If garlic works against vampires, and silver bullets take out werewolves, what weaknesses do zombies have? In Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, the answer's yours to find out, as you find yourself in the impossibly precarious position of being trapped in the middle of a level, with only three weapons, a stockpile of bullets, and, in the case of poster-boy Chris Redfield, your arms the size of redwoods to defend yourself from the oncoming zombie hordes.
Based on the popular Resident Evil franchise, Mercenaries 3D is a little bit different to the series norm. Instead of creeping around mansions where science experiments have gone horribly wrong, solving puzzles and attempting to follow an elaborate, if somewhat convoluted storyline, Mercenaries 3D is, instead, a much more action oriented experience. A beefed up version of what used to be an unlockable minigame in earlier, proper Resident Evil games, Mercenaries 3D is a game of arcade action and point scoring, as you find yourself trapped, alone in a small level, as you try to re-dead as many un-dead as possible within the strict time limit, accruing points as you go. Oh, and trying to stay alive. That's pretty important too.
The action here's split up over thirty missions, with the first six being tutorials designed to ease you into the game and its concepts. It does a fair job, but for absolute novices, it's not quite explained as well as it should be, with hard to follow beacons, and random things hidden throughout the level without any obvious signposting to put you back on track should you get lost. Failing a tutorial mission is never fun, but it's certainly possible here.
For a game that centres around simply trying to stay alive for as long as you can against a parade of zombies, there's actually a fair amount of variety here. While the majority of stages place you in a level that slowly fills up with ever increasing amounts of zombies, there's the odd special stage in here too, that helps miox things up. Some levels see you defending yourself against zombies that come in waves, meaning you'll have to hunt down every undead creature in a level before the timer ticks down, which gives you a time bonus, and triggers the next wave. Boss stages, which rather than pitting you against dozens of small zombies, instead let you face off with one big zombie-type-creature, attempt to add a bit more variety, but are so difficult they end up merely being an exercise in frustration. The bat that you meet mid game is a particular bone of contention. In order to bring him to his knees, quite literally, you're asked to blow something up next to him, which seems to send him to sleep, as he lies on the ground for a few seconds, giving you a tiny window in which to creep up behind him, and blast his delicate, glowing weak spot on his tail. It's frustrating, then, that grenades seem to have almost no effect on the bat, and there are so few barrels in the level that, pretty quickly you'll find yourself having blown them all up. What it means is, if you end up having to waste time reloading, or can't quite maneuvre yourself into position in time, you'll end up with a boss you can't actually beat, because you run out of things to kill him with. Add to the fact you've got a time limit ticking down, and things get more frustrating.
The controls work reasonably well on the handheld, although there are a few bits that seem slightly more tricky than you'd hope. Movement is handled on the Circle Pad, but in order to shoot, you'll have to hold the right button, which zooms in, and then aim using the Circle Pad, before firing with Y. We had a few problems managing to keep the 3DS's shoulder button held down when we were aiming, leading to a few awkward moments where the camera zoomed out and then straight back in again, but problems were mostly few and far between.
The whole idea here is to not only survive for as long as you can, but to expand the amount of time you've got left, too. You'll start with three minutes, but there are plenty of ways you can beef up the timer. Hidden throughout each of the eight levels are strange, glowing orange poles, which can be smashed to add between 30 and 60 seconds onto your timer. If you fancy yourself as a trick shot, stunning a zombie by shooting it in the leg or shoulder, before running in close and hammering Y to perform a physical attack will net you an extra five seconds, which can prove invaluable when you're running out of time, and gives you a chance to kill more zombies, and earn more points. If you can keep killing enemies in quick succession, you'll manage to build up a combo, which'll reward you with a huge point bonus at the end.
The longer you stay alive, the more points you can accrue, and the higher rank you'll get at the end of the level. And although ranks range from a D to and SS (no, not that one), you'll need at least a B if you want to be able to move to the next level. Along with normal points, completing a level will also net you a load of points towards improving your abilities. There's a range of thirty abilities on offer, which you first need to unlock, and can then level up, granting you all sorts of skills, from improving your handling of a pistol, to giving you a greater chance of suriving a one hit kill. Complimenting the abilities are a set of 50 achievements waiting to be unlocked, which challenge you to play the game in a certain way, whether you're attempting to string together a combo from the start of the level to the finish, or getting an SS rank on every level. Achieving the required rank can sometimes take a fair amount of attempts, which does go some way to adding a bit of replay value to what's otherwise a pretty short game, but you shouldn't have too much trouble getting the required points - at least to begin with.
The problem is, Resident Evil not only gets very hard, but it also gets incredibly annoying around halfway through. What was initially a fun, point-scoring game with a decent amount of replay value becomes a game you'll find yourself turning off in frustration because of a few phenomenally silly mistakes. The first, and largest problem with the game is the special characters that litter the levels. These bigger zombies are intended to add a bit of panic to the mix, as they're larger, faster, and a lot more deadly then their counterparts. Regular gunfire won't slow them down, as they relentlessly march towards you, swinging their giant crushing mallet, or fists, depending on the type of special zombie you're facing. Luckily for you, the two aformentioned zombies both seem to require regular rest periods - either to pick up their mallet, or catch their breath, which gives you chance to run away, or take them out. But then you find the chainsaw zombie. Ah, chainy. The silent killer. You see, while pitting you against stronger zombies isn't a problem, and making them tougher isn't a problem, letting them kill you in a single hit is. And when they move faster than you can backpedal; when your gunfire doesn't stop them; when they constantly, unrelentingly slice the air in the hope of hitting anything that comes near; and, worst of all for a handheld game, when there's no visual warning that one's standing behind you, meaning you have to play with the sound on if you want even the slightest warning of your impending doom, things can get a little bit frustrating. When we say a little, we're being kind. Things are further compounded by the fact that when you die, your score for that level doesn't count. So if you find yourself being cornered by a chainsaw zombie at the end of your run through the level, you're, basically, screwed, as your score only counts when you survive to the end of the level. Sigh.
Sadly, the daft decisions don't stop there. As a game based around getting high scores, there are a few things we expect - one of them being leaderboards that will let you compete with your friends and family. Strangely, Mercenaries is lacking. Without the ability to compare scores with your friends, either online, or on the same cartridge, a lot of the replay value that Mercenaries would have otherwise had disappears. Of course, the ommission of leaderboards is almost entirely down to the inexplicably daft decision to not include multiple save games. That's right - a high score game that only support one save. To make matters worse, as we recently reported, if you fancy deleting your save, and starting over in Mercenaries 3D, you can't. The save game is a single use, single slot save - meaning it's for you, and you only.
And while the game has full co-op support for each and every level - you guessed it - you'll need two cartridges for that, too. While the 3DS supports single-card download play, letting two people play a game together by downloading a temporary, limited copy of the game to the second player's 3DS, Mercenaries 3D requires both players to have gone out and bought the game. It's an incredibly sad decision, as it would have made the game a lot more fun. The last Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 5 thrived in co-op - it turned what would otherwise have been a pretty dull game into a great experience you could share with your friends. Sadly, with its co-op mode castrated as it is, Mercenaries 3D comes under the latter. And while leaving out single-cart support in favour of requiring each player to have a copy of the game seems to be the defacto standard on the 3DS, we are getting a bit fed up of this. Two people shouldn't both have to buy a copy of the game to play together. You don't have to do it on the iPhone, and a 3DS game costs a heck of a lot more. Sort it out, developers.
While Mercenaries 3D may start out as an enjoyable score-attack romp, sadly, it's a game that turns sour quicker than a zombie infested with a necrotising virus. With no same-cartridge multiplayer, a single save slot, no leaderboards, and incredibly infuriating one hit kill enemies, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D isn't a game killed by it's concept, so much as its poor execution. A bit of logic and common sense would have gone a long way here.