Operation Wolf

OK cleared this scene !

Source // Vizzed

Not gonna lie, the more I read about Operation Wolf the more I wanted to play it. A light-gun game that doesn't use light-gun technology (or does it!)? Six stages linked by a coherent story? Voice acting (of sorts)? Have I fallen into some kind of time warp where arcade games suddenly exploded into action, portraying people and things that you might actually care about?

There's going to be a lot of talking about Operation Wolf, I can tell. The problem is that before we talk, we've got to actually play it to find out what to say.


I'm not in the right part of the world to be able to just walk into an arcade and play Operation Wolf, its plastic Uzi-modelled gun plonked in front of the screen ready to be fired. Wikipedia wants to say that this was a light-gun game, but the 1001 entry says that as the gun was stuck to the cabinet where it used the position of the weapon to work out where it was aiming at the screen. Whatever the method used - heck, maybe both - Operation Wolf is that kind of game, and that kind of game doesn't translate well to situations where you don't have a gun to flap about in front of your screen.

Undeterred, however, I read that of the many ports available, the Sega Master System port was the one to go for, and not for the typo seen above.

It's quite a hit to the visuals compared with the arcade original, but considering how they looked I think we can - and should - let any port have a bit of a free pass on that one.

While some home console ports had light-gun support too, I of course still aren't in the right part of the world to be able to walk into a room with a Sega Master System, a light gun and a copy of Operation Wolf to see what's what, so I'm left with emulation. Which didn't work. Or more accurately, did work, until you pulled the trigger, at which point it didn't - I assume it was expecting to get some extra input from a peripheral that wasn't hooked up; I have no idea.

So, I went back to the trusty NES to see what it could manage instead.

Fun Times

At last, I had found a working port to play. Even if it wasn't played on the hardware and even if it wasn't played with a light-gun, I was able to emulate Operation Wolf and the first thing I see is the option to switch the speed of the aiming reticle. It's like the developers just knew this would be an issue, isn't it?

I left it on medium (with two slow and two faster options my other alternatives) and set about on my mission to destroy the enemies communication center - this time with correctly spelt grenades - as well as everyone and everything that stood in my way.

Except the innocent civilians and medical personnel. Don't shoot them.

Operation Wolf isn't all about counters but you do have them for everything. You only have a certain amount of ammunition per stage, and will fail in your mission if you run out. There is a specific number of enemies that must be killed before the mission will be complete too, which include infantry, armoured vehicles, and helicopters.

So that this is a fun game, rather than a hectic stock take, you can replenish your ammo reserves by finding and then shooting icons representing more magazines, more grenades, more health and so on.

Your health isn't strictly speaking your health, because while getting shot at and blown up by grenades will impact it, so too will shooting civilians for example. As such, it is known as your Damage bar, and finishing stages will allow you to recover some of it, but otherwise, it's one bar for your entire run through the game.

With six stages, you may think it's a short game. You'd be right, but the stages flow together in a logical, story-driven way. The first stage sees you destroying the communication center, cutting the enemies you'll face off from any outside support. It has absolutely no impact on the game (in contrast to Metal Gear Solid 3, for example), but it makes sense in the story.

You then progress into the jungle to gather intelligence, through a village to regain your health, into an ammo dump to refill your ammo before a concentration camp with prisoners to rescue and finally an airport to escape from, all linked together with little one line remarks about what has just happened.

Final Word

As I wasn't terribly good at staying alive and the d-pad inputs not terribly accurate (not that you need to be precise, the hitboxes seem friendly enough), I took to YouTube to watch Operation Wolf in all its arcade glory, which I suggest you do too.

However, it didn't take too long for me to notice a bit of a pattern, especially when I wasn't looking at the game, but listening to it. Listening to it reveals that the budget and resources probably went to the visuals and technology needed to play the game, rather than the audio because it seems like there are only three sound effects of an enemy getting shot, and they're not used with the same frequency.

It's almost like a simple Flash game of old, where it just doesn't matter that there's only a few stock sound effects and some crudely animated stick men to shoot, because at the end of the day all you wanted to do was click the mouse button, watch a number go up and a body go down.

A great many games can be distilled to a single critical sentence. Operation Wolf is - no matter what version you're able to play - about shooting this, this and this, and trying not to shoot that and that. But I think that's doing it a bit of a disservice.

Operation Wolf isn't just a light-gun game, even though it is. It isn't just an action title to get the attention of the Rambo fans, but it's not like there's a deep and meaningful story going on.

I'm umming and ahhing a little, so here's the definitive verdict: You should play Operation Wolf. Have your five, ten, thirty minutes of fun, but that's about it. Remember it as an important step in gaming history after that.

Fun Facts

The gun in the arcade cabinet supposedly used a motor to simulate the recoil each shot would have. How's that for authenticity? Not that the rest of the came cared for it...

Operation Wolf, developed by Taito, first released in 1987.
Versions played: Sega Master System, 1991, via emulation.
NES, 1989, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1987 (World of Longplays)