The Operation Wolf series began as a Light Gun Arcade Game by Taito in 1987 with Operation Wolf. In it the player is a Special Forces soldier that arrives in a Banana Republic country to rescue hostages.
The first sequel, titled Operation Thunderbolt, featured the same protagonist and another Special Forces squad mate as they infiltrate the north African country of Karubia to rescue more hostages from a different group of soldiers. This game was released in 1988.
The next game, Operation Wolf 3, was released six years later exclusively to arcades in 1994 and featured a big shift in tone. This time, two special agents are charged with taking down a nuclear threat from the terrorist organization known as SKULL.
The last game of the series to date is the arcade exclusive title Operation Tiger which was released in 1998. Tiger has the player take out yet another terrorist organization that wants to use chemical weapons unless their demands are met. The player must assault their heavily fortified base and rescue the soldiers from the first team that attempted the Operation.
Wolf and Thunderbolt are unusual in the light gun genre in that the players were forced to work with a limited amount of bullets and rockets. While ammo refills could be obtained by shooting obstacles or completing certain stages the games required players to be precise and accurate with their shooting. Running out of ammunition would not be an automatic death sentence but failure was almost guaranteed in that situation.
Wolf 3 took place in a more industrial setting and got rid of the ammunition gimmick. Instead, the players had unlimited bullets but would be required to periodically stop firing to retain their maximum firing speed. This is also the only game in the series to use digitized actors and backgrounds.
Tiger brought the series full circle with the player returning to a more tropical setting to rescue hostages and take down a lot of soldiers single-handedly. This game brought the series to 3D enemies and environments.
Operation Wolf contains examples of:
- After-Action Patch-Up: The player will recover a large portion of lost health (about 2/3 of the full meter) after the Village stage in Wolf. In game, it's symbolized by a picture of a villager woman bandaging the main character's arm.
- Ambidextrous Sprite: The enemies are able to switch which arm they carry their weapons in instantly if they change directions.
- Anti-Frustration Features: If the player can survive long enough after running out of ammunition they will procure one bullet in an attempt to get more from a pickup.
- Banana Republic: Operation Wolf is set in an unspecified location in the South American jungles.
- Big "NO!": Whenever a hostage or civilian is shot, they yell "NO!"
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: All of the games suffer from this to some degree. One amusing example is in the opening mission briefing for Operation Thunderbolt. The briefing refers to Karubia (real life Syria) but the map is labeled "Kalubya". Bonus points for the "Mediterranean See" just north of that.
- Boom, Headshot!: A Giant Mook type of enemy in Wolf must be shot in the head due to its Bulletproof Vest. This does not carry over to the NES port.
- Bottomless Magazines: Averted. The player receives ammunition by the magazine and reloading will cause a slight pause in firing.
- Critical Annoyance: A warning chime plays more rapidly as the player gets closer to death. The player receives messages when ammo runs low as well.
- Critical Existence Failure: Being nearly dead has no effect on the player.
- Damage-Sponge Boss: Since ammo conservation is not much of a factor in Wolf 3 the different stage bosses absorb a lot of punishment.
- Destructible Projectiles: The player must exploit this to defend themselves versus knives, grenades, mortar/bazooka rounds, and even helicopter missiles.
- Didn't Need Those Anyway!: The fourth boss of Wolf 3 sheds many parts over the course of the fight but fights even more aggressively in spite of its losses.
- Digitized Sprites: The third game.
- Elite Mooks: Vehicles that take several hits are present in Wolf and Thunderbolt.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: The Player Character of Wolf and Thunderbolt is a Green Beret.
- Endless Game: Wolf can repeat forever assuming the player does not die and rescues at least one prisoner per playthrough.
- Everything Fades: Enemies disappear often before they even hit the ground.
- Excuse Plot: There are hostages! Go kill a bunch of mooks to rescue the hostages!
- Fanservice Extra: Among the civilians in Operation Wolf are combat nurses, native women and children and... blonde women in bikinis.
- Faux First-Person 3D: Wolf and Thunderbolt. Wolf only scrolls from side to side with enemies existing on a single plane at different distances away from the player. Thunderbolt has enemies and objects that scale up to simulate forward movement.
- Final Boss: In Wolf a Hind D helicopter serves as this. This is notable in the arcade version as it is the only boss and is the last enemy the player defeats.
- Flunky Boss: The bosses in Wolf 3 employ mooks to draw the player's fire.
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The fourth scene boss in Operation Wolf 3. While the player fights regular humans for mooks and an attack helicopter, a tank, and a Harrier jet as bosses, the fourth boss resembles more of an alien Brain in a Jar.
- Have a Nice Death: "You have sustained a lethal injury. Sorry, but you are finished... here."
- Healing Potion: Power Drinks restore some health to the player when they are shot.
- Heal Thyself: Power Drinks heal the player instantly. It is implied that resting at a village takes time but the healing is still instant in gameplay terms. Finishing any other stage restores a small amount of health.
- Hellish Copter: The Final Boss of Wolf is a Hind D helicopter that shoots multiple rockets at the player and takes several ammo clips or rockets to bring down.
- Heroes "R" Us: The player characters of Wolf 3 are dispatched from the "Gun Metal Army".
- Hide Your Children: Averted. Children are included in the civilians that can be gunned down at the player's peril.
- High-Altitude Battle: The final boss of Wolf is fought while fleeing in an airplane that is gaining altitude.
- Hostage Spirit Link: Shooting civilians will cost the player health or points depending on the game.
- Human Shield: Operation Thunderbolt has this at the end. The villain uses the hijacked plane's pilot. The player gets the Bad Ending if they kill the pilot. Also used in the NES port of Wolf at the end of the second mission. Killing this particular hostage will cause a lot of damage to the player.
- Hyperactive Metabolism: Power Drinks are essentially just a bottled beverage that already come with a bendy straw.
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Averted. The player in the first two games is capped at nine magazines and nine grenades.
- Impossible Item Drop: In Wolf the player can receive more ammunition by shooting eagles, pigs, chickens, and coconuts. Averted in later games where ammo drops were generally found in crates and satchels.
- In the Back: Assassins will attempt to kill hostages in the first game this way.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: If you die while you have no bullets or grenades, you will get a different screen which depicts a hostage (possibly the player character in a hostage outfit) in prison while the announcer remarks "Since you have no ammunition left, you must join the hostages."
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: The protagonist of Wolf sure does have a strong '80's action hero chin.
- Level Goal: Operation Wolf features an enemy quota which must be defeated to trigger the end of the level.
- Life Meter: The closer you are to death, the faster it flashes.
- Light Gun Game: The arcade cabinets for all the games use mounted light guns, often modeled after MAC-10s. The NES port takes advantage of the Zapper.
- Lock-and-Load Montage: The Attract Mode of Wolf uses a montage based loosely on a similar sequence from Rambo: First Blood Part II.
- Mooks: The player will kill lots and lots of enemy soldiers to save five hostages.
- More Dakka: This mindset is discouraged in Wolf and Thunderbolt as using excessive spray and pray tactics will cause the player to run out of ammunition. Played straight in Wolf 3 assuming the player occasionally lets go of the trigger to preserve their maximum firing rate.
- Multiple Endings: Operation Wolf has several endings depending on how many prisoners the player rescues. Failing to rescue any hostages leads to a Non Standard Game Over. In the NES version the player is told they are not allowed to return home if zero prisoners are saved.
- Non Standard Game Over: If the player loses all of their health after they run out of bullets and grenades they will get a different death screen. The game also ends if the player fails to rescue any hostages in Wolf.
- One Bullet Clips: Averted. The player can only get more ammo by the magazine and can't reload mid-clip.
- One-Hit Polykill: Played straight with rockets which can kill multiple vehicles or soldiers within a certain radius, and with dynamite that can kill all ground-based targets. Averted with bullets, though. A regular mook can block a bullet intended for an APC.
- One-Man Army: At least in Wolf. The other games lets the player bring a friend.
- Operation: [Blank]: The title of the game
- Painfully Slow Projectile: Knives, grenades, rockets, missiles and laser blasts.
- Projectile Pocketing: The player acquires more ammunition by shooting it.
- Rail Shooter: The player only controls the targeting reticle, not their movement.
- Scoring Points: Present in all of the games.
- Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: A soldier is already shooting you!
- The sequel Operation Thunderbolt: A soldier is about to shoot you!◊
- Serial Escalation: Wolf requires the player to kill a couple of hundred soldiers through the whole game. Thunderbolt has players killing hundreds of soldiers per level. Wolf 3 has players killing digitized mooks and a nuclear missile. Tiger has players killing mooks. In 3D!
- Shoot the Hostage Taker: This is required to get the Good Ending of Thunderbolt and to avoid taking a lot of damage at the end of the second level of the NES port.
- Shoot the Hostage: Just in case the player doesn't care about the consequences.
- Stock Scream: Operation Wolf 3 uses its death screams for the terrorists from movies such as Commando and Lethal Weapon 3, most notably Sully's infamous "U-LA-LA!" scream from the former.
- Stopped Numbering Sequels: Zigzagged. It goes from Operation Wolf, to Operation Thunderbolt, back to Operation Wolf 3, then back to a different word with Operation Tiger.
- Time-Limit Boss: The final enemy of Wolf 3 must be destroyed within a 99 second time limit.
- Universal Driver's License: Averted. While the player can drive any jeep they encounter they must save an airline pilot in Thunderbolt to escape in a passenger airplane.
- Vehicular Assault: Practically every boss in the series is a vehicle of some kind.
- Video Game 3D Leap: Tiger is the only game in the series with 3D graphics.
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Shooting civilians or prisoners will hurt you.
- A Winner Is You: Typically the player is only rewarded with a splash screen or three upon victory.
- Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: Happens in the first game if one of the hostages dies in the Concentration Camp or Airport stages.
- Wraparound Background: Though the player typically needs to play longer than intended to see the background begin to repeat.
- Year X: Tiger takes place on September 23rd, 199X.
- You have sustained a lethal injury. Sorry, but you are finished here.