Taito's weirder arcade hardware stuff in the '90s has a tendency to look odd in MAME, mostly to do with colours (see also: Chase Bombers).
I dunno, maybe it's just our tired old eyes, but we just wanted to say, a warning about the emulation perhaps not being 100% video-wise here for our screenshots.
If you've seen screenshots of this game before, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking "Taito ripping off Lethal Enforcers".
Well, I mean yes, you're absolutely right, but there's a little more to it than that, honest!
For a start, this isn't strictly a Taito joint anyway- most of the legwork was done by East Technology, a company mostly known for getting contracted to make the arcade pay-to-win experience Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, but they also had a working relationship with Taito, developing games like Silent Dragon, Slap Shot and Last Striker. Some corners of the internet also state they worked on the original Operation Wolf, but I've found no staff listing or anything to prove a connection. You wouldn't know it was them behind Wolf 3 until you beat the game, though. Besides, as a Taito-published game it has a bit of a lineage behind it, even if they weren't directly developing it, as they didn't exactly jump on the digitised bandwagon for Operation Wolf 3- they'd been on it already. Their first attempt was with digitised models in 1992's Dino Rex, a terrible yet fascinating one-on-one fighter starring, well, dinosaurs, then later in 1992 with the four-player wrestling game Ring Rage (ported to the Game Boy of all things), culminating in 1994's Under Fire. Under Fire is a fascinating game in its own right, with an early example of infrared or IR instead of optical sensors for its light gun technology and three-fire burst H&K MP5-inspired guns, but that'll be for another day. Operation Wolf 3, then, is an alternate take on a digitised light gun shooter as presented to us by Taito and developed by East Technology. Despite the impressive animation for its digitised actors, though, it's tempting to judge this one by its cover, especially as this style was on its way out. It's worthy of a little more investigation then, so let's get to it!
If you're expecting Operation Wolf 3 to be the continuing adventures of Roy Adams, Vietnam vet and occasional disembodied marble, then sorry, not here! He's been dumped and replaced by the Gun Metal Army's finest agents, Codename: Hornet (P1) and Codename: Queen Bee (P2), engaging in an infiltration mission on an island taken over by the terrorist group SKULL, who have threatened the entire world with a nuclear missile. They must defeat the terrorists, trash their various super-weapons, and destroy the nuke before SKULL get to play with it! As such, the tone of the game is markedly different, moving from the '80s action movie inspiration in Wolf and Thunderbolt to something a little more contemporary, closer to, say, Terminator 2 or, I dunno, Under Siege (must be all those pipes and metallic interiors makin' me think I'm on a ship). Sadly, that means neither Hornet nor Queen Bee get to re-enact the suiting-up sequence from Commando like Adams does. Truly a missed opportunity.
It's not just in its inspirations either, this is a very different game than the previous entries in the series. As well as its aesthetic elements disappearing, such as the artstyle, the cutscenes between missions and the focus on constantly-scrolling environments (there are some, but few and far between), many characteristic gameplay elements are gone. The main ones are that you no longer have to judge your shots by yourself as a target reticle is on-screen at all times rather than a temporary power-up as in Thunderbolt, your generous healthbar is replaced with five hleath blocks, and you no longer have to pick up ammo magazines. Instead, in addition to a limited-use super bomber, you have a a clip of machine-gun bullets that drains as you hold the trigger, and once it runs out you can fire one bullet very slowly. Releasing the trigger automatically refills your clip, similar to the power meter in Sega's Alien3: The Gun. Having the reticle on-screen is less a gameplay necessity as it is part of the tech the game uses- rather than an optical lens as in Wolf (but not Thunderbolt), the gun (mounted to the cabinet like previous Operation games, but with a new design with the Bomb trigger underneath) is just a joystick, which means the game no longer has to do the old cathode ray timing thing that was standard for most arcade light gun games at the time, something Taito was apparently trying to avoid judging from their IR work on Under Fire, assuming they had that much control over this project.
In fact, there's several elements to Operation Wolf 3 that make it feel like it was intended to be a slightly more approachable game than its contemporaries, even if it does mess a few of those elements up (I'd say the reticle is part of this, but plenty of other games at the time, including T2: The Arcade Game and Jurassic Park were doing that due to using similar joystick-in-a-gun setups). There are innocents wandering around the island, for instance, but not only are you just docked points instead of precious hit points should you accidentally shoot them, they're much easier to spot in the chaos of a gunfight, as they have giant flashing HELP signs above them that appear long in advance of the innocents themselves. Additionally, the super bombs are far more effective than the rockets in previous Operation games, as they basically turn your cursor into a moving death trail across the screen. Bosses also offer a small mercy to struggling players, as if you take too long to defeat them, they'll escape and end the scene for you (which may not sound like much but I just need to say 'that helicopter from Revolution-X and' perhaps you will understand this as a courtesy).
Finally, the enemies telegraph their attacks similar to Wolf and Thunderbolt by flashing just before they do... But, well, they don't really flash for long enough for the heads-up to be especially useful, in contrast to the previous games where you do get enough time to react. East Technology's heart was in the right place on that one, and while they didn't quite pull it off, it certainly seems fairer than the nonsense in games like Revolution-X where you just have to suck up the damage... Well, I'd say that applies up until the final proper stage, where the game descends into pandemonium for a solo player, with so many enemies on screen constantly that it's much harder to avoid damage on your own. The other 'helpful' element that's a little botched is the Lethal Enforcers-esque weapon system, where briefcases containing new weapons can be found. These really don't change things up at all like LE, with only one (the grenade launcher) affecting bullet size and damage- the other two just give you larger clips, and if you're not paying attention you can pick up the default weapon. The grenade launcher is the only one that's really worth picking up when you see it, so it's a shame they didn't got more all-out with it and add stuff like Lethal Enforcers II's ridiculous gatling gun, Alien3: The Gun's flamethrower or something.
So, the mechanics perhaps lose the individuality of the original Operation titles, but does add its own foibles and attempts- I say, attempts- to be slightly more approachable. What about the actual game those mechanics are in? What exciting, dangerous environments can you expect to find yourself in on this island, and what foes will you have to face? This is where the game definitely falters before its predecessors, or even its competition, as it's a very sludgey, samey game, in spite of the rather impressive animation given to each enemy. There's a factory where you shoot dudes in boiler suits! A highway where you shoot dudes in boiler suits! A wasteland where you shoot dudes in boiler suits! And finally, a factory where you shoot dudes in boiler suits! To be fair, some of them aren't in boiler suits, and there's at least one enemy that's mechanically different- a hot-shot in a leather jacket who takes multiple hits while casually strolling across the screen- but aside from a detour to a highway chase section in Scene 2 and the final missile chase sequence, it really doesn't do much to wow you. It even lacks the enemies who get right up in your face like previous Operation games! There are ways to have a limited enemy roster and still excite the player- Under Fire has a more interesting set of locales including a roller-coaster, Lethal Enforcers has night-vision sections and chases by car and train, even Revolution-X has spectacle on its side... Operation Wolf 3 has some nice if flawed concessions to players, but overall it doesn't feel exciting, just very grimey and somewhat dull.
With that all said, I don't think Operation Wolf 3 is completely terrible. If anything, the game has a quirky charm to it. There aren't many voice samples (at least compared to Under Fire) but the ones that are here are pretty goofy (such as the civilian cries of DON'T SHOOOOOT), and so are the death animations with some exaggerated flopping-over on display. The badly-translated text peppered throughout the game is an unintentionally humourous treat too, and there's something to be said about the soundtrack, which is surprisingly good, especially the title theme and the songs for Scene 1-1 and Scene 2-2. Not that you can really hear it over the constant gunfire, but at least they put effort into it. Charm can't save a game entirely, but it goes a little way. More crucially, the brevity of the thing is a nice change of pace- compared to similar games like Revolution-X, it's a much shorter game that gets to the point. If you want to blast some bad dudes in the face and get it over with quickly, Operation Wolf 3 offers that to you. Until Scene 4, anyway, when it gets too much and that boss goes on for way too long. Sadly, the lack of exciting weapons, interesting and memorable locations and bosses and general lack of oomph sadly means you're better served by any other example of the genre at the time, and it even lacks the characteristic elements of the original Operation games. Still, it's no Death Crimson at least! Small mercies an' that.
For not doing that much, Operation Wolf 3 is awarded...
In a sentence, Operation Wolf 3...
Needs to request evac to resupply and get more fire in its belly.
And now, it's that time, folks!
I figure it would be a huge oversight if we talked about Operation Wolf 3 without a text gallery.
There's not much text in the game, but what is there was, uh, not translated very well. Here's the attract intro:
Here's the stage intros:
Some text used before each boss appears and when they escape:
And finally, the warning before the final level.
Like its predecessors, Operation Wolf 3 has two possible endings... But this is a bit of an odd one.
While nothing as mean-spirited as Operation Thunderbolt's bad ending ("THE PILOT IS DEAD! ESCAPE IS IMPOSSIBLE"), there are good and bad endings here, which hinge on your actions in the final scene, which is a chase to take down SKULL's nuclear missile before it can do any harm (strangely, you actually get to see this final scene in the game's attract mode! Dude, spoilers!). If you deplete the missile's healthbar before the time limit expires, you destroy it mid-flight, and the credits will roll. This ending also gives you a very brief glimpse of our two protagonists, Codename: Hornet and Codename: Queen Bee, one of only four pieces of art each that exists for them (the others are in the attract mode, and two different pieces of art for the game's cabinet).
If you fail, however, you get what is, quite frankly, an amazing ending that shows the Earth itself blowing up, with the skull from the intro appearing alongside the text END BAD (which, I swear to God, I read initially as BAD END because even after the rest of this game's text, I refused to believe someone ballsed it up that much). It's just as unintentionally funny as NAM-1975's bad ending, just not as infuriating. Here's what makes it odd, though- you may have to work much harder to get the bad ending than the good one! You can't just let the clock run down, you see- you're attacked by sentries that fire at you throughout the fight, and if you have to continue at any point, the timer is reset. It is perfectly possible to defeat the boss in one go without continuing, with at least 25 seconds left on the clock, so if you want to see the bad ending for yourself, the easiest way is to concentrate on blocking the shots from the drones rather than the missile! What I'm saying is, you're very unlikely to get it by accident (unlike, say, Operation Thunderbolt's bad ending). Just figured I'd note it, at any rate.
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Seriously, though, that bad ending of Operation Thunderbolt. Go watch it.