Is the Game Gear Worth Your Time Today?

Do you have a Nintendo Switch? Try putting it in your pocket.

How was it? Impossible? Imagine trying to do it with 3 Nintendo Switch consoles taped together. That’s what it’s like to try to put a Game Gear in your pocket.

The Game Gear is a “portable” console released in 1990 by Sega. This thing is absolutely massive. It’s as long and wide as a brick, and it weighs almost a pound.  It fits in my pocket somehow, but walking around while it’s in there is akin to trying to walk with a club foot.

All this insanity had a point though.  For its time, the Game Gear was incredibly advanced from a quality of life standpoint. The computing power of this monstrous gizmo was roughly the same as the Game Boy, it’s main competitor. This thing had features the Gameboy wouldn’t have until the Gameboy Advanced SP was released. With it’s full color, backlit screen, this thing made you the biggest badass in the apartment complex.

Unfortunately, the backlight, came at a price.  The Game Gear’s full color screen needed white LED light, and in 1989 when this was being designed, such a thing did not exist. So to backlight the screen on the Game Gear, Sega opted to use a full blown fluorescent light bulb to do the trick. Let me repeat that. Fluorescent Light Bulb.  This thing has a 3 hour battery life as a result.

Nowadays, this is common, both the Nintendo 3DS and Switch consoles have similar battery life and it’s fine, you just recharge them. The problem is the Game Gear doesn’t use rechargeable batteries. It requires 6 AA batteries every 3 hours you want to play.

So while the console is a technological marvel for its time, it’s also woefully inefficient in it’s execution.

The screen isn’t completely awful

So is it worth your time nowadays?

Well, yes and no. First and foremost, you can easily get around the battery problem with an AC adapter. The one used with the Model 2 Sega Genesis works fine.

The problem today is finding a Game Gear that works. I have never bought a used Game Gear that works. Ever. In the 10 years I have been collecting consoles.

I’ve never experienced anything like that with any other console. Repairing them is relatively simple if you know how to use a soldering iron, but is it even worth the effort?

Kind of.

Once the capacitors have been replaced, Game Gear screens don’t look half bad. I’ve noticed on multiple consoles that after repair, the screen image improves drastically. Viewing angles are no longer extremely limited, an despite looking washed out, everything looks pretty good.  Audio is extremely loud and crisp. Too bad the Game Gears sound chip is so lousy because the speaker on these things is really good. Buttons are responsive, but don’t feel as solid as you would expect. Sega controllers always seem to be more “loose” than other console manufacturers and the Game Gear is no exception.

One thing is undeniable though: this thing is built like a tank.

Despite how badly built it is inside, the console feels like it could take one hell of a beating. I am convinced you could cave in someone’s skull with this thing. Who needs guns when you can keep a Game Gear on your night stand. If someone breaks into your house, just throw it at their head or groin.

But what about the games?

The general rule of thumb with Game Gear is that it’s best to play games made specifically with the hardware in mind. You’re not doing yourself any favors using this thing to play console ports in 2020.  The problem is, the consoles library mostly consisted of console ports.

Some of these console ports (specifically Sonic) are completely different games so they’re worth checking out.  But it’s hard to tell exactly which ones are new games and which ones are straight conversions. Generally, if it’s a port of a Master System game, you can expect it to be the exact same experience on Game Gear, just lower res. When it comes to Genesis ports though, who the hell even knows?

Many Game Gear games lack the design philosophy that most people expect from portable games. It’s a lot like the PSP and VITA in that sense. It’s filled with games that try to emulate what you’d see on consoles at the time. Why is it that only Nintendo seems to understand that portable gaming is inherently different from console gaming? Why did so many developers make games that would drain the batteries before you could beat them? I also noticed that most games don’t seem to include any way to save progress, which was a staple of it’s competitor, the Game Boy, from day one. Aside from the original Tetris, most Game Boy games had save systems because they were specifically designed to be played on the go. You get interrupted all the time while on the go, so it’s important to be able to turn the machine off while you’re not using it. A save feature facilitates that.

I think having console quality games would have been less annoying if there was at least a way to save progress in them. It’s not like it wasn’t possible and given the consoles design it makes no sense to claim that it was a cost saving measure.

There’s nothing on the Game Gear that’s going to compare to something like Donkey Kong 94 or Game and Watch Gallery. I cite those specifically because they’re made to be played in short bursts AND keep track of progress and scores.

Here’s a small group of reviews of some of my favorite and least favorite games.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic’s first outing on the Game Gear is fantastic. It’s beautiful to look at, controls great, has a good soundtrack, no screen crunch, and I find myself playing it over and over again. Yeah, I know, that’s such a generic review, but what else am I supposed to say? It’s not brilliant or anything but it kicks the shit out of Super Mario Land and then kicks it again while it’s down. Super Mario Land tries to escape the ring, only for Sonic to drag it back in, pull it up, punch it in the gut repeatedly, headbutt it, and then body slam it repeatedly until the fight doctor forces the fight to end. But Sonic doesn’t listen, and keeps beating the hell out of Mario Land until security pulls Sonic away kicking and screaming. The paramedics arrive to try to help Mario Land, but unfortunately Mario Land is declared dead at the scene and Sonic goes to prison for manslaughter.

That’s how much better this game is.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

This is the Game Gear’s Super Mario Bros./ Duck Hunt. Not because it’s good, but because every time you find a Game Gear this game is inside of it. It’s so common someone actually managed to buy a brand new copy of the game at a box box retailer last year . It’s a shame because because Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a terrible game. You can’t see what you’re doing because the camera is so zoomed in. Blind jumps, enemies you can’t see coming out of nowhere and killing you. It’s a very unpleasant game bordering on unplayable. Mind you, there is a Master System version that ISNT zoomed in so ridiculously. It’s a playable game, but even then it’s fairly weak compared to the first game. You’re not missing anything by not playing this. The thing is, this somehow isn’t the worst Game Gear Sonic game. Sonic Blast and Sonic Labyrinth are both horrifically bad garbage too. Avoid all 3.

Sonic Chaos

Another Sonic game. Its better than Sonic 2 but worse than Sonic 1. The camera is still zoomed in like crazy, but the level design and enemy placement take this into account. All in all a decent game. Very ugly to look at though. Sonic looks like he has Downs Syndrome for some reason.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

It’s Puyo Puyo. It’s fun. However, if you own a Switch just get Puyo Puyo Tetris instead. Hell, the Genesis version is passable barring that. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine on Game Gear is functionally obsolete and really only good for those of you that already have nostalgia for it. There are so many portable console out there that have the same exact game. Why would anyone play this on Game Gear today when you can be even more esoteric and play Puyo Pyuo Tsu on a Neo Geo Pocket Color and have a 40 hour battery life?

Mickey Mouse: Land of Illusion

I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this game. It’s a slow paced platformer and is decently challenging. I really like the mysterious feeling the game gives off too. I haven’t played too far into it but I definitely enjoyed what I played and recommend it.

Taz Mania

All i can say is wow. My first reaction to this game was complete and utter shock. I expected nothing. I received nothing short of something utterly unbelievable. I have trouble believing that people don’t talk about this game more, because it is without question one of the worst games I have ever played in my entire life. Mind you, i have played a lot of games and I promise you I’m not being hyperbolic. I enjoy games that most people hate like Jaws and Back to the Future. Two games that look like utter masterpieces of design compared to Taz Mania. The music in this game has to be heard to be believed. It’s like if Crazy Bus decided to give an encore. The game itself is unplayable. Not like Sonic 2 where you are tricked into thinking it’s playable for 30 seconds before slowly learning you were wrong. It’s unplayable in every sense. I recommend it for the sheer fact that you won’t believe me until you play it yourself.

Conclusion

So yeah, that’s the Game Gear. There’s definitely a reason why most people don’t remember this thing. Even when it was new, it was outclassed in nearly every single way by Nintendo’s Game Boy.  Even now, you can easily find working Game Boy consoles, and the library is one of the best there is.

I almost want to categorize it with the Virtual Boy. It’s nowhere near as bad, but like the Virtual Boy, the Game Gear is only portable in theory. The size, battery life, and games makes is unfeasible to use as a portable gaming device.  It’s definitely comfy to plug this thing into the wall and lay in bed with it though.  They’re inexpensive enough and if you’re not afraid to open it up for some surgery it’s worth it. The games are cheap as hell too. It’s just a shame that they’re not tailored for portable play.

If you are already a Game Gear owner or just someone that wants to check out the Japanese half of the library through emulation, check out our English translations pack for Game Gear. I haven’t tried any of these yet so who knows if they’re worth giving a go or not. I’m gonna say they’re probably not, but who knows?