Once Nintendo opened the floodgates to portable gaming by announcing the Game Boy, it came as little surprise when a stream of competition steadily flowed into the market in the years surrounding its launch. Of course, history paints a clear picture of those also-rans drying to a trickle before vanishing completely. While today’s portable players consider Sony’s PSP as the first non-Nintendo portable to carve out its own respectable niche, one early device managed to survive in the Game Boy’s shadow: Game Gear. Though it failed to match the monochromatic dynasty of its market superior, Sega’s portable, like the Genesis, brought an arcade experience home to its players—albeit slightly less faithfully.
On paper, Game Gear’s color screen ensured its victory. Unfortunately the realities of technology dulled that advantage quite a bit. Sega’s advertising told a semi-accurate tale: The Game Boy did resemble bland pea soup compared to Game Gear’s tasty full meal—until the player moved. While Nintendo’s handheld acquired a reputation for blurry visuals in motion, at least three simple shades of gray (green) allowed the human brain to parse its on-screen action. Game Gear’s screen also blurred, creating an experience akin to baby’s first acid trip. This might not have been so bad—after all, color trumps not-color for almost everybody—but players paid for “arcade resolution” with the blood of discarded batteries. Sega’s long black box devoured 6 AA’s in fewer hours, which created at least 300% more “Are we there yet?”s per road trip than the Game Boy.
We all know it’s the games, not the specs, that determine a system’s success—else we wouldn’t have Nintendo, Sega, or Sony today. Here, too, Game Gear seemed to have a strong start out the gate. While Game Boy had Nintendo titles, its first few waves of third-party software just didn’t match up to their console siblings. Meanwhile, Game Gear had no qualms about repackaging Master System titles (even marketing a converter to play SMS carts outright) and literally providing a console experience on the go. Unfortunately, once that well ran dry, Game Boy development picked up and created some truly great titles. Game Gear developers, left to create original software, churned out games like X-Men, which barely scraped “embarrassing” on the quality meter.
Though it never conquered the handheld market, the Game Gear deserves a fair bit of respect for not buckling under Nintendo’s dominance. It also deserves some credit for the PSP’s success, considering how closely Sony followed Sega’s playbook—a fact which suggests that in a more mature market, with an audience more willing to spend, the Game Gear could have emerged victorious.
Article by Tomm Hulett
GameSpite Journal 12: Gear Up | Game Gear
10 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Gear Up | Game Gear”
When I was about eight I traded my Gameboy for a neighbor’s Game Gear because it had color and my Game Boy didn’t. Worst decision of my life.
Ys III: Game Gear…?
These games aren’t much fun to play on the actual system anymore, but a few of them are genuinely entertaining on emulators. There’s a pretty wicked conversion of Mappy released in Japan which closely mimics the arcade game AND has a new mode with sprawling stages and new items to collect. Also, that Frogger game that Sega ultimately didn’t release is pretty boss as well. Unless you own one of the prototypes, you pretty much HAVE to play that on an emulator.
I remember thinking the Game Gear was the coolest thing because it had that TV Tuner…
I also felt like I was betraying the Nintendo fanboy that I was at the thought.
All I have to say is that regarding handhelds: Nothing beats the console that had the amazing soundtrack for “Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge” going for it. Dude, “Praying Hands” is a masterpiece of modern electronic music. It makes me cry dude, cry for God’s sake!
I always coveted the Game Gear because of that TV tuner. The first time I ever actually played the system was when I had a fling with a girl in college who had one and a copy of Sonic. It was a blurry mess, but I still thought it was kind of rad.
My cousin had a Game Gear, and I had a Game Boy. Since my playtime was so limited, I was always impressed by the color screen, and never had to deal with the poor battery life. No matter that she had to carry it and the games and the cables in a case that was the size of a briefcase.
My favorite game on the system is easily Defenders of Oasis. Pretty much the only traditional RPG we managed to get Stateside. And after the fact, AGTP translating Sylvan Tale gives the system an excellent action-RPG, even if most of us will never experience the game on an actual system.
Also, I’ve always been curious as to the screen quality of the Game Gears sold in Toys ‘R’ Us well after the system was dead versus the original run. I’ve always heard the screens were better, but I don’t have an old-school one to compare to!
Shining Force, Columns, and Vampire are some classics that instantly come to mind.
The two Ecco games were also fantastic ports.
I had Shining Force, but I only beat it on an emulator years later. I’m pretty sure every time the batteries died or I switched cartridges my save would be deleted. That’s some bullshit.
While I never really got a chance to dig into the library, blurring and battery munching aside I really liked the Game Gear’s more TV-like screen because it’s perfectly visible in both sunlight and darkness.
I really wish there was a way to harness that kinda visibility without battery genocide.
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