Let’s get it out of the way up front. No, you can’t delete your save file from your Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D cartridge. For unclear reasons likely tied to losses incurred by aftermarket sales, Capcom decided to ship the game with one unalterable save slot. So this means that high scores and unlocked content can’t be reset.
Although corporately draconian, it’s also not really that big of a deal and it’s definitely not enough to warrant Amazon bombing or demagogic bloggers resisting it as some kind of “cause”. RE: The Mercenaries isn’t a narrative game, it’s the same high score attack mode that the last couple of numbered installments of the series have featured as bonus content. It’s a high score game parceled out in selectable levels. Better performance nets better grades which in turn unlock skills (all individually upgradable), new levels, and new characters. But believe me, you’re not really missing out on anything by being forbidden to play with Jack Krauser until you clear a certain stage in the game. And if you happen to pick up a used copy with some really good scores- that just makes the game more challenging.
OK, are we straight on that? The rest of the review follows.
Now, the more important aspect of RE: The Mercenaries is that it is a fun and sometimes addicting game, and it’s one of the better handheld shooters I’ve seen to date if only because the controls aren’t an arthritis-inducing trainwreck and the 3DS is able to churn out a very good-looking third-person action game including some very cool 3D effects. It’s a little strange seeing the European cultists from RE 4 and the African Majini from RE 5 hanging out together, but the assortment of weapons puts them all down nice and easy, just the same. There aren’t a whole lot of settings or levels and I think it’s quite disappointing that there isn’t more material from the best game in the franchise (that would be number four, of course), but I can not say that I didn’t have a good time with this title despite the fact that it hardly showcases the property’s best aspects.
In a way, a Resident Evil action game is kind of like an all-ballads Slayer record. It’s just not what it’s best at. RE has always been sluggish, plodding, and really geared more to atmosphere, adventure-puzzling, and inventory management than fleet-footed gun battles- regardless of what the developers of RE 5 believed. Despite being able to move and shoot this time out, the game still retains that lack of mobility which I think is actually essential to the survival horror genre. Even though it’s without narrative context, there are still plenty of visceral instances where Jill Valentine will be cornered, herbless and holding a dry shotgun and realizing that she’s going to have to knife her way out. Or she can awkwardly run, clutching her stomach.
Levels are timed. Some require you to kill everything that moves while others let you keep rolling through waves of enemies as long as you can keep extending the clock with combos, items, and melee attacks. Occasionally there’s a boss or one-hit killers like the dreaded bagheads, but usually you’re gunning down not-zombies ad infinitum. If it gets lonely, there’s local and online co-op. The online functionality is good- I’ve had a couple of really fun games with strangers and some of the higher levels are damnably difficult without another player along for the ride.
Unfortunately, where it all goes south doesn’t really have anything to do with the game. It’s in how it’s packaged. As an added bonus in a full, numbered Resident Evil installment, Mercenaries was a fun diversion, full of fan service and that cool RE vibe. As a $40 standalone retail title, there isn’t enough variety, content, or value here to justify its price regardless of how much fun I had with it. This is a game that I would absolutely recommend as a ten dollar download on PSN or XBLA or even as a five dollar one on the App Store. But for the same cost as Ocarina of Time, what you’re getting are a very small number of different level types with not really all that many enemy types and eight characters to play with. There aren’t any alternative game modes or objectives- shoot the place up, unlock stuff, and do it again but better next time to get the SS ranking and the high score.
Five years ago, this kind of game would have been more acceptable as a retail title on a portable game platform. But the market and value expectations have changed dramatically, and now it’s just not enough. Had Capcom made this a more comprehensive game that spans the entire RE canon with tons of characters, lots of enemy types and areas from every game, and provided more fan-oriented material than a three minute long demo of next year’s Resident Evil: Revelations, then this might have been a $40 title. As it stands, my recommendation is to ignore the “one playthrough only” scare and pick this one up second hand for half its sticker price or less.