan of The Mercenaries. While a self-contained version of the game is a great idea, it really needed more content to be worthwhile. As it stands, it's barely an improvement over the console version, and aside from the handheld portability, there's no real advantage to playing The Mercenaries 3D instead of The Mercenaries Reunion mode in Resident Evil 5. While there are not a lot of better choices for the 3DS at the moment, this game is for fans only. Everyone else should avoid it.
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