To be perfectly honest, I wasn't overly excited to pop Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D into my Nintendo 3DS. I'd played a demo of it at the 3DS press event way back when, and while impressed with the graphics, wasn't too into the action-oriented gameplay. But while I'm still looking forward to the eventual release of the more traditional story-based Resident Evil: Revelations, (a demo of which is included with this game) I have to grudgingly admit that I was actually really impressed with Mercenaries on its own merits.
Go figure, right?
The game is broken down into 30 stages. There are five levels with a sixth one to unlock, and within each of those are separate stages you can play, each with its own goals. Sometimes it's to kill a certain number of enemies or a boss, and others have to trying to survive wave after wave of creatures as long as you possibly can. The first three levels comprise basic training, with the following three letting you show off what you've learned. The stages are timed, and you can rack up combos by killing quickly in succession which will boost your score. There are ways to extend your time limit and get your score up even higher, but even then the stages themselves don't last all that long. They're quick hits, really. You run around the area, blast the crap out of whatever enemies from RE 4 and 5 come at you, and pick up the health/weapons/ammo their disappearing corpses leave behind. Lather, rinse and repeat!
You start with Chris and Jill, unlocking other characters as you play through the stages, ultimately ending up with eight of them. And there's also alternative costumes for them you can unlock, too. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, you can also try to collect all 50 Medals. Those are like Achievements for performing specific tasks like completing 100 headshots or playing a duo mode for the first time. Some of them are very tricky, and there's even a few that are secret (well, at least until you cheat by looking them up on the interwebs!). It may not seem like there's much in the way of stages or unlockables, but the thing about Mercenaries is that it's like old-school gaming where it's more about getting the high score. So that helps a lot with replayability because you always think, "I can do better!"
As soon as you start playing, you'll notice that the graphics are extremely impressive. Perhaps it's because the stages are smaller and confined, but the character models are really detailed and animate well. The 3D effect is nice, but ultimately it doesn't really add much to gameplay. It doesn't help you aim or anything, it just looks really awesome. If anything, it just makes the graphics look that much more realistic because there's depth to it. Each character has their own set of weapons, and they also have different skills that you can upgrade as you earn points that can improve their healing ability or accuracy with certain weapons. The voicework is fine, and sound effects are good, especially the juicy headshots. Music is there, but honestly, in the heat of battle, you're never even going to notice it.
That's what surprised me the most about RE: Mercenaries. Once I got past my disappointment that there was no story, I found myself really enjoying the all-out action of the game. There were a few times I found myself getting too into it and I had to make myself put my 3DS in my bag so I could calm down a bit. The enemies just keep coming and coming, and it gets really intense. I do have to say that the traditional tank-like controls are still here, so that's not great. But it mostly works okay. I still have problems moving and aiming at the same time, but that's really my own fault, probably. The touch screen is terrific, allowing you to switch between weapons with just a tap. You can also look around by moving your thumb around on the map, which turns your view in that direction, but I actually didn't find myself using that feature very often.
There is also a multiplayer component where you can attack any stage in the game in Duo Mode. Either online or locally, you and a friend can each pick a character and blast your way through the stage together. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone near me who owns the game, so I was unable to play locally, which I think is the better way to go. Because online play, while it worked (once I got past some random connection errors), runs into the same problem that all DS and 3DS games do when you play them online. Without voice chat, it's less fun because you can't talk to each other as you're playing. So while online play does work, and well (once you're connected), it's just missing that certain something when you don't make a full-on connection with your teammate like that. Oh, and online, you can play either with a specific friend from your friend list or else a random person you can find hosting a game. By the same token, you can also go online and host a game yourself and see who shows up.
I know there's been a lot of controversy about Capcom's decision to make it impossible to delete the save game file. (In fact, your only saving option is to turn autosave on or off) Yes, it will affect the game if you buy it used and have everything already unlocked and maybe some high scores you'll have trouble beating, but as far as the gameplay itself, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is still a really solid action game that's a helluva lot of fun to play. And that's coming from someone who didn't even want to play it in the first place!
The writer played a copy of Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D provided by Capcom for the purposes of this review. All but one of the characters was unlocked, and all but the bonus level completed, which took nearly seven hours according to the 3DS Activity Log. A handful of random online matches were also played.