Sega had a really good thing going with the Genesis. Back in 1989 Sega was unrivaled with its 16-bit powerhouse console. But unfortunately Sega had glossed over a very important part of the gaming market, handhelds. While Sega was busy being king of the console roost with the Genesis, Nintendo sneakily released the Gameboy to fill the portable gaming void that had been plaguing gamers for almost a decade ever since the Milton Bradley Microvision left a rather disappointed taste in people’s mouths and Tiger had been flooding the market with cheap crap that people bought out of desperation. So the Game Boy shows up in 1989 and everybody loves it, it’s basically a portable NES what’s not to love? Well the screen for one thing, it wasn’t backlit so if you weren’t in a well lit room you couldn’t see shit. There was also the Atari/Epyx Lynx that came out also in 1989 about six months after the Game Boy, and it had its own issues to deal with, but I’m not going to get into that right now since I just want to focus on the Game Gear. Actually if I’m going to be honest, almost all of the issues faced by the Game Gear could also be applied to the Lynx.
Let’s start with the most obvious issue the Game Gear faced: Size. This thing is massive, it’s bulky, and while it’s portable, it’s not as portable as the Game Boy that could fit in a good sized pocket. You’d need a pair of Jnco jeans to store the Game Gear. That being said I think the design of the Game Gear is far nicer than that of the Game Boy. There are no hard corners on the Game Gear, everything is soft and rounded and most importantly for comfort, spread out. This is why the game gear is so darn huge, there’s a lot of wasted space, but there’s a very good reason for the size I’ll get to that soon. The Game Boy is a bit more industrial looking; there is very little decoration on the unit, its simple looking. It also opts for the vertical approach which is great for size but not for comfort as there is no room for ergonomics and you just have to hold on for dear life as opposed to the Game Gear which will basically melt into your hands. So on looks the Game Gear wins, on size the Game Gear loses, and on comfort the Game Gear also wins.
The screen is one of the most important parts of a handheld console and as we all know the Game Boy’s screen is garbage. All you get is various shades of grey, green, and black and the screen isn’t backlit to boot. But having a non backlit screen turned out to be the right move for Nintendo. The Game Gear has a full color backlit screen the same resolution of the Game Boy, and y’know what it’s kind of dreadful. The backlighting is terrible, if you hold the console at the wrong angle the image will either be washed out or very green and the viewing window is absolutely tiny, you can adjust the brightness but that really just changes the angle of the viewing window. While Sega probably thought that having a backlit screen was an excellent idea it came at an incredible cost, battery life. This is the most important thing about a handheld console; in the long run it doesn’t matter if it looks good or is comfortable to hold if the unit can’t stay on for more than three hours y’done fucked up. The Game Gear had an optimal battery life of 5 hours though it was more realistically 2-3 hours because there is no option to turn the backlight off and while you can adjust the brightness in the end you’ll just make the screen bright green or white neither of which are energy saving colors to display. The Game Boy boasted an astonishing 12-15 hours of gameplay, all on four AA batteries, while the Game Gear could only muster 2-3 hours with six AA batteries SIX BATTERIES! Batteries weren’t cheap then and they aren’t cheap now.
Sega did release external rechargeable batteries for the Game Gear but they did little to lengthen your play time and once you were out you had to recharge them using the power supply plugged into the wall. An adaptor was also released that would plug into a car’s cigarette lighter and power the system that way though it would probably drain the car’s battery in a few hours as well. Honestly the best way to play the thing is with it plugged into the wall which completely removes the portable aspect of it, also as far as I can tell there were no battery backups in any of the games so they were limited in length to accommodate the battery life. Speaking of game…
There were a lot of game released for the Game Gear, and frankly most of them aren’t worth looking at or buying. Usually they were just stripped down versions of Master System and Genesis titles, in fact the Game Gear is so compatible with the Master System there were adaptors made that would let you play Master System games on the Game Gear. Unfortunately the Game Gear had virtually no third party support, thank you Nintendo for your almost illegal licensing practices, so there were very few original game on the system. Oddly enough this air of exclusivity did drive sales up a bit beating out all but Nintendo on the portable games market despite being the final one to show up for the party. The Game Gear had a decent run, releasing over 300 games in its five year life span before being axed by Sega in 1997 and while this in no way compares to the Game Boy’s 1000+ games over a 14 year period it still held its own.
Unfortunately these days working Game Gears are rather hard to come by, the one I got was actually the first working one the guy had seen in years and I believe him since he has about a dozen broken ones in the basement. When it comes to actually buying one you’ll probably wind up spending close to 50 dollars for one that just works with no games or power supply, on the other hand you could get a working Game Boy for the same cost as a broken Game Gear, and you’ll get more cheaper (probably better) games too. So if there’s anything you should take away from this rather rambly set of words, buy a Game Gear at your own risk.