Game Gear

The full-color portable video game system that separates the men from the boys.
First commercial for the Game Gear, 1991

After achieving success in the US market with the Genesis, Sega decided to compete with the Game Boy. Their idea was called the Game Gear.

Needless to say, it didn't do quite so well when compared to its competitor.

Not that it was a flop, mind you it lasted from 1990-97 and sold 10 million units. That might not be as impressive as the Game Boy's 118 million, but it was the most successful handheld to go against Nintendo until the PSP, and had the advantage of being in color at a time when the Game Boy was still in its green-and-black days.

However, the biggest issue was battery life. Even if the chips didn't consume a lot of power, the mandatory backlight (as in you couldn't turn it off) did. It took six AA batteries, and even then only lasted 2-5 hours. Another problem was the first runs were faulty, and that along with the battery life caused the audience in Japan to largely ignore it. This led to only minor support from third parties.

Even then, it's not a system to ignore if you have the batteries, a rechargeable battery pack or an umbilical AC adapter (conveniently, it was compatible with Sega Genesis Model 2 AC adapters).

In 2001, third party game developer Majesco, with assistance from Sega, reissued the Game Gear for a reduced price. Only a few games were re-issued with it (notably Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos and Columns), it still had the battery problems and aside from the retro gaming market, did not catch on with the consumers. It was gone again by the end of the year.


Specifications:

Processor
  • CPU runs at 3.55 or 3.58 MHz, depending on the region.
  • The graphics are handled by the Video Display Processor.
  • Part of the chipset involves that mighty little 8-bit controller known as the Zilog Z80.

Memory
  • Eight kilobytes of main RAM, with 16 KB of Video RAM. Games like Mortal Kombat 1 really showed all this memory off.
  • ROM size ranged from 8 KB to 1024 KB.

Sprites
  • Like the NES, SMS sprites are 88 or 816 pixels, with up to 64 on screen.

Display
  • Resolution was 160144 pixels.
  • Thirty-two colors were allowed on screen, out of 4,096 total.

Aside from the display, these specs are nearly identical to the Master System. This allowed many games from the Game Gear to be ported to the Master System and vice versa. There was even an adapter, called the Master Gear, that allowed Master System games to be played on the Game Gear. A hard-to-find accessory called the TV Tuner was made available at one point, which turned it into a little television set.

Notable Games/series which appeared on the Sega Game Gear include:


Tropes:

  • Awesome, yet Impractical: The Game Gear was an ambitious, slick looking and enjoyable portable device with full color and a fairly large backlit screen, with hardware superior to even the Sega Master System, but like the Atari Lynx before, it (combined with limited third party support) had several obvious flaws that ultimately doomed it to a lesser status than its rival, the Game Boy. The biggest deal breaker was it's mediocre battery life; due to its backlit screen, it needed six AA batteries, and it would consume them in five to six hoursnote . Another flaw was it's impractical size; while it's landscape format and control format was comfortable to hold, it was so bulky that it was difficult to store, much less stick in your pocket. On top of that, its more advanced hardware prompted a price of 150$, considerably higher than the 99$ Game Boy.
  • Take That: As they did with the Sega Genesis, Sega released snipe ads to support the Game Gear, mocking the Game Boy's blurry cream spinach screen and dissing it as a kiddy portable in contrast to their full color backlit portable.