Review: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 6/28/11

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D was basically the reason I bought my 3DS. While I’m not a huge fan of Mercenaries Mode in the main games, I enjoy them for what they are, which is a mode where the player can essentially obliterate everything they see outside of the context of the story, and I’m good enough at the console versions that I’ve unlocked everything available. As such, giving me a handheld version of this mode with 3D visuals attached to it that also adds in some extra unlockables and missions, as well as customization options and the ability to play with friends, is a sure way of convincing me that I’m buying your game on day of release. That said, however, as an expansion of a simple game mode found in the last two core Resident Evil games, Mercenaries Mode is perfectly fine, but it’s hard to look at it and think that this is something that needs its own game to shine in unless there’s a lot of additional content backing it up. Further, the recent uproar over Capcom’s decision to remove the ability to wipe the data cartridge, thus removing the ability to rent the game or trade it in, has caused a massive amount of negative backlash against the game in a short period of time, to the point where The Mercenaries 3D has a fairly Sisyphean task ahead of it in trying to convince players that it’s worth owning despite all of this.

Let’s see if it succeeds.

There is absolutely no story whatsoever to Mercenaries 3D, unless you count the incessant exclamations of the narrator claiming that they’re training you to get out in the field and kill things, so normally we would talk about the game modes in this case. However, there aren’t really any game modes to speak of either; you’re essentially just playing through five tiers of stages with one of eight characters, and that’s really the beginning and the end of it. You can choose to play many of the challenges alone or in Duo mode, which allows you to field either a local or an online teammate to take it to the enemies before you cooperatively, but there aren’t any other modes of play aside from the main gameplay mode, at all. Now, in fairness, it does come with an incredibly awkwardly timed demo of Resident Evil: Revelations, so for those who are interested in this game, the demo is a fair example of what you can expect from that game, albeit one that explores only introductory enemy types and atmosphere, not anything more complex. Also, the game itself does offer the ability to add on skills to your chosen character, explore medals you’ve earned, look over scores you’ve achieved and change weapon loadouts for your chosen characters (to a point). However, there’s only one real mode of play to speak of and no storyline at all, and while this is fine and works for the game, it’s also not a good way to start things off.

Visually, The Mercenaries 3D does look very good, but it also makes some technical sacrifices to look as good as it does. The environments are excellent recreations of the games they come from, Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, and while they’re obviously a little scaled down, this is not so bad as to be obvious or problematic. Further, the characters up-close look fantastic and animate very well, whether in their attack animations or in the throes of death-via-shotgun-to-the-face or what have you. However, the game has a tendency to reduce the resolution of enemies that are further away, which isn’t so much of a problem when you’ve got enemies up close and personal, but becomes an issue when you’re focused on these distant enemies with a sniper rifle or what have you and you can plainly see they’re jerking around and poorly animated. This is by no means a mechanical problem, as hitting them at range is perfectly fine, but it’s a fairly obvious visual cutback to keep things moving along, all the same. Aurally, the game music is pretty much spot-on as far as the Mercenaries experience goes, and the characters all feature the appropriate voice acting they should have from their appearances in the prior games. The sound effects and such also sound great on the 3DS, and the various weapons all have significant impact, even from the smaller speakers of the portable unit, making combat more enjoyable as a result.

The Mercenaries 3D actually plays quite well on the 3DS, as it makes good use of the modern Resident Evil control setup and adds in some very good elements that make for a better experience than the console versions. By default, the left stick moves your character around and turns the camera, the Y button interacts with the environment, and pressing R whips out your weapon in hand. While holding R, you can press Y to fire/swing/throw your weapon, B to reload if applicable, and A to use a healing item if needed. You can also hold down L if you want to move around with the weapon drawn, so you’re not stuck in one place while aiming. The D-Pad allows you to switch between weapons in the up to three primary slots, or you can tap any of the six items on the bottom screen (your up to three primary weapons, your two explosives, or your healing item) to arm/use them immediately without using the controls. This is all a lot more user friendly than the controls in the console games; the ability to move and shoot has been a big sticking point for players who are user to other shooters that offer this option, the touch screen makes for easy item management, the ability to use healing an instantly mapped icon makes for easier healing all around, and in general the controls are very friendly. As such, new players and series fans alike should be able to get into the game with little problem from the start and have fun.

The game starts off with a series of tutorials that encompass the first three levels of missions, starting off slow with movement direction and aiming instruction, and ending with a big fight before you’re shipped off into live combat as the Mercenaries mode was intended. The tutorial missions are worthwhile in the sense that they allow for some additional point earning and instruction, but you can essentially skip to the final mission in these segments if you don’t care to learn how to play and go on to the real missions from there. For those who have somehow never played one of the modern Resident Evil games, and as such, don’t know how the Mercenaries mode works, it’s essentially a game mode where you fight an endless series of enemies with whatever weapons you have, grabbing whatever ammo and power-ups you can from the environment or dead enemies, until you die or time runs out. If you die, you lose your progress, but if time runs out, you get a score based on how you did and can move on if the score is good enough. Scoring comes down, in large part, to keeping the timer going as long as possible and keeping a kill chain going as long as possible. The former can be accomplished by breaking crystalline orange statues in the stages for time bonuses and killing enemies with melee attacks, while the latter can be accomplished by killing enemies without stopping, and doing both together nets you high scores. If that sounds easy, however, well, I apologize; hitting all of the timers in a stage can be very complex unless you know the stage well, melee killing enemies requires some decent planning, and bosses infrequently show up that don’t go down easy and can make keeping a kill count going a real challenge. As a result, there’s more than just killing enemies to making the best scores a reality in Mercenaries 3D, and you’ll need to spend some time with the game to really rack up the high scores.

The game doesn’t just stick you out in battle with no benefits of your own, of course. You’re offered a couple characters to start, but can unlock a total of eight characters: Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Claire Redfield, HUNK, Barry Burton, Jack Krauser, and Albert Wesker, each with their own weapons setups. You can attach a different weapons setup to a specific character by unlocking the option, either with scores or Play Coins, so if you want to go into battle with Chris Redfield but want to rock Jill Valentine’s weapon setup, go nuts. You also earn Medals and Skills as you play through the game, and while the Medals are essentially Achievements that mark specific acts you’ve accomplished and only unlock a few things, the Skills are actually pretty useful. Each character can bring up to three Skills, essentially Perks for Call of Duty fans, into battle at one time, which can increase resistance to instant-death attacks, improve weapon performance, boost critical damage, and all sorts of other fun things. As you do well in the missions, you also earn points that upgrade the Skills, allowing them to level up and provide additional bonuses for their higher levels. As such, you can level up the Skills you’d likely find useful and swap them around prior to missions, then go out into battle with an edge when the situation merits.

There are five stages of missions, and depending on your skill level, you can pretty much clear out all of the missions with one character in a couple hours. However, this isn’t going to unlock a lot on its own, and you’ll need to spend a lot of time clearing out the missions with all of the characters in order to unlock everything the game has to offer. The game tracks scores with individual characters, so if you want to unlock everything the game has to offer, you’ll need to spend some serious time getting top ranks with everyone, though you can always just sub out the weapon loadouts you like best onto less interesting characters if you’re having problems. There are plenty of unlockables to earn as well, including Skills, extra missions of exceptionally strong difficulty, costumes, and the previously mentioned weapon loadouts. You can also take to the game with a friend in Duo mode, and while most of the tutorial missions aren’t available for Duo play, there are a significant amount of missions that are, so if you want to tag team the missions with a friend you’ll have plenty of options for doing this thing if you’re so inclined.

The biggest issues with Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D that come up are that the game, as a full priced release, doesn’t feel quite like such a thing, and that some less than optimal decisions were made in development that make the game less enjoyable as a result. Regarding the former, while it’s nice that there are so many characters and stages to work with, it would have been nice to have more than eight characters to work with, considering that the standard Mercenaries modes offers this amount and they’re add-ons to the main games of the series. It’s not like there’s any likelihood of DLC coming out for the game; why not put in a larger roster, which is going to be a big value point for a game like this anyway? Even the additional costumes don’t add new weapon loadouts to the game, and for a game where grinding is going to be a big part of things, nine loadouts gets old in a hurry. Even the addition of four more characters (off the top of my head, Leon Kennedy, Sheva Alomar, Josh Stone and Ada Wong would have been good additions) would have made a big difference here as far as long term value goes, as would have customizable weapon loadouts, or at least more presets. The fact that I got through the main missions in around four hours isn’t a good sign either, to be honest.

As far as the latter goes, well, making enemy grapples into Active Time Events is one of the single worst decisions Capcom has made in a good long time, as it makes for an exceptionally frustrating experience trying to escape a simple grapple and it’s not a friendly idea in the least. Further, while it’s understandable that there need to be some tutorials in the game, making the first three stages full of said tutorial missions is a bit much, and it makes for a boring first hour or so of gameplay if you have even a vague idea what’s going on. It also feels like padding, a bit, which comes back to the first issue somewhat, as there are a bunch of tutorial missions, but playing them more than once doesn’t seem particularly enjoyable and they’re solo missions only, which kind of seems counter-productive given the game in question. Also, the Resident Evil: Revelations demo isn’t much more than a visual and environmental demo, as there’s little to it besides wandering around a few hallways and shooting a few faceless enemies, and I cleared it in about four minutes. The demo also has a very weird timer on it that seems to end randomly; the end of the demo seems to be a battle against two enemies, but it can end before that if you putz around too long, though it doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason for doing so, as my second go ended after the battle with one enemy, and even then it was after letting the system sit a full ten minutes to see if it would end on its own. It seems like a mostly pointless timer, and it would have been better not existing at all.

Further, much ado has been made about the fact that the game doesn’t allow an option to delete save data, and while I personally am even baffled that the game stores its own save data on a console with internal memory, the community reaction has been unpleasant, to say the least. Gamestop has banned trade-ins outright, Gamefly has listed the game as not rentable entirely, and people both in and out of the press are vocally objecting to this idea in both thought and deed. Now, in reality, you likely know what you’re getting into when buying a game like this, as it’s plainly obvious that this is a game based around the Mercenaries mode from the core games, but the complete inability to rent the game and the fact that you have no recourse should you find the game isn’t for you isn’t a pleasant situation, no matter how you look at it. Capcom’s official answer has been that the inability for players to trade the game in wasn’t a consideration, but regardless of the reason, this is the end result, and as such, it must be noted that, sorry, that’s a significant flaw in the game. It doesn’t matter what the reasons for this decision were, it doesn’t matter what thought process went into it, it only matters that in the end, if you buy this game you can’t trade it in and unless you test it somewhere public where it’s on display or play it through a friend you can’t ever test it out, and sorry, that is a significant and inconvenient flaw in the product.

The bottom line is that Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is going to appeal to people who like the modern Resident Evil games, and especially those who like the Mercenaries modes within them, as it’s a good game by and large… but it has enough notable flaws to make it less appealing to those who aren’t series diehards. The game is truly crafted after the Mercenaries experience, offering the sort of gameplay elements one would expect from such a game, and the visuals and audio are solid all around. There are also plenty of additional elements of depth, such as lots of Skills to add to the characters and unlockables to earn, that make the game full of depth and substance beyond its initial concept and justify the product’s existence well. However, the game doesn’t feel like it’s so fleshed out that it couldn’t have stood some more depth, and there are some unfortunate mechanical issues that are either frustrating or pointless and should have been avoided. Also, the inability to clear the internal memory makes for a game that you’ll have difficulty passing along once you’re done with it, while also removing the option for players to rent or try out the game. With a little more content and a few less bad decisions, Mercenaries 3D likely would have been an instantly recommendable title, but as it is, the game is most easily recommended to Resident Evil diehards, but warrants some serious consideration before being picked up by anyone else.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GREAT
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D comes across as a game that could have been better than it ends up, as the additions made to the Mercenaries formula make for some great add-ons, but in the end, the game is hurt by some lacking depth and some poor mechanical decisions. The game essentially takes the Mercenaries game mode from modern Resident Evil titles and expands on it well, giving a solid amount of depth to the concept, and the game generally looks good and sounds excellent. The game plays nicely and features some good additions and changes to formula that make the game easier to play for new and experienced players, and the new features and unlockables make for some solid depth beyond the initial concept. However, the game doesn’t feel deep enough and could have stood some additional characters or weapon loadouts, and some odd decisions, like making escape actions Active Time Events, making half of the game tutorials, or making the Resident Evil: Revelations demo so limited and on a random timer, hurt the final product as well. The inability to wipe the system memory also leaves the game as one that cannot be rented or traded in, which is a flaw that essentially punishes players by not letting them play the game unless they buy it for full price, which is heavily counter-productive. With some added elements and better decision making, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D would have been an easy game to recommend, but as it is now, it’s really only easily recommended to series fans, as everyone else should consider their purchase before making it, since you’ll not have any recourse if you regret it later.

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