In the early 1980s, portable gaming was mainly limited to LCD-based games. Companies such as Casio, Grandstand and Tiger Electronics would all release various watches and devices to keep us entertained on those tiresome journeys. Nintendo wasn't really known here in the UK back then, but it stood out from the crowd with the excellent range of Game & Watch handhelds. The Japanese company showed just how skilful and creative it was when it came to creating great gameplay with limited hardware (a skill it arguably continues to exploit), releasing hits such as Mario Bros. and the multi-screen Donkey Kong.
Nintendo's Game Boy had taken everyone by surprise and it would be Sega which played catch-up
In April 1989 – 30 years ago last month – Nintendo took portable gaming to a whole new level with the release of the Game Boy, a cartridge-based handheld with a dot-matrix monochrome screen that had similar controls to the famous Game & Watch range. The Game Boy was an instant success and rival companies would race to get out their own handheld devices onto the market – one of those companies being Sega.
One year earlier, Sega had taken Nintendo by surprise in the console market when it released the 16-bit Mega Drive and it would be two years before Nintendo responded with the Super Famicom/SNES. In the nascent world of handhelds, however, things were the other way around. Nintendo's Game Boy had taken everyone by surprise and it would be Sega which played catch-up; on October 6th 1990 – 18 months after the Game Boy's release – Sega released the Game Gear in Japan. With a backlit colour screen and hardware based on the 8-bit Master System, it was technically superior to the Game Boy and Sega hoped this would be enough to steal some of Nintendo's rapidly-increasing market share.
As most people will be aware, this never happened and the Game Boy went on to sell over 100 million units, eclipsing the 10.6 million sales of the Game Gear. However, Sega’s handheld will always be remembered for being the main rival to the Game Boy (Atari's 16-bit Lynx only managed around 3 million sales), as well as a system with a decent library of titles – some of which were exclusive to the platform.
However, looking back now, it's clear to see why Sega's gamble failed. The Game Gear’s biggest problem was battery life; the Game Boy could go for over 30 hours on four AA batteries, while the high spec of the Game Gear meant it consumed double-As like nobody's business. In fuel economy terms, the Game Boy was a Volvo estate, while the Game Gear was a Ford Sierra Cosworth RS Turbo (yep, that one with the whale tail spoiler).
The Game Gear has not stood the test of time as well; you are more likely to bump into an honest politician than see an original Game Gear in full working order
Another problem with making a technically powerful device is that by default it also becomes more complex inside, and unlike the Game Boy, the Game Gear has not stood the test of time as well; you are more likely to bump into an honest politician than see an original Game Gear in full working order. Most units have faulty sound or weak displays as a result of faulty capacitors; these units weren't made with a vision of people using them 20-plus years later. In order to fix these issues and ensure no further failures, most Game Gear consoles require a replacement of all the capacitors on the internal PCBs (commonly known as recapping) and in the rare event of a unit still fully working, it is just a matter of when (and not if) it will require the recapping treatment.
I bought a Game Gear that was sold as "fully working" with the intention of recapping it, and had it delivered to retro repair wizard Simon Lock, a man whose electrical expertise was detailed in a previous Nintendo Life article. Upon investigation, it turned out that my model had almost zero sound, a line missing from the display, took ages to power up and wasn't reliable when reading carts – so not quite "fully working" as had been described. Simon sent me pictures of the issues and his findings, and after extensive testing, cleaning and recapping my Game Gear had sound and a decent display bar 2 lines – Simon informed me this was down to an IC failure from voltage damage caused by the previous owner using an incorrect PSU. The unit was returned to me and I was really happy to finally have a Game Gear, having never owned one back in the day.
As a kid in the 1990s, it was exciting just to have colour LCD screens and while they did a decent job, they pale in comparison to modern displays; original Game Gear screens need to be tilted to find an optimal viewing angle and suffer from terrible motion blurring. It's something we tolerated back in the day as it was the best option available, but after witnessing a Game Gear with a brand new LCD screen fitted at a gaming market, it wasn't long before I made the decision to get the famous 'McWill' screen mod. I got in touch with Retro Modzz, a UK-based company specialising in console and handheld modifications, and just a few days later I had a Game Gear with a brand new screen.
Playing the games with the McWill screen mod is a visual treat and breathes new life into the Game Gear
So how good is the screen? In a word, incredible. I would compare it to playing Silent Hill on a PS1 and then putting on Sonic Mania on the Switch; there is such a difference in colour, contrast and sharpness it is hard to imagine ever having tolerated the original display (you still have an option to add scanlines should you wish to emulate that older screen). Playing the games with the McWill screen mod is a visual treat and breathes new life into the Game Gear; the mod includes a full recap and a new screen protector so the machine arrives looking and sounding at its best. If you want to play Game Gear games on original hardware, this is an essential purchase and one I cannot recommend highly enough.
Retro Modzz also changed the DC input supply which allows the use of a USB power bank to quench the Game Gear's thirst for power; extremely handy if you want it to remain portable. I decided to keep my model close to the factory standard but other mods can be added, such as a VGA socket to output the display to a monitor and the addition of a joystick port allowing you to attach a Master System control pad essentially turning the Game Gear into an 8-bit Mega Jet.
The Game Gear may have only sold a fraction of what the Game Boy managed, but it's clear there's still a lot of love for the console. It's a shame that the hardware isn't as robust as the Game Boy, but it's great to know there are options out there which enable you to bring these machines back to life – and, in the case of the McWill mod, actually make them better than before.
Sorry, my Atari Lynx left the Game Gear in the dust, lol!
i have a Game Gear, sadly it's doesn't work but my Master System does and most of the games are the same as the game gear ones anyway
it would be nice to have a working Game Gear again though
I had never even heard of the Game Gear until I saw it on an AVGN episode one day. Don't think I would have picked it up over the GameBoy anyway. I loved my Nintendo games too much.
2 GG dusting somewhere... 2 lcd are dead. Will take a look at this mod... fun times ahead
Problem is some of my favorite Game Gear games are also on the Master System... and normally play better on that.
This is still cool though.
It's a good thing I got my Game Gear modded a few years ago for both the screen and the capacitor so now the battery life is much longer and the screen looks superb almost as good as the GBA SP2. Playing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on that was fantastic too, probably the best version of Power Rangers on any system today.
I'm content with playing Game Gear games in 1080p on my 82" Samsung 4K TV using my Analogue Mega SG, but these updated Game Gears look cute ^-^
The two GG Shinobi games were the only exclusives really worthy of the name - though the Ninja Gaiden game was very decent for its time. That said, Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, with its massive sprites on that tiny screen, looked incredible back in 1993. Truthfully, however much people rag on the screen today, it did most Master System games a favour.
Man between this and the promise of Game Gear support for the Mega SG, it looks like my Game Gear collection is about to get some love again!
If you haven't played Shining Force Sword of Hajya, go get it!
@CrazyZelda79 you fool this is a game gear made by sega not nintendo which is where metroid is from...makes me think you didnt read the article and just misread the headline and breezed through the arrticle. or you have no clue who makes what games.
i just want to point out my game gear works like the day i got it, crappy screen and all.... no recapping ever done.
@retro_player_22 This version of Power Rangers (and the Movie version) on the Game Gear are the best games in the franchise and one of the highlights of the system.
I have two unmodded GGs from back in the day. The one has no picture and the other no sound. I really want to get a modded one since I have a handfull of games and the official AC Adaptor...
@Almighty-Koz it makes me think you didn’t read their comment correctly.
@CrazyZelda79 Yeah, a new 2D Metroid, or a remake/remaster of any of the first 3 Metroids would be absolutely awesome. Not like Metroid Samus Returns where they cut the frame rate in half, but I real 2D game with sprites that runs at 60 fps like the old games do. Nintendo should just offer to buy a developer or pay them to create a new 2D Metroid. Hire the teams who built either Hollowknight, Axiom Verge, AMR2, Sonic Mania, etc. They should also hire the Yoku's Island Express people to make a Metroid Pinball game! Oh, and the Wargroove team to make or remake Advance Wars for Switch. I'd also highly prefer a high res, well done 2D Pokemon game that runs at 60 fps over the polygonal game they're making now(which almost certainly won't run at 60 fps).
I'm a bit surprised that NL is just now writing about the McWill mod.
Weird thing is that in my country, Nintendo didn't have the same grip as Sega did. Just like Sony later with the PlayStation, instead of MS or Nintendo. In fact, home computers like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and Atari ST were all the rage, while consoles not so much. I bought a Game Gear over a Gameboy, as a tech lover it seemed so much cooler then! It had a good library, but we know how it turned out against its rival.
@CrazyZelda79 Whenever somebody begins an internet comment with "You fool!" it's probably a safe guess that they're either an amateur internet troll or a cartoon villain.
It's no longer April NLife, you can't say '30 years ago this month' anymore!
I'm more intrested in the BennVenn Game Gear screen replacement myself.
I’ve still got my White GameGear and it definitely needs recapping as the screen is very washed out now. I don’t think it would be appropriate to stick a McWill screen into it though because it’s a limited edition system and should probably be kept as close to original as possible.
I do really want to get a McWill modded GG though, the trouble is the prices are pretty high. I’ve got a modded Nomad and it looks fantastic so I’m sure the same would be true of the McWill mod. I also really want a biverted GameBoy but I just don’t have the cash for these goodies these days.
@Krull Oh yes, I still love the first GG Shinobi and just played it on an emulator again recently! The soundtrack is by famed composer Yuzo Koshiro and I rate it higher than the Mega Drive version, just pure aural (albeit somewhat dated chiptune-y) bliss.
And here I thought for a second that the Neo Geo Pocket was seeing a revival...
I had one of these as a kid, played Mickey mouse castlevania (which was rock hard by the way), an after burner style game and a game where you searched round mazes and fighting blobs in turn based battles. Happy times, rated mine
This would be great as a Classic Edition/Mini version. An all new Game Gear you can actually fit in your pocket. XD
I like the Game Boy but I've got to say that I much preferred the Game Gear, some cracking games on their and its versions of Sonic 1 and 2 and the likes of Castle of Illusion were great. I might have to pick up a modded one now
My friend had one and all I remember was it having dead batteries and have to play it in the corner plugged into the wall, lame.
We always just played our Nintendo’s or gameboy’s instead.
The game gear was awful! Every 2 hours, I was changing 4 AA Batteries!!! Luckily, I came across the sega game gear at a yard sale! I’d never pay full price for that trash!
@KennyBania How, exactly, are you playing Game Gear games on the Analogue Mega SG? I haven't seen any info about the adapters they are supposed to be releasing in 2019. Did I miss the announcement or something?
@Lone_Beagle I agree.
The headline made me think Bandai Wonderswan. ;p
While I enjoyed my Game Gear and the 20+ games I owned, I always went back and enjoyed my Game Boy even more. The only system I liked more than the Game Boy was my Neo Geo Pocket Color (I had the entire collection x2 and sold it before it got rare, womp womp) and its superior control stick and fighting game library.
Going back and forth from my Game Boy Color and Neo Geo Pocket Color from 1998 (I imported the monochrome NGP first) to 2001 was damn good handheld gaming times.
A new firmware was released April 1st that lets you play ROMs off an SD card for Master System, Genesis, Game Gear, and Colecovision
Tails’ Adventure. ‘Nuff said.
So happy they re-released that on 3DS!!
Can someone let me know how to get in touch with RetroModzz please.
I'm not on Facebook or Instagram.
So funny. I pulled out my Game Gear carrying case (everything still inside, sans AC adapter) yesterday morning and then saw this article. Major League Baseball is still my favorite baseball game of all time.
@KennyBania you look a burk on the train though
I just turned on my game gear for the first time in years and the screen is completely shot. I didn't even know this was a problem!
@JohnG hi you can get in touch via email with us at [email protected]
The Game Gear was my first ever console so this really does bring back a lot of memories. Would love to splash out on an upgraded model sometime so this was really interesting to read.
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