In this installment, I'm going to take a look at Taito's PC Engine port of its classic coin-op, Operation Wolf. It came to the US as a cartridge for the NES and on several home computer platforms, but this superior version never saw release on our shores.
Most of the text on the level-select screen is in Japanese, but it's not hard to make sense of the display -- there are four levels in varying environments, with details about the number of enemy soldiers, helicopters, and jeeps encountered in each level:
In-game, the iconography is equally straightforward -- there's an aiming cursor, a running inventory of bullets and grenades on hand, and the number of enemies left unvanquished:
We fight off soldiers and vehicles, generally by shooting them, and scrounge up spare ammo and health refills as they scroll by amidst the carnage, also by shooting them :
The game's a lot more difficult with a control pad than with the proper gun used in the arcade cabinet -- even setting the game's speed option to SLOW doesn't make the enemy onslaught much easier to deal with. It's hard to aim quickly and precisely -- I tended to overshoot the target, firing wildly at thin air or taking out the Red Cross nurses carrying an injured patient through the hail of bullets and considering major policy changes should they live through my one-man assault. Fortunately, Operation Wolf allows us to select any of the four levels for play, so there's some variety available even if we can't quite make it through all the way through any of them. The "game over" screen is taken straight from the coin-op, and is fairly lavish by HuCard standards:
The game also delivers some cruel, cruel statistics (in English) about our firing accuracy:
After that, we can quit or go back into action, selecting a level and starting the battle anew from scratch.
Operation Wolf is a solid, playable rendition of a popular arcade classic. And it's another one of those mysteriously Japan-only releases -- it wouldn't have taken any significant work for NEC and Taito to translate the remaining text, as the coin-op version had already come to the States. In this case, I imagine Nintendo's notorious North American exclusivity clause was to blame -- Operation Wolf was likely to earn more on the NES than on the TurboGrafx-16, so it was a straightforward business decision on Taito's part. Still, it's another quality title that would have made a nice showpiece for the ill-fated TurboGrafx-16, but went MIA instead.
In 2010, I really have to recommend the emulated version of the original coin-op available in Taito's arcade classics compilation for the Playstation 2 -- there's no good reason to play even a decent port when the original is readily available. The PC Engine conversion isn't perfect, but it's well worth playing -- if you're interested, you might be able to find it here.