First, thanks to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell HokutoNoShock for playing this game online with us to test out the online functionality (wow, it actually still works!). Sadly, the way screenshots work on our custom firmware mean that we couldn't take screenshots from these sessions, so you'll just have to imagine Chris and Rebecca being best buddies while taking out Zealots in the Village. Also, thanks to Sarcosuchas for their excellent videos on RE4 Mercenaries that explained a few things I wasn't quite sure about and Berserker's guide on GameFAQs for explaining the basics and some other elements such as changes made between this and previous games. As for screenshots, Luma has a very helpful screenshot function so that's how we've got these shots today- no emulation, no capture card, just good ol' fashioned internal screenshots from an original model 3DS hastily slapped into a fake 3DS border. Just as God intended. Oh, and there's no real mention of the 3D aspect of the game because, well, the writer of Gaming Hell is optically challenged. They wear glasses and by Christ they need 'em. So, they can't really see that kind of 3D without getting ill.
Today's Gaming Hell subject: the evolution of a single minigame from bonus extra to its own game.
We have to go all the way back to 1996 to explain the origins of Reisdent Evil: The Mercenaries 3D!
With the exception of the Playstation releases of the first game, the majority of the mainline Resident Evil game (and most of the spinoffs, although not all) have some kind of extra game mode separated from the 'main' story, often focusing on the combat mechanics with a grading system in place to rank your performance. The first instance of this is, surprisingly, the Sega Saturn port of the first game with its unlockable Battle Game where you are told "You must defeat all enemies and enter into the mysterious zone". Spooky! This involves clearing out a sequence of rooms taken from the made game but all jumbled up with limited resources and two exclusive enemies, a gold Tyrant and a zombified Albert Wesker. This idea would evolve in two different directions with The 4th Survivor and The Tofu Survivor being basic run-to-the-end affairs, while later versions of Resident Evil 2 add Extreme Battle Mode using a portion of the map from the main game but with added bombs to defuse and different playable characters with their own weapon loadouts (including special guest Chris Redfield!). The Mercenaries: Operation Mad Jackal in Resident Evil 3 is where the combat-focused minigame would really start to take shape though, with a time limit (ol' Chief Irons has planted a bomb inside your choice of three Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service soldiers, that rascal!) that can be extended by killing enemies in general and by killing many in quick succession as well as a score system in the form of money earned per kill. It's pretty interesting to see such a slow but steady evolution across games for these extra modes, huh?
Skipping ahead to the Gamecube era, the classic-style games would have a few minigames or alternate difficulties (One Dangerous Zombie in REmake and Leech Hunter in Zero in particular) but Resident Evil 4 would expand on the ideas from Battle Mode, Extreme Battle and Operation Mad Jackal to create The Mercenaries. Rather than reach an objective within a time limit, players pick one of five characters with their own abilities and weapon loadouts (only Leon at the start but with Ada, Wesker, Krauser and HUNK unlockable) and enter one of four stages (three based on areas from the campaign and one brand new one) with the flimsy explanation that they're waiting for their evac chopper to extract them (you even hear the chopper approaching when time's almost up) and so they need to take out as many hostiles as possible and survive until time runs out. Grab time extend items to get more time and string together combos of kills to make the score counter go up but as you take out enemies, much deadlier foes such as an enlarged Dr. Salvador and the dreaded Garrador will appear depending on the stage... But they're worth a nice bonus too. This arcade-style high-score-focused mode is a great fit for RE4's more action-oriented mechanics and definitely has a 'one-more-try' feel to it as you learn the layout of each arena and slowly get acclimated to advanced strategies like taking advantage of invincibility frames during certain actions and using the Bonus Time items to maximise your potential score for each combo. Resident Evil 5 would also have The Mercenaries but with a new roster of stages, characters and features such as a reward for routing every enemy on the stage, bonus time awarded for melee kills and best of all, co-op play and is the one I've personally spent the most time with, forever OK with playing it in co-op. The Mercenaries is even a high-spot of Resident Evil 6, a game I have guided multiple people through at this point not unlike Charon guiding souls down the river Styx. Ahem.
This all leads us to a standalone release of The Mercenaries in the most unlikely of places- as an early title for Nintendo's 3DS. According to an Iwata Asks interview about Resident Evil: Revelations with several Capcom staff members including Masachika Kawata and Koshi Nakanishi, development started as a happy accident- to get used to the 3DS hardware, the team "took Resident Evil 5 and ran it on 3DS hardware" (Nakanishi's exact words so interpret them as you will) and liked the results so much they decided to take it a little further, but instead of porting the single-player campaign they chose to adapt The Mercenaries to the small screen, adding and subtracting as they went alongside collaborator TOSE. Having a demo of the highly-anticipated Resident Evil: Revelations on the game card probably sweetened the deal for at least a few RE fans but could a bonus game in a console release really hold its own as a standalone retail release? Considering a lot of people have probably forgotten this game even exists (outside of a faint memory of the controversial decision to not allow save file deletion, more on that later) I think it's about time to lock and load and get ready to fight the war on horror! (Careful with that last clip, you could say the reporter really loses his head by the end of it!)
So, The Mercenaries 3D is a little patchwork doll of content from 4, 5 and 5's DLC versions of the eponymous minigame and mixes and matches 'em. Eight playable characters (Krauser and HUNK from 4, Chris, Jill and Wesker from 5, Rebecca and Barry from 5 DLC and newcomer Claire, all with brand-new unlockable alternate costumes), eight arenas (Village, Old Church and Deserted Island from 4 and Public Assembly, The Mines, Missile Area, Ship Deck and Prison from 5 with a few of these getting evening variants) and a whole rogue's gallery of enemies (Zealots, Garrador and Super Salvador from 4 and way too many from 5 to reasonably list but of note, Lickers and all the Wetlands Majini are not present and the boss enemy Popokarimu appears on certain stages) make the jump to the handheld. There's no real story here so if you're expecting to have Krauser's presence explained or learn why Garradors and Majini are working together, you can forget it. The only narrative, such as it is, is that you're being trained to be a mercenary by an unnamed and unseen trainer who guides you through the basics and offers words of encouragement when he's not telling you, "This is it- the big fish!" when a Popokarimu shows up (and, to be fair, his little radio transmissions give the game a bit of charm and personality outside of the Resident Evil cast being their normal rather goofy selves- just marvel at the gusto with which Barry does his headbutt). Conquer every mission with the highest score you can!
In terms of general controls and mechanics, if you've spent any time with 5 or to a lesser extent 4, you'll definitely feel at home here. One you've gotten past the tutorials (more on that later), each mission starts with two minutes on the clock and the simple objective of surviving until the end and racking up as many points as possible. Individual enemies give you points but the real money is in stringing together combos, as once you kill one enemy you have a small window to snag another to get a combo started, and once you drop the combo you get a score bonus that can be a pittance or a real nice bonus depending on how many you got. Dotted around each map are time bonuses offering anything from 30 to 120 extra seconds and combo bonuses that give you 30 seconds to continue your combo, adding 1000 points to your final combo bonus for every enemy you snag in a row while it's active. Those are the very basics but being a very arcade-style score attack game, there's extra mechanics and subtleties to things- enemies in later missions can grow deadlier Plagas mutations after you kill them but this can be prevented with certain instant-kill melee attacks like HUNK's The End, stunning enemies by aiming for the head or knees allows you to go for a melee attack that can either do a lot of damage or instantly kill which gives you an extra 5 seconds (not much but when the clock's ticking, you'll want every second you can get) and many actions such as healing or being stunned after an explosion offers you invincibility frames which are absolutely crucial to survival. Should your health bar empty, you'll be weakened but have a chance to restore your health while stumbling about by mashing the Action button (if you're playing with a partner, you can't do this and must rely on them to revive you, either by herb or just lightly tapping you on the back, don't try that at home) but take too much damage in this state and the game is over. Survive until the clock runs out or defeat all 150 enemies in a map to get a score and a rank, die and you'll have to try again.
It's a fairly basic structure for sure but it is surprisingly effective at being a score attack game and having that 'one more go' feel to it. With time bonuses taken into account most of the stages max out at about 5-10 minutes which is just the right length to be satisfying but not too long that you'll get too frustrated if you die or don't get the rank you want. The action itself works very well on a handheld despite some obvious downgrades we'll get to later and chasing after combos and aiming for melee kills to get those precious seconds added to the timer are just as satisfying here as they are on console. In particular, The Mercenaries gameplay has the parts of RE4 and 5 that I like- the focus on making shots count while surrounded and using melee attacks to clear space around you, prioritising when to stand still and fight and when you get some space between you and the enemy- while sidestepping some more intrusive elements like giving enemies guns (these are rare, with only rocket launchers and the gatling gun guys showing up) although not all (there are QTEs when grabbed but they almost all rely on the face buttons). You have to constantly balance between getting melee kills, keeping your combo going, routing the time bonuses and not getting killed, and these priorities can change depending on who shows up. There's enough enemy variety to keep you engaged and shift your focus too- a particular stand-out is 4-2 where every couple of enemy waves a Super Salvador comes out swinging from the depths of the mines, at which point you'd better stop whatever you're doing right now or end up on the business end of that chainsaw. There are a few enemy types I think would've like to see here though- I do not miss the Wetlands Majini but the Lickers, Reapers and Novistadores from 4 would've been interesting additions, and some players may get a little worn-out with some of the enemies who show up. Still, the variety of the maps and enemy arrangements present in the game do the job well enough to keep me playing, and even their health values can change- later missions have Zealots with way more health, requiring you to take them out with more than just a light tap and changing your approach a lot.
Admittedly, there's not as many missions as you think there are from looking at the menu, which is a slight issue- six tiers of missions are available but three are just tutorials for the very basics. It's only from Level 4 onwards that the real game begins, with 4 and 5 being analogous to the original Mercenaries and Level EX ramping the difficulty up with stronger enemies and more boss monsters showing up (leading to extreme odds against you like two Big Man Majini and Super Salvador or three Executioner Majini all eyeing you up at once). I personally don't mind the maps being reused as they often swap out enemy types to great effect, but some of the other attempts to mix things up are sporadic and spotty- 3-5 and 5-5 have a clear objective as defeating the boss Popokarimu will immediately end the stage, and 4-5 and EX-9 are 15-wave survival missions that maybe drag on a bit too long (not helped by the loading times between waves). On the one hand, I'm willing to be lenient in that this was an early game for the 3DS and space may have been a concern, plus the mixing and matching of enemies and maps works out pretty well for the most part, but at the same time I wish the tutorials were actually more useful- they cover the absolute basics of movement and combat but don't go into the level of detail that would be very helpful for people who haven't played The Mercenaries before (mostly thinking of those invincibility frames, they get no mention at all) and so they feel like a wasted opportunity. You will eventually pick up on this sort of thing as you play but having it explained to new players would've been helpful given the amount of training missions there are. In any case, I can understand a lack of stuff to do being a concern if you're looking purely at the numbers, but I feel there's enough here to get stuck in with routing the different level variants.
As for the act of actually playing it on a handheld, the controls for the most part do a good job of replicating the console experience but you don't have much in the way of camera control outside of aiming- you have to use the touchscreen to move your view around which is awkward to say the least but you won't be using it too much. The other use of the touchscreen is to switch weapons and explosives, and depending on the control scheme this might be your only option for doing so and is always the only way to pick explosives. This isn't strictly ideal if you've got big hands or are a little rough with your touchscreen (I have precious, dainty little hands so I'm covered at least) but it does get a little easier with practice, and I imagine they did it this way so you didn't accidentally select flash grenades when flicking through for your magnum. One very interesting addition is being able to move while aiming- famously, 4 and 5 root you in place when aiming your weapon but holding L while aiming with R in the default scheme switches you to movement... Albeit very, very slow movement (by default you run with the Circle Pad but walk, slowly, when moving and aiming). It's not a super-useful feature beyond moving past a very-telegraphed attack while maintaining combat readiness and generally the game feels like it was made with rooting you in the spot in mind- it makes you feel more conscious of you being in a tight spot, emphasising strong positioning and keeping an eye on things- but it's nice that it's there. There's also a couple of different control schemes to suit different styles of play (and even the option to aim in first-person!) although you can't customise them and some are pretty bizarre- one uses a bizarre faux-twinsticks approach where you have to aim with the face buttons which is not ideal- but this was before the Circle Pad Pro came out (RE Revelations would support it though).
Elsewhere though, beyond now using the touchscreen the inventory system has changed a lot. Gone are the nine squares from 5, replaced with a much simpler system where each character has up to three main weapons, two explosives that change depending on the mission and green herbs for healing with no reasonably-attainable limit to how much of anything you can carry. You're also not allowed to pick up ammo for a weapon you don't have which makes sharing munitions in Duo a lot simpler and you won't be swapping items or having Wesker demand you bring him an egg. On the one hand this removes some complexity that high-level players could take advantage of in 5 such as quick-reloading (combining weapons with ammo in the inventory while doing other actions would skip reload animations- something akin to this is an unlockable skill much later but only applies to your current weapon) but it also means you're worrying less about how much you can hold at one time and more about what supplies you have for each of your weapons, something far easier now given that your entire arsenal is always displayed on the bottom screen (although annoyingly it doesn't give the easily-visible 'empty' warning when you're out of ammo for your current weapon, you just gotta see those two zeroes to know that). It's a little simpler for sure and some veterans may baulk at this element of it (especially as you no longer crouch to pick up items- you can get the invincibility from picking up items as a skill at least) but it does compliment the fast-paced nature of the game quite well, serving as a compromise between 4's spacious but fiddly attaché case and 5's more compact menu.
So, is there any meaningful expansion on the concept beyond the control changes and mixing and matching of content? Well, the main thing is the slight character customisation available to you. While each character has stats inherent to them such as walking speed and attack power for melee strikes (and Wesker has very powerful but health-sapping special melees) you eventually earn the ability to swap their weapon loadouts around (and even use a ninth set with a Red9 handgun and two-way grenade launcher) and can further improve their stats with skills you unlock as you clear missions and unlock medals (the game's stand-in for achievements / trophies). These range from weapon-specific stat boosts to making your melee attacks stronger to more esoteric things like giving more oomph to when you land from a jump (this can stun enemies) and giving time bonuses for killing when the clock has a seven in there somewhere. These can be levelled up by points doled out every mission you clear and maxed-out skills give extra benefits which are sometimes complimentary- the Machine Gun Technique skill will eventually give you stronger melee attacks, perfect for Rebecca who can stun enemies with machine gun fire but struggles to finish the job with her tear gas melee attack. There's a slightly grindy aspect to this as it can take a while to get the skills maxed-out which is a shame, but while I was chasing high scores to unlock Nurse Rebecca (of course that was my highest priority, Rebecca is good) I gradually levelled-up the skills I was interested in that complimented my playstyle, and I imagine other players would have a similar experience if they play differently (or better) than me. Die-hards might find this a bit too much and tamper the purity of the experience, but I feel it added just enough of a customisation element without being completely overbearing that it works out. The one thing I would've added was different weapon loadouts for the alternate costumes as it is in the console games but nine sets is plenty to be getting on with.
It is, however, slightly hurt by some technical issues- Masachika Kawata admitted that of the two 3DS RE games, Mercenaries 3D probably pushed the system the most, and you can tell. Some of these are purely visual and don't affect the game too much- character models and environments are generally less detailed than on consoles and enemies in the distance will animate at a lower framerate. Some are more impactful changes but actually help the game a little in my eyes, specifically that the maps have been truncated with some areas cut off (as an example, 5's Public Assembly blocks off the building where this section starts in single-player and the path around the back accessed from the ditch at the North). This kinda works in its favour as it keeps the action a lot closer and less spread-out but it also tries to solve one of the other problems inherent to this version- less enemies will spawn at any one time. This works out OK on smaller, more open maps like Public Assembly and Village but is an issue in more complex maps like Ship Deck and Prison where enemies will sometimes get marooned and stuck in remote areas, reducing the already-smaller amount of enemies that can spawn in and sometimes ruining your combo as a result of something a little out of your control. There's also the view of the action itself which can feel a little cramped unfortunately, something of an inevitability given the lower real-estate offered by the 3DS screen- it's mostly in closed-in areas like deep in The Mines or the windy corridors of Prison, and while you do eventually adjust to it, it can be a bother when trying to see around you quickly and moving the camera doesn't necessarily help in tight corners. Finally, internet co-op mostly works but you have to account for a slight delay between players, mostly for melee attacks- if your partner's already done a melee kill it might not register on your side, preventing you from doing yours or even attacking in that range as melee inputs take priority over firing weapons, you'll press and get nothing. The netcode was never 100% in these games anyway so while an annoyance, I'm willing to let it slide this time.
In the end, I suppose my view on this game is a little skewed. See, I didn't pay full whack for a physical copy back when it was new, I bought it off the 3DS eShop for like nine quid not too long before Nintendo announced they were shuttering both the 3DS and Wii U eShops. Still, taking it for what it is- an adaptation of a minigame from a relatively contemporary console game from early in the 3DS' life- I think this does a great job as a score-attack game, offering something a little old and slightly new for people who've played the game before and mostly introducing new players to the game decently but with some bits I definitely would've explained better. The action works way better than you'd expect on a handheld, it has the main elements that make the console versions a lot of fun and while simplified in a few ways there's still plenty for players to get their teeth sunk into with this. I get the feeling experts who've completely routed out 4 and 5's Mercenaries modes won't have this version replacing the old ones any time soon- people are still playing those old versions, the changes to some characters and elements (especially Wesker not being nearly as broken as he is in 5) may irk them and those versions have the advantage of not being stuck on a portable platform reliant on Wi-Fi for co-op. That said, it still holds up pretty well compared to them, and I feel this particular interpretation has been a little forgotten, but when I finally got a 3DS in 2021 this was one of the first games I played for it and I had a great time, enough to unlock every costume and find myself repeating stages just to do that little bit better next time. That's what any score attack game strives for, right?
For being an arcadey take on survival horror, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is awarded...
In a sentence, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is...
A nicely-adapted mini game, given just enough spice.
And now, it's that time, folks!
I suppose now is the time to mention the whole save issue, and how you get around it.
When initially released at retail, The Mercenaries 3D came with an odd feature- you had one (1) save file and there was absolutely no way to delete it, meaning you couldn't reset your scores or progress at all. This was apparently discovered on NeoGAF after someone took a photo of the manual mentioning this and that's the specific picture that got spread around the internet including Tiny Cartridge. Most sources speculated that this was done in order to curb used game sales and rental service GameFly even listed the game as 'non-rentable' as a response. Capcom quickly went on the defensive, telling Eurogamer that, "The game's value at second-hand in the UK is not affected by whether or not the game can have its data reset. Customers in the UK will not experience a reduced second-hand value should they wish to trade in their purchase" which is certainly an angle. In an Ask Capcom livestream from July 1st 2011, literally the first thing then-Capcom USA Senior Vice-President Christian Svensson and Capcom-Unity staffer Shawn Baxter addressed, joking about how they knew it was coming. Svensson responded that, quote, "There was never quite the malicious intent that the conspiracy theorists would have you believe... In light of the controversy it's generated I don't think you're going to see something like this happen again" which, to my knowledge, has held true. Maybe we should've been louder about the always-online gumf from releases like Final Fight: Double Impact on PS3 and we could've had similar results, alas!
Anyway, there's at least two official solutions to this issue. One would come a couple years after the retail release of the game, March 2013 to be precise with the digital release of the game and the 3DS Save Data Transfer Tool. As explained on Nintendo's website, the Save Data Transfer Tool lets you move data from your game cards to the SD card of your 3DS with a catch: it deletes the save from the card and it can't be restored. While meant for moving your save over to play digital versions of retail games, this had the unintended side-effect of letting you circumvent The Mercenaries 3D's save system and wipe the card clean. Alternatively, the digital release of the game on the eShop made two changes- it removed the Resident Evil: Revelations demo and straight-up included a New Game option in case you want to start again. Of course, if you're reading this after September 2022 then you can't add funds to your 3DS anymore and if you're from the far-flung future of March 2023 you can't legally- my lawyers reminds me to say that clearly, legally- download the game or the Save Data Transfer Tool from the eShop anymore, so... Yarr'll just have to find a way, I know you can do it.
Can't believe Leon ducked out of this one. I think the success of 4 went to his perfectly-coiffed head.
Wonder when that chopper's gonna get here...