Resident Evil's Mercenaries mini-game has slowly evolved over the past 11 years, its form mutating like one of William Birkin's pet projects. While you could argue that the mode began with the Hunk and Tofu games that unlocked in Resi 2, the first true Mercenaries mode, Operation: Mad Jackal, was included as a post-story bonus to Resi 3. You chose one of three characters, then attempted a timed run through the monster-infested streets of Raccoon City, pausing only to grab the occasional survivor, or to freak out at the fact you only had four bullets left. Resi 4's Merc game expanded the premise, restructuring the gameplay to focus on addictive, score-attack hijinks; Resi 5's effort stuck to the same formula and threw in co-op, but somehow still fell short of the classic feel of the previous version - a contrast that largely rings true for Evils 4 and 5 in general.
Considering that the Merc outings have always been an added bonus - the high calibre crumble that follows the Zombified Sunday Roast, if you will - some people are now questioning the viability of this standalone 3DS release. We already know that the (supposedly) full-fat Resident Evil: Revelations is on the way, so couldn't Capcom just stick a Merc mode on the end of that? Is the mini-game really strong enough to stand on its own two feet?
We won't be able to answer the first question until we learn a bit more about Revelations, but the latter is a little easier to handle. If you played and enjoyed the modes that were included in Resi 4 and 5, you're going to love them here - because this 3DS version appears to essentially be a Greatest Hits compilation of the score-attack material from those two games. Capcom says that there will be some form of mission-based mode, wherein the player has to approach a stage in a specific way, but the main draw here is the chance to revisit your old hunting grounds, in 3D, with a hefty selection of characters and loadouts.
If that still sounds appealing, then it's time to rejoice - because it seems as if the core action has successfully made the jump to 3DS, and with no shortage of style to boot. The graphics aren't quite as pristine as those in the home console counterparts, but this is still easily one of the best-looking titles I've seen on Ninty's new toy. All the same, it's the way the thing plays that gets my heart pumping. Two stages were available at the Amsterdam 3DS showcase, El Pueblo and Public Assembly; I initially opted to sample the former, and as soon as I caught sight of the now-iconic Spanish hamlet, I felt a massive rush of excitement. Nothing will ever compare to my first experience of that village - how could it? - and yet there was something immediately thrilling about the fact I was going there on a handheld.
Needless to say, you won't have much time for standing around and admiring the scenery - not when there are dozens of Ganados descending on your position. The basic gameplay demands remain as simple and as compelling as ever: stay on the move, ferret out the time-extend pickups, and keep your combo meter ticking over with a constant flow of kills. As with the 3DS port of Ocarina of Time, the touchscreen is used for handling your inventory, and here it proves even more invaluable - allowing for swift access to your arsenal and healing items.
I'm not going to pretend that I had enough time to really explore the tactics that define upper-level play, but my hands-on with Hunk certainly felt like a return to the good ol' days. It's easy to forget how differently the characters play, thanks to their subtly-nuanced loadouts. Hunk more or less sticks to his submachine gun, relying on regular ammo drops to keep up his momentum, while Chris switches between sniping and close-up brutality, depending on the situation. It's nice to play as Krauser again, complete with his fun-but-wildly-impractical archery kit - though I was unable to find his mutant arm smash (it must be here, surely?).
Capcom hasn't confirmed the full line-up of characters, but we know it's going to be fairly hefty; I'm sure most Resi veterans can (bio)hazard a guess at who may show up. The foes in the two demo stages appeared to be the ones we've come to expect from their respective environments, although I was quite surprised when a variant of the axe-wielding executioner from Resi 5 showed up in the Pueblo; I'd imagine that he'll be switched out for Dr Salvador and his chainsaw for the final build, as there'll be an outcry if the Doc is M.I.A.
If you've been following our recent coverage of the 3DS, you'll know that I have minor concerns about the odd way I've felt playing the console, even for relatively short periods of time. Thankfully, Mercs 3D seems to be sparing me this blight, despite its hectic nature. The stereographic effects work well, giving you a clear understanding of your surroundings and the encroaching hostiles; their impact on your overall experience may be subtle - you'll probably be too busy to really pay that much attention - but they certainly do add something.
And naturally, we mustn't forget about all the 3DS's connectivity options. Capcom hasn't gone into too much detail about how co-op will work, but the developer seems pretty dedicated to making the most of the tools at hand; we already know there'll be a glut of multiplayer options for SSFIV3D, so it seems reasonable to expect a similarly thorough approach here. For the time being, however, I'm just delighted that Mercs plays as well as it does. If all goes to plan, this could be a major highlight of the early 3DS line-up.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D will be released later this year, exclusively on 3DS.