Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D--the first handheld RE game since Deadly Silence--faithfully captures the gameplay nuances and visual aesthetic of the most recent console releases in the franchise. Having achieved this respectable feat, Capcom has opted to utilize this technology in a supremely disappointing way: by recycling the content of an unlockable mode from those games into an entire retail-priced game. Less of a port and more of a compilation, The Mercenaries 3D dutifully recreates the Mercenaries modes from Resident Evils 4 and 5, and that's just about it. Even if you previously enjoyed the Mercenaries mode, you'll find little to be excited about here; there are no new maps to explore, no new enemies to fight, and you'll have exhausted the game's meager offerings before you know it. With virtually nothing new to offer and not enough content to justify the price, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is a straight-up bad deal at $40.
This modern version of The Mercenaries was introduced back in 2005 as a feature unlocked upon completion of Resident Evil 4. The Mercenaries strips out the traditional Resident Evil story structure in favor of an arena-based, score-focused survival mode. Players will come to blows with hordes of Resident Evil 4 and 5’s not-zombies, trying to rack up as many kills as possible within the time limit. To maximize one’s score potential, players must quickly kill enemies in succession to build and extend a kill combo throughout the match. Completing certain score milestones will unlock the usage of additional playable characters, complete with unique weapon sets, which can impact the ways in which you can take down enemies. In contrast to the typical Resident Evil experience, The Mercenaries is more akin to an arcade game, focusing on playing and replaying short levels to obtain high scores.
Console-to-handheld ports can be tricky, and rife with control compromises, but The Mercs 3D makes the jump to the 3DS with relative ease, thanks to the fact that the modern Resident Evil games are built around single analog stick controls. Movement and turning is mapped to the circle pad, holding the R button brings up your weapon sights for aiming (and, in RE tradition, locks you in place) and the face buttons are used for shooting and utilizing context sensitive prompts. While the top 3DS screen displays the core action, the bottom screen serves as a quick-select inventory screen, allowing players to quickly switch between weapons, reload guns and use healing items.
In perhaps its most notable advance, The Mercenaries 3D finally brings the RE games in line with more modern third-person shooters with an alternate control scheme that allows players to move and shoot at the same time. In this mode, the circle disc will handle movement and strafing while the four face buttons are used for aiming (similar to the way shooters have been adapted on the PSP). It's not a perfect substitute for a second analog stick, but that’s the price you have to pay in order to bring a little modernity to RE. The Mercenaries 3D plays about as well as the series’ console counterparts, with very little of the gameplay nuances sacrificed in the translation.
The problem with The Mercenaries 3D, however, has to do with the content. Specifically, there isn’t enough of it. All eight of the game's maps come directly from Resident Evil 4 or 5, and these aren’t full Resident Evil campaign levels, complete with the some of the best interactive cutscenes, set pieces, and boss fights found in modern action games. These are small, corridor-heavy maps that don’t last more than three to six minutes. The only noteworthy addition to The Mercenaries 3D is the skill system, a Modern Warfare-style perk structure where players can take up to three passive enhancements into each match. The skills level up as you accrue skill points from completing rounds, but the bonuses aren't so impactful as to dramatically affect your chances of success in-game. It's not long before you’ve exhausted the few available maps on the cart, and if you've ever played those Mercenaries modes before, you'll be familiar with virtually all of the content in this game.
As if to add insult to injury, you won’t actually get full access to the eight maps and eight playable characters when you start the game for the first time. Instead, players will be forced to complete a series of missions so disjointed that it does injustice to the word “campaign.” There is zero context for these missions, so if you’re playing through the campaign, you’d better really love Resident Evil’s combat.
The missions are almost all identical, and they don’t necessarily do the best job in instructing you how to deal with enemies or move effectively through the map. The only significant departures from the core Mercenaries gameplay are a penultimate boss fight against the Popokarimu bat monster from Resident Evil 5 and a final boss fight against... that bat monster again. That the game actually runs a full, unskippable credit sequence after the second bat boss fight feels like some kind of cruel, miserable joke. The whole campaign can be completed in less than two hours and and amounts to little more than a slog through soulless, boring content. The campaign problems are further emphasized by an awkward menu structure that makes progressing through missions more of a hassle than it should be.
The series’ high quality visuals haven't had the smoothest translation to the 3DS. Capcom’s MT Framework engine recreates the environments, character models, and effects of the past two console RE games onto the platform, and some assets have made that transition better than others. Character models for the playable Mercenaries, the Ganados cultists, and Majini infected look sharp with striking animation and detailed texture work. Mercs 3D also utilizes the 3DS' stereoscopic visuals to good use with a pronounced-but-not-overwhelming depth enhancement that I was happy to leave on as I played the game. Textures in the actual environments, however, can appear blurry and muddled (not unlike the RE4 port to the PS2). The game's weirdest visual quirk, however is its habit of cutting out frames of animation on enemies in the distance. Enemies move stiffly until they cross some determined point in the environment relative to the player, upon which their animation fills out the missing frames.
The sound design fares even worse than the visuals. The Mercenaries 3D features plenty of music tracks and effects from the other Resident Evil games and those sound fine, but the vocals--from both Mercs and not-zombies-- feature some of the lowest quality sound recording I've heard in any modern video game. Though the low-bit rate recordings of the vocals may have been a result of low storage space, the vocals in Mercs 3D sounds like bad digitized voice circa the early 90's. It's awful stuff.
The Mercenaries 3D also ships with local and online co-op, allowing you to team up and work together on maximizing your scores. Like much of Mercs 3D, the online functionality is identical to that found in RE5, though, like the visuals, it hasn't arrived without problems. In testing the game, lag issues popped up sporadically, resulting in enemies teleporting to new positions in order to catch up, as well as enemies taking too long to register bullet collision and death. In a game mode entirely based around skillful weapon and ammo management, watching ammo wasted on enemies that have already died can seriously mangle your strategy and timing. On stable connections, the feature is functional, but if you’re looking for online co-op versions of The Mercenaries, you should go back to play Resident Evil 5.
And that’s the reaction I come back to over and over again as I played through Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D. If I wanted to play the Mercenaries game mode, why would I pay $40 for this handheld version when I could ostensibly get both Resident Evil 4 and 5 for way less? The gameplay in Mercs 3D has been competently recreated on the handheld, but it’s all to recreate an experience that is done (mostly) better and way cheaper on other platforms. Not to mention the fact that both of those games come with supreme single-player campaigns. If you’ve never played the modern Resident Evil games, you could pick up both Resident Evil 4 and 5 for less than the price of this cart. And if you have already played Resident Evil, the only worthwhile additions in Mercs 3D are portability, a present-yet-inessential skill system and the opportunity to play as several characters who have never been in a modern RE game--hardly $40 worth of additions. Even on a platform suffering a from a drought of software, The Mercenaries 3D still feels like a bad deal. It’s simply too much money for too little original content.