Brisk and violent, played better with a friend and fuelled by a gamer's zeal to achieve a higher score, Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D is as fun as it is barely a Resident Evil game.
The new 3DS title, shown to reporters last week at a showcase by publisher Capcom in Miami, is a barely scary shooter. It's borne from the Mercenaries mode in 2005's Resident Evil 4 and has been playable for reporters at 3DS events in recent months. At those events it seemed solid but slight.
The Mercenaries mode, after all, was just that: a mere mode, a bonus for the completion of RE4 that let a player run through a confined shantytown or castle filled with infected zombies. The challenge was to kill as many of them as possible, racking points for kills, while capturing clock-extending time bonuses, facing down bigger boss zombies and stringing kills together for score points.
In Miami, Capcom finally revealed what makes Mercenaries 3D feel like a full game. It does more than recreate levels from the Mercenaries modes of Resident Evil 4 and 5. It does more than give players a chance to control a roster of Resident Evil series heroes and villains (the revealed list so far is: Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Hunk, Wesker, Krauser and Jill Valentine).
The game lets two players fight together in co-op, via local wireless or over Wi-Fi. It lets players assign three skills to their character and level those skills up through three tiers of potency by repeatedly using them. Those skills include added weapon strength, a boost in melee power when you're almost dead, faster gun-reloading, and the ability to shock enemies with electricity when you punch them. The game allows co-op players to set up tandem attacks, special prompted killing maneuvers that might start with a knife strike from one player, then a drop kick from the other. There might even be a third move chained into the tandem - roundhouse kick, knife strike, dropkick - if the situation presents itself.
This is also a game that lets you shoot while running, a Resident Evil rarity. It lets you aim your shots either with a tighter third-person over-the-shoulder view of your character or with a down-the-sights first-person view that best shows off the optional 3D graphics available on the 3DS.
I played several rounds of Mercenaries 3D in Miami, most of them co-op. The local wireless held up well, with no lag to complain of. The game's characters and environments looked as good as they did on the GameCube, though they're obviously scaled down and include far simpler enemy animations and reactions to gunshots than what the home console versions had.
I played with the 3D graphics activated and had no discomfort over the course of five-minute matches. I enjoyed going into first-person and seeing the game world receding beyond the screen. I tried a few different characters and combos, all of which were pre-set in the demo. The full game will give players more liberty to mix and match skills, improving those skills the more they play. I was better with the gun-wielding characters like Chris (pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle) and worse with the unconventionally-armed Krasuer (bow-and-arrow, knife, RPG launcher). In my brief time playing co-op, I didn't have a chance to develop much more strategy than to beg my co-op pal to swing by and get me out of a jam.
The two-player mode of Mercenaries 3D is fun, bearing almost none of the horror that one associates with Resident Evil games (to be fair, the Mercenaries modes usually didn't), but exhibiting much of the frantic fun of a good short-session shooter.
I play my portable games primarily on a subway where I am disconnected from Wi-Fi and seldom sharing the car with other 3DS owners. As promising as the game is as a co-op diversion, I imagined playing Mercenaries 3D as I play the puzzle game Drop 7 on my iPhone. It's a score rush for a quick commute, a quick bit of blasting through in the hopes of achieving a higher number. It's an arcade game, essentially, one with more heft than expected.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D will be released this (northern) summer for the Nintendo 3DS.