The Video Game Critic's Portable Reviews
Game Gear (1991-1997)

Manufacturer: Sega
Format: Cartridge
Number of games: 300
Initial Price: $149.99


The Game Gear was Sega's initial foray into the portable video game market. This sleek system attracted many high-profile franchises including NBA Jam, Disney's Aladdin, Jurassic Park, and Mortal Kombat. With Nintendo dominating the low-edge portable market with its Game Boy, the Game Gear battled it out with the Atari Lynx for high-end customers. Both systems offered full-color screens but the Game Gear had better resolution (160x144 vs. 160x102) and could display 32 colors at once compared to 16 for the Lynx.

The Gear Gear is a compact, lightweight machine with sleek black styling similar to the Sega Genesis. The system accumulated a substantial library of titles over its relatively long lifespan, and Sega released a TV tuner that contributed to its popularity. One knock against the Game Gear was its battery life. Six AA batteries would only hold charge for 3-5 hours, or about an hour less than the Lynx.

Under the hood the Game Gear is basically just a scaled-down version of the Sega Master System. In fact, a Sega Game Gear Master System Converter allows Master System games to be played on the Game Gear.

When Sega released a portable Genesis called the Nomad in 1995 they may have inadvertently hastened the perception that the Game Gear had reached the end of the line. The system limped along until the late 90's when I was lucky enough to buy a brand new one on clearance.

I've heard the system can fail over time due to leaky capacitors but have not encountered any issues. If worse comes to worse, mods are available to upgrade the screen and even output to television. You can also play your Game Gear games on an HDTV via the Retron 5 console (with attachment), which makes the games look terrific by the way. sonic

Design: A. The system features a compact, lightweight, minimalist design. Its smooth shell is comfortable to hold and the buttons are easy to press. Along the top of the unit is a power switch, headphone jack, and volume dial.

Graphics: C. With a 160x144 resolution and 32 colors, the system was powerful enough to run games originally designed for full-sized consoles. The problem is, if you tilt the system up or down the screen becomes washed out. Like the Lynx, you need to keep it held at a particular angle for optimal viewing.

Size: C. The Game Gear was portable enough to carry in a book bag, but not small enough to stick in your pocket.

Controls: C. The system features two action buttons plus a Start button usually reserved for pause. The lack of buttons hurt the system's ability to play more sophisticated games like Mortal Kombat.

Audio: C. Comparable to the Lynx, the system was capable of simple music and digitized sounds.

Battery Life: D. Six AA batteries would last 3-5 hours, about an hour less than the Lynx. I recommend using an AC adapter.

box Media: B+. The cartridge are thin, wide, and easy to slide into the system.

Packaging: C. The games were packaged in flimsy purple cardboard boxes. The cartridges themselves were enclosed in clear plastic clam-like cases.

Games: A-. Spanning over 300 titles, the Game Gear library is impressive. It features many powerhouses such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Road Rash, Micro Machines, and Star Wars. While many were console ports, there were also plenty of originals including Sonic Drift, Vampire, Axe Battler, and Sonic Chaos. The number of RPG games available was also impressive for a portable system.

Collectability: C+. The Game Gear system and its games are relatively cheap. Even its scaled-down games tend to have a unique look and feel, making them fun to play in their own right. That said, modern gamers may find it hard to stomach the small, washed-out screen.

Innovations: TV tuner accesory.

Pros and Cons:
+ Cheap and easily available
+ Wide selection of games
- Washed out screen
- Limited battery life
- Minimal controls

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