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Feature: The Life and Times of SEGA's Game Gear

Posted by James Newton

Black beauty

Ask any gamer of a certain age which handheld they grew up with and the overwhelming response will be "Game Boy". Long before the Pokémon explosion of the late 90s, Nintendo's portable dominated the competition — not even closest competitor SEGA could upset the balance with the release of its Game Gear in the early part of the decade. As SEGA's portable has joined the 3DS Virtual Console this week, it's time to take a look at this unique piece of gaming history.

While the incumbent Game Boy was affordable and modestly powerful, SEGA went for the technical high ground, packing a back-lit colour screen into the Game Gear's chunky dimensions. Indeed, most of SEGA's marketing — such as this advert featuring Ethan Suplee — focused on the colour screen, just as some of its Mega Drive/Genesis adverts had focused on 'Blast Processing'. Game Gear wasn't the first colour portable — NEC's TurboExpress and the Atari Lynx both got there before — but it failed to improve on the major problem of its predecessors: battery consumption. While the dinky Game Boy would happily run for hours on four AAs, Game Gear rattled through six AA batteries in a fraction of the time. The extra power consumption also made the console bulky; the two factors combined meant many players kept their so-called portable game consoles tethered to the plug socket with AC adaptors.

Hardware aside, Game Gear had plenty to offer on the games front: essentially a portable Master System, it was easy for developers to port home console games, though the smaller resolution meant some games were changed in the translation. To help fight off Nintendo's ever-powerful Tetris and Super Mario Land series, SEGA brought across Columns and created several original Sonic games of varying quality: Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble is fondly remembered, Sonic Labyrinth less so.

Despite a library of over 350 games, Game Gear never had the 'killer app' to make it a must-buy over Game Boy; with Game Gear more expensive than its more established rival, it needed a truly great game that simply never materialised. Add that to its well documented hardware problems and it's astonishing to believe it lasted until April 1997, when SEGA dropped support in favour of its new — and equally battery-hungry — portable, the Nomad.

Now that the fated portable has landed on the 3DS Virtual Console it can finally escape its problems of faulty capacitors and dodgy battery life, with its first three titles — Shinobi, Dragon Crystal and Sonic: Triple Trouble — a fairly good selection of what the system has to offer. We've already waxed lyrical on the Game Gear games we need on 3DS Virtual ConsoleMega Man, anyone? — so here's hoping SEGA finally manages to give its portable the home it deserves, ironically, on Nintendo's latest handheld console.

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User Comments (49)

Play_It_Loud

#2

Play_It_Loud said:

I sold all my Gameboy stuff to buy a game gear when I was a kid. Did I regret it? Yes... BUT It still holds a spot in my nostalgic heart.

madgear

#3

madgear said:

I used to love the Game Gear - I remember it being fairly popular as I knew a number of people who owned one (I even saw someone playing one recently in a cinema foyer!).

The best games were definitely Castle of Illusion, Sonic The Hedgehog and Shinobi - all original versions rather than ports that stand alongside their 16-bit counterparts.

Powerglove

#4

Powerglove said:

I thought those Sonic Game Gear games were horrible. I started playing Sonic Generations on the Xbox last night and that game is amazing!

bezerker99

#5

bezerker99 said:

I remember when this came out and thinking it was going to destroy the Gameboy. With it's color graphics and more arcade/blast-processing/doingwhatNintendon't stuffs - I just thought for sure Nintendo was doomed. D:

Great read, J.

RR529

#7

RR529 said:

One of my older cousins had the Game Gear. I remember he never wanted me to play it, but now I know he was probably trying to conserve battery life (although I believe he let me play it once).

ennan

#8

ennan said:

Hardware issues is right... My friends game gear would reset if you moved it slightly and mine would invert the colours for no apparent reason. Still loved the bulky monster though. Had an adaper that let me play master system games on it too which was awesome.

ElFlorro

#9

ElFlorro said:

One of my friends used to have the TV Tuner. It was incredible sitting in class secretly watching televison :D

Savino

#11

Savino said:

I remember that I used to hate gamegear! I was a Nintendo kid and had a segafriend, so...it was my role hate every single piece of hardware from sega!

Now I have one in my 3DS and happy!

Alexneon

#12

Alexneon said:

@Savino
You hate everything about sega hardware and i bet you hate their games too and know u are happy to have one in your 3ds 0.o...ohh the fanboys this days.

Squashie

#13

Squashie said:

Sonic may be good. But the SEGA titles have never really been strong enough! It will always be the Gameboy for me!

RevolverLink

#14

RevolverLink said:

I always thought it was cool when somebody I knew had a Sega Game Gear, but it wasn't the most practical of handheld gaming systems. Those suckers ate batteries by the handful, and I remember the Game Gear being huge. Granted, it's not like the bulky original Game Boy was fitting in anybody's pocket either.

3DSLUIGI

#16

3DSLUIGI said:

I remember once when I used to own a GAME GEAR of my own. I had got it as a Christmas gift near the mid 90's , and it came with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and an extra game came along with it not packaged, Super Columns. I didn't own much games for it except almost every Sonic game that was made for it. But I also had Mortal Kombat II and The Simpsons: Bart VS. The Space Mutants. All in all, though some people out here on the comments section think GAME GEAR was horrible, I do agree to a point on that. And the only reason I do is because that the GAME BOY had a little more games in total than the GAME GEAR ever had in it's life time. Like others said too, add the fact that this big monster ate up nice 6 AA Battery sized portions in no less than 3 - 4 hours was also a big minus to SEGA. All in all, if you ever do see this out there on the market nowadays. Just get it as like a collector's item and nothing more if you care to. Nice attempt from SEGA at the time, but not enough to get the job done at winning the portable wars back then.

sinalefa

#17

sinalefa said:

Nice feature, although I felt it a little on the short side. I wanted to know a little more since it is a new piece of hardware for me, never actually seen one in action, but the promise of those games now makes it interesting.

Around here most of us grew up with Nintendo's consoles, and even a Genesis (Mega Drive) was quite a rarity to see.

XCWarrior

#18

XCWarrior said:

Owning my Game Gear and 7 titles has to put me in the upper 5% of most complete collections for this system. Wasn't all that great, but my dad seems to like using it. With an AC adapter of course.

3DSLUIGI

#19

3DSLUIGI said:

@XCWarrior

Same man, my mom owns the old GAME GEAR that was once mine before. She loves to play Ms. Pac Man and Super Columns on that at times. Although, she still sometimes looks for the TV Tuner on eBay that goes with it at times.

belmont

#20

belmont said:

Game Gear was my first game system and I still like it and play it sometimes. I played a lot of games in it like the Sonic series, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam etc. It has some good games and, before the release of PSP, remained the most successful portable console (in terms of sales and support) that was not made by Nintendo. Of course I mostly used the AC Adapter. I still have the TV Turner that made it a good portable TV. I think that the console has still a fanbase.

shonenjump86

#22

shonenjump86 said:

I had the Game Gear when I was a little kid. I enjoyed playing the games I had for it. Glad that it's on the 3DS.

Chuie

#23

Chuie said:

i had a game gear but i played my gameboy more but i sold my game boy 4 a game boy color

Pixel-Perfect

#24

Pixel-Perfect said:

I have honestly never seen this in person despite frequent visits to used video game shops. Same with the Master System.

Dak_n_Jaxter

#25

Dak_n_Jaxter said:

I had a friend on the bus in grade school... Jay. He'd bring his Game Gear and we'd sit together and play it every single day. I can still remember those early mornings in the pitch black bus with our little seat glowing from the screen. It was just an amazing experience at the time... We felt like we were apart of the future, with our little portable t.v.... It was awesome.

I used to watch this movie called Surf Ninjas religiously.. And the little brother had a Game Gear... but the thing was, as he played... what happened in the game would in turn happen in real life.. It was mind blowing for me. Honestly. I told Jay about it and so each day we would be off in our own little world, pretending that our Sonic adventures were causing mayhem throughout the world..

We ended up dropping the damn thing on the bus floor, killing the top quarter of the screen.. He actually gave it to me at the end of the school year because he knew how much i loved it. It's still in a box somewhere, but those memories will always stay with me. Really great times

Chris720

#27

Chris720 said:

Never owned a Game Gear, never played on a Game Gear, never even seen a Game Gear. Do I want to play one? God yes!

It's that console that is just total garbage with no stellar games, but yet, it's the same console you'll want to play regardless.

It was definitely ahead of its time though.

gusmento01

#28

gusmento01 said:

At some point Game Gear was more popular than Game Boy in my country but Sega dropped support way too soon. I still own one and also the MasterGear Converter but the screen have washed out colors.

misswliu81

#29

misswliu81 said:

i think that if it had used less batteries and had better 3rd party support, then the game gear would've been as successful as the gameboy.

it did have a few gaming gems though. nonetheless, finally we can play these game gear titles on the V.C service, thanks to sega.

kurtasbestos

#30

kurtasbestos said:

I don't remember how I ended up getting a Game Gear, but I do remember the games I played being mostly underwhelming. I remember both Columns and Shinobi being fun, but being more fun on Genesis/Mega Drive. The Shining Force side series games were also pretty damn awesome, but even those were available in a much better format on Sega CD. Oh well, it wasn't the best portable system I ever owned, but I do have a few fond memories of it.

The_Ink_Pit_Ox

#31

The_Ink_Pit_Ox said:

I have a true respect for the Game Gear, having owned one as a kid. I loved that thing. I had the battery potato, so no problems for me.

Alienfish

#32

Alienfish said:

I wonder if Playstation or Xbox games will ever share Sega's fate and end up on Nintendo consoles? Who knows, it could be the other way around. Maybe I'll pick one of these games up since I never did play on a Game Gear.

Tasuki

#33

Tasuki said:

I am glad that the 3DS is carrying Game Gear games I just hope they keep them coming. I only owned the Game Boy when I was a kid the price difference between the two meant that my parents bought me the Game Boy which was the cheaper of the two. My friend had a Game Gear and after trying it at his place and blowing through batteries I was glad my folks got me the Game Boy.

Now though I get the chance to try some of these games on the 3DS and dont have to worry about blowing through batteries.

ecco6t9

#34

ecco6t9 said:

This is the real second chance this system deserves. Now if only SNK would put up NGPC support.

Katzii

#35

Katzii said:

Game Gear was my first system and I have a lot of fond memories of it. I have since reacquired another Game Gear.

Don't forget that the Game Gear's library was vastly expanded with the Master Gear converter... I had a lot of Master System games for my first Game Gear, even though I didn't have a Master System!

Bass_X0

#37

Bass_X0 said:

Now if only SNK would put up NGPC support.

Yup. There's a few games on there I would download just for convenience despite already owning them on my NGPC.

James

#39

James said:

I have two NGPCs but would gladly download the games on 3DS just to have them on a backlit screen!

Rawk_Hawk

#40

Rawk_Hawk said:

I was always dissappointed that Sega never made a Sonic Drift game for the Genesis, 32X or Saturn. It would have been a much better fit on that hardware as opposed to the Game Gear.

NeoShinobi

#41

NeoShinobi said:

I believe the Gamegear was pretty underrated. It had a really good, solid library. Better than most people were giving it credit for. It's just a shame the hardware doesn't seem to age very well.

Token_Girl

#42

Token_Girl said:

Game Gear was awesome. Battery life complaints are a little much though. One set of batteries would get you about 6 hours, and very few 8 bit games outside of RPGs had more than 6 hours worth of gameplay.

Batteries did get expensive though. I had the rechargeable battery pack, and it's crazy to think what a long way those have come. That thing was huge, lasted 3.5 hours, but took 8 to fully charge - and you had to be careful to pretty much run it dry each time and recharge it fully.

cheapogamer4life

#43

cheapogamer4life said:

@25 cool story bro!

I remember playing one once as a kid. Some kid I met at the park had one and couple of games that included MK1. It was amazing to play one of my favorite games on a heldhand. So much so that later on I got MK1 for my gameboy looking for the same experince(minus the color). Ugh, I could never understand why the Gameboy version play so slow. Just horribly bad when compared side by side with the GG version.

Yadoking

#44

Yadoking said:

My friend's mom found their old one a few months ago. The screen was pretty messed up, but we played through a couple acts on some Sonic game.

shinobi88

#45

shinobi88 said:

I was absolutely blown away when the Game Gear originally came out. Only handheld I had played up to that time was Game Boy and its monochrome color, and along comes GG and it has vibrant colors that make the games look like Genesis games! I still go back and play it and the colors and graffix have aged perfectly.

The GG had a wealth of quality games that rivaled any handheld. A lot of the quality games were licensed games like Mickey's Castle of Illusion, Jurassic Park 3, Aladdin, and Lion King. These games were on the same level of quality as their Genesis counterparts.

There were a lot of RPGs...but I don't play those so I can't say anything.

Gotta have a killer puzzle game to be considered a quality handheld. DS had Meteos. Game Boy had the king of them all, Tetris. GG had Columns. It's in the same class as those two. It's very similar to Tetris in mechanic and style.

And last but def. not least, it had some awesome Sega 1st party games. All the Sonic & Tails games were decent. Shinobi 1 & 2 are legendary. Streets of Rage and Gunstar Heroes are faithful ports, and Ristar offers an original adventure that is the same level of quality as its console counterpart.

THE END...for now?

barneygumble

#46

barneygumble said:

Honestly Gameboy and Game Gear both kind of unplayable systems these days, the display is blurry as hell & almost unplayable for fast sidescrolling titles as sonic. A real bad time for portable gamers that time, but it got a lot better with Game Boy Light, Gameboy Color and Neo Geo Pocket Color later.

GG Shinobi was and is still a great time these days, lucky we can replay it now "unblurry" on 3DS.

michiganurse

#47

michiganurse said:

I was a die hard sega fan years ago. Owning a Nintey product was out of the question. Heck, it ius still out of the question, I have moved my loyalties on to Sony, who I didn't really like last generation dew to my love for xbox. I have planted myself firmly into the Sony camp now. I am such a gaming whore. LOL

Retrogamer88

#48

Retrogamer88 said:

me and my bro had one of these and it was awsome for having a back lit screen for one thing and some awsome games such as a golden ax action RPG spin off game i remember having and i remember it being hard at the time because i was a kid and a much less experienced gamer at the time,

UnseatingKDawg

#49

UnseatingKDawg said:

I remember this as one of the best handhelds I've ever had. I grew up playing this one, with Sonic 2, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

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