After achieving success in the US and European markets with the Sega Genesis, Sega decided to expand their Console Wars against Nintendo to the handheld domain. Their answer to the Game Boy was called the Game Gear.
To combat the Game Boy, Sega purposefully designed the Game Gear to address common complaints levied at its competitor. The Game Boy had a dinky dot matrix screen that only worked with four shades of grey, so the Game Gear displayed in color and had a backlight to boot. The Game Boy had an awkward brick-shaped form factor, so the Game Gear was made in a wider landscape format to be more comfortable to hold. The Game Gear is also significantly more powerful than its competition, effectively being a Sega Master System in handheld form. All of this led to a higher, though still somewhat reasonable, price point of US$149.99 (£99.99 in the U.K.). While not the most advanced handheld system of its day, the Game Gear was a very noticeable improvement over the omnipresent Game Boy and had brand recognition to give it an edge over the Atari Lynx and TurboExpress.
The Game Gear released on October 6, 1990 in Japan, with North America and Europe receiving it in April of 1991. It was bundled with Columns, a puzzle game similar to Tetris that was clearly intended to replicate the latter game's explosive success as the console's Killer App. The marketing for the system in America was similar in approach to the Genesis, with Sega playing to the teenage crowd and positioning the Game Gear as the handheld for cool kids. While insulting Nintendo was very much in line for Sega, they went a bit further and insulted their customers to sell the Game Gear; an advertisement famously claimed that Game Boy owners had IQs less than 12.
Despite Sega's best efforts, they were unable to establish themselves as a big competitor in the handheld scene like they had in the home console space, and the Game Gear failed to claim any significant slice of the market. Not that it was a flop, mind you — the system lasted until 1997 and sold 10 million units. That might not be as impressive as the Game Boy's 118 million units, but it was way better than the Lynx's 3 million and the TurboExpress's 1.5 million. Sega's brand recognition at the time is likely the reason the Game Gear ended up a modest hit instead of an outright flop like the other handhelds. It was actually the most successful handheld to go against Nintendo until Sony released the PlayStation Portable in 2004.
The issue is that the Game Gear ultimately fell into the same traps that the other non-Nintendo handhelds had found themselves caught in. The first problem was battery life. Even if the chips didn't consume a lot of power on their own, the screen's backlight did. And you couldn't turn it off or adjust the brightness level to converse power. The Game Gear was infamously a battery hog as a result; it took six AA batteries, and those batteries only lasted a measly 2-5 hours thanks to the inefficient power usage. The original model Game Boy might have lacked a backlight, but it only needed four AA batteries and could potentially last up to 30 hours. The Game Gear's battery issues could be alleviated by a rechargeable battery pack or circumvented entirely by plugging it in with an AC adapter, though these solutions heavily compromised the portability of the system. Not that the portability was amazing in the first place, as the system was larger than the Game Boy and its form factor meant it couldn't be slipped into pockets as easily. Additionally, the first production runs of the system were faulty, and that along with the battery life caused the audience in Japan to largely ignore it. This contributed to the minor support from third parties.
While the Game Gear ended up with over 350 games, its library was dwarfed by the Game Boy's 1,000+ titles. Nintendo still had a stranglehold on third-party developers during the early days of the system, which siphoned pretty much all the support towards them. Sega was able to throw together a decent amount of original first-party games to keep the system alive — including a bevy of Sonic the Hedgehog titles — but the Game Gear ended up heavily reliant on ports from the less-than-popular Master System to bolster its library. Many of the Master System games also ended up suffering from screen crunch due to being straight port jobs that weren't properly adjusted for the smaller screen resolution. Even with Sonic on its side, none of the Game Gear's games lit the world on fire like Tetris did for the Game Boy.
Despite all of its issues, 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 Genesis Model 2 AC adapters).
In 2000, third party game developer Majesco, with assistance from Sega, reissued the Game Gear for a reduced price of US$30. Only one new game was released for it (Super Battletank, an unreleased game developed in 1994), just a few existing games were re-issued with it (specifically Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos and Columns) for US$15, and a couple of accessories did not function with the reissue. The battery life was improved somewhat and the new version had a higher quality screen, but it didn't catch on with consumers aside from the retrogaming market. It was gone again by the end of the year. That said, the Nintendo 3DS has some Game Gear games on offer in its Virtual Console, using an emulator programmed by M2, who have a history of making emulators of Sega consoles.
In 2020, following the trend of "mini" consoles started by the Nintendo Classic Mini, Sega announced the Game Gear Micro line for the Japanese market. It has four different color variations, each with four games.Games It mercifully only requires two AAA batteries, or alternatively a micro USB cable. Later in the year, a special white variation was announced that compiles the four Aleste games for the Game Gear and Master System, plus a new game in GG Aleste 3.
- 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.
- Eight kilobytes of main Random Access Memory, with 16 KB of Video RAM. Games like Mortal Kombat really showed all this memory off.
- ROM size ranged from 8 KB to 1024 KB.
- Like the NES, SMS sprites are 8×8 or 8×16 pixels, with up to 64 on screen.
- Resolution is 160×144 pixels.
- Thirty-two colors allowed on screen, out of 4,096 total. Funnily enough, the system can display more colors at once than the Sega Genesis.
- 6 AA batteries give 3-5 hours of play time.
- The system could be plugged in to an outlet or external battery pack for power.
Add-Ons and Accessories
- The Gear-to-Gear Cable allows multiplayer in the same vein as the Game Boy's Link Cable.
- The Master Gear Converter allows Master System cartridges to be a played on the Game Gear. While novel, this was somewhat redundant due to the slew of Master System ports already made for the handheld.
- The Sega TV Adaptor is a very unique peripheral that allowed the Game Gear to function as an analog TV via its antenna. This accessory is useless nowadays outside of being a collector's item, though it also gives AV inputs to the Game Gear for potentially interesting applications.
- The Super Wide Gear is a magnifying glass for the screen.
- The Game Gear Battery Pack and PowerBack are both external batteries designed to help compensate for the system's poor battery life. The Battery Pack was made to clip onto a belt while the PowerBack attaches to the back of the system. Both are rechargeable and can boost the Game Gear's life by up to 8 hours.
As mentioned earlier, the specs are nearly identical to those of the Sega Master System bar the resolution and increased color palette. This allowed many games from the Game Gear to be easily ported to the Master System and vice versa.
- GG Aleste
- GG Aleste II
- GG Aleste 3
- Asterix and the Great Rescue
- Ax Battler: A Golden Axe Legend
- Baku Baku Animal
- Berenstain Bears' Camping Adventure
- The Berlin Wall
- Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S
- Coca Cola Kid
- Crystal Warriors
- Desert Strike
- Defenders of Oasis
- Aladdin (different from the Genesis version)
- Ariel: The Little Mermaid
- Bonkers: Wax Up!
- Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
- Deep Duck Trouble starring Donald Duck
- The Jungle Book
- Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
- Legend Of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
- The Lion King
- The Lucky Dime Caper starring Donald Duck (different from the Sega Master System version)
- Mickey's Ultimate Challenge
- Dynamite Headdy
- Judge Dredd
- Jurassic Park:
- Kaitou Saint Tail
- Kishin Douji Zenki
- Looney Tunes:
- Lunar: Walking School
- Madou Monogatari:
- Madou Monogatari I: 3-tsu no Madouryoku
- Madou Monogatari II: Arle 16-sai
- Madou Monogatari III: Kyuukyoku Joou-sama
- Madou Monogatari A: Doki Doki Vacation
- Marble Madness
- Master of Darkness (known on this system as Vampire Master Of Darkness)
- Mega Man (Classic)
- Megami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible
- Mortal Kombat:
- Ninja Gaiden
- Ninku 2: Tenkuryu-e no Michi
- Ninku Gaiden: Hiroyuki Daikatsugeki
- Panzer Dragoon Mini
- Phantasy Star Gaiden
- Pinball Dreams
- Puyo Puyo:
- Puzzle Bobble
- Quest for the Shaven Yak: Starring Ren Hoëk & Stimpy
- Shaq Fu
- Shining Series:
- Shining Force Gaiden
- Shining Force Gaiden II (aka Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya, the only one that got an overseas release)
- Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict
- The Smurfs
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- Space Harrier
- Streets of Rage
- Streets of Rage 2
- Strider Returns
- Super Smash T.V.
- Surf Ninjas (licensed game based on a movie which had someone playing a Game Gear and seeing the future through playing said licensed game of the movie)
- Sylvan Tale
- The Simpsons:
- 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 its 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 its 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.
- Follow the Leader: Sega bundled the system with Columns to copy the Game Boy's success with Tetris. It didn't work since Columns lacked the prestige Tetris had earned before it was released on the 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.