One of the coolest aspects of old videogames was without question going to your local Arcade hall. For those of us born in the 1970’s but who spent their childhoods in the 1980’s it was quite simply a glorious time. Those dimly lit rooms, the huge wall of sound reverberating off the games cabinets and even through the hideously coloured carpets they always had were very much my generations churches. The main reason for this was that during the 70’s, 80’s and early 1990’s everything inside those electric halls of sexiness were so completely unlike the games we all got in the home. An arcade machine was infinitely more powerful than anything the Micro computers of the early 80’s could do and even when the 8-Bit home consoles rocked up what we played at the Arcade and what we got for the home were in reality world’s apart.
There was one genre however was made much closer and in my opinion more special than most other types of games born in those neon lit rooms and that was the scrolling shooter. For a time these games were absolutely the biggest draw and gobbler of shiny silver coins because of the interactive nature of the guns or pistols connected to the cabinet itself. Sticks and buttons were out and Uzi’s and triggers were in! Because the experience was less about the graphics and more about the input and interactive nature of the gun peripheral when these games got home conversions on machines with their own lump of plastic gun things just seemed way cooler.
Gameplay is as mentioned before an on-rails scrolling shooter meaning the screen continuously scrolls left to right or vice versa with you simply concentrating on the enemy soldiers, tanks, helicopters, boats etc. These soldiers will either smoothly scroll in at various distances on the screen and sometimes even pop up right in front of you. Helicopters are for the most part the thing that will get you killed as they require much more attention and always come along right before a couple of soldiers jump up in front and proceed to play a game of Stabby Stabby with you.
It’s all very smooth and the Master System maintains a mostly flicker free experience however there are some instances of this, mainly when grenades are used or helicopters explode. Several enemies will appear on screen at once however not as many as the original which is a real shame because it’s here where Operation Wolf falls down for me on Master System, it’s just so damn easy. The computer version on the Spectrum is way harder and has a much worse architecture so this makes no sense at all. With only 6 levels the whole game is over in less than 20 minutes and using the light phaser means it’s even easier than playing with a pad or mouse etc. Graphically however it does look lovely with some great use of colour and on this I can’t fault it, sure it’s not anywhere near as great as the arcade but it’s well detailed and certainly looks the part.
The classic theme tune is there of course in all it’s 8-Bit glory and is very recognizable however none of the speech or intro talking is present so although the cut scenes do remain from the original a lot of the impact is lost. Sound effects are mostly fine and in all honesty sonically it’s perfectly acceptable but for a game this famous it’s certainly a missed opportunity I feel. Presentation is solid with some great artwork showing how well you are doing in the story and in static screenshots they look just as impressive as they once did when this game was first released. There’s very few options or extra things to do once you have completed it and certainly no special Sega only content for this Master System version so it’s longevity is seriously compromised here as well.
Taito were for quite some time one of the Kings of the arcade scene with wave after wave of top quality gaming experiences and one of their biggest hits was a scrolling shooter by the name of ‘Operation Wolf’ which in the arcades had a really cool Uzi gun as the control input. When it came to the home conversions two consoles and one computer of the time were in luck as they had their own optional light guns/phasers so for fans of the original it was time to get your action hero head on from the comfort of your own sofa. Everyone else though had to make do with keyboard and joystick input so if you had a ZX Spectrum you were in luck but if your parents never really loved you (joking!) and you were rocking an Amstrad CPC you life officially sucked!
Sega who had arguably the best gun peripheral of not just the era but of all time (seriously it’s fantastic) were killing it in Europe with the Master System so in 1990 they brought the arcade classic to the fans who could then shove it in the face of pretty much everyone else out there as to why the Master System really was a great videogame console.
The story remains the same as it’s big brother from the Arcade with you assuming the role of Special Forces operative ‘Roy Adams’ who is very much the one man army kinda guy. Not too great at dinner parties or one you should ask to baby sit but if you need a country invaded he’s the first name on speed dial. Over a total of 6 stages it’s your job to rescue 5 hostages, kill absolutely everything in sight, avoid shooting nurses and other innocents then come on home for a heroes welcome and probably another death fuelled mission. It’s a hard knock life eh? Each stage begins with an indicator of exactly how many bullets you have as well as other optional and additional armaments and it’s here where Operation Wolf is a bit awesome because it requires you to think about how to deal out death and apply a little bit of strategy. Extra ammo does come in from destroying certain things in each area plus a few things lying around on the floor so there’s always plenty of stuff to keep you going, however if you only ever hold down the trigger you probably won’t last more than 2 minutes!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that some games age supremely well, even from the vintage or classic era, Super Mario Bros will always be as impressive as the first day it came out for example, however Operation Wolf on the Sega Master System is not one such videogame. It looks very pretty but at the same time feels quite empty, think Supermodel and you won’t go far wrong. It’s clearly a rushed version and the lack of enemies on screen and without a hard difficulty level or at least double the arcades stages means that as soon as you get into it, it’s basically over.
Some versions such as the monochrome ZX Spectrum version just felt better then, played better and were much more of a challenge and the many years since they both came out has shone a light on just how old and tired the Sega version is.
For the power of the console, the pedigree of the game and the fact you get to use the Sega Light Phaser this is a criminal missed opportunity to deliver yet another defining arcade game at home experience. Whilst it’s sort of fun to play it has absolutely no life in it. It’s a barking dog that when you look over the garden gate shows itself to be a tiny little rat like creature. A massive shame then and even more so now. Time is sometimes not very kind at all.
Verdict:- Considering the Master System was THE console to own for quality arcade conversions and seeing how massively iconic and popular this game was the version Sega fans got was at best average and at worst quite poor.
It’s a by the numbers conversion that removes the biggest feature of games like this, difficulty! I’m pretty sure you can complete this with your eyes closed but I no longer have the energy to bother. The word ‘shame’ just keeps coming up doesn’t it?
Second Opinion:- Taito were in their day a bit special really and this is one of their most important games, it’s also one of the first shooters to ever actually have a story (I know right?) Personally I liked it loads back in 1991 however I know how much power that little 8-Bit box of wonder had under the hood and this does almost nothing with it.
It’s a lot of fun for a small amount of time though and I’m not as harsh as that Decepticon is (he gives all of us bots a bad name sometimes) so for what it is, was and remains I’m gonna go with slightly above the average. It should have been way better though. Still a better love story than Twilight though!
Transbot Scores:- 5.5 out of 10