Sega Game Gear 101: A Beginner’s Guide
The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console or handheld that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured machine, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.
Even though I own a Game Gear and a few games, racketboy.com contributer, Scooter jumped at the opportunity to share his knowledge about Sega’s attempt at mobile gaming. Enjoy!
- The Sega Game Gear was Sega’s response to the runaway success of Nintendo’s Game Boy. While technically superior in many ways, the Game Gear failed to make a significant impact in the hand held system market.
- The Game Gear was basically a compact repackaging of the 8-bit Sega Master System technology.
- First available in Japan in 1990, North America and Europe in 1991 and elsewhere in 1992, the system did have a decent lifespan not being discontinued by Sega until 1997.
- In 2000 the system was reissued by Majesco though still prominently labeled as a Sega product. The Majesco units featured slightly improved screen but did not support some of the earlier produced peripherals such as the TV Tuner.
- In typical Sega style, the system had a large array of peripherals such as the Super Wide Gear (screen magnifier), a TV tuner, Gear to Gear cable (a link cable allowing two player action with two linked Game Gear units) and Master Gear (an adapter that allowed Master System cartridges to be played on the Game Gear).
- Many successful Genesis game franchises spawned additional Game Gear versions of those game series. Many such games were entirely unique games instead of being simplified ports of the Genesis version of the game.
- More Sega Game Gear information on Wikipedia
- The system contains a 3.2 inch wide full color screen with 160 x 146 resolution. This was quite technologically impressive in its day and does provide a good play screen, though the resolution may disappoint some players who are only familiar with modern, high resolution screens.
- The Game Gear is ergonomically well designed fitting into the hands well and is not terribly heavy. Weight is significantly reduced further when used with an AC or car adapter or wired battery pack and no AA batteries installed in the unit itself.
- A wide variety of games in all contemporary genres were available. With the Master Gear converter, the library of roughly 250 Game Gear games could be expanded by an additional 219 Master System games, though there is a good amount of overlap in the systems’ game libraries as a number of games were ported either from Game Gear to the Master System or vice versa.
- The system it relatively inexpensive to collect and new or near new games and systems are still available regularly.
- With the use of headphones or mini speakers the system can support full stereo sound if stereo support was provided within the design of the game being played.
- Peripheral Madness! If you enjoy collecting peripherals for your vintage system, the Game Gear can offer a wide array of fun and interesting peripherals.
- The power, sound and video boards are all modular so even with only a basic technical ability, often times multiple failed units can be pieced together into at least a single fully working unit.
- Game controls are kept quite simple with two action buttons and a D-pad. Most games are a pick up and play opportunity. The Start button typically functions as a pause button though on a few innovative games it can be used as an additional action button.
- Game, system and peripheral packaging is colorful and most often quite artful.
- The system is not region specific (the same holds true for Master System games) so games from any region can be played on systems from any region. The only region specific items are the TV Tuners.
- The system uses cartridge based software and as such the software is quite durable and portable.
- The system consumes batteries at an alarming rate. The system holds 6 AA batteries which will last for roughly two hours.
- Rechargeable batteries and/or AC or car adapters are almost a must for continued hand held gaming enjoyment.
- The sound system was designed with inexpensive capacitors which over time can fail leaving the system with a very weak or nonexistent ability to provide sound.
- The sound boards can typically be repaired by replacing these capacitors but this process can be costly and may be beyond the technical capacity of many collectors. When shopping for a used unit, be sure to inquire about the sound output!
- The screen has a somewhat low refresh rate and will provide a temporarily lower contrast picture with fast moving games, such as the Sonic games, in which the game screen scrolls rapidly. The later Majesco units address this somewhat with a brighter, more active screen.
- The game screen is not intensely bright and can provide low contrast when used in brightly lit environments. Using the system in lower light areas and/or making use of the Sega Super Wide Gear, which not only magnifies the screen it also blocks out outside light, is recommended. Of course restricting use to low light areas can detract from the entire concept of a portable, use anywhere system and attaching the Super Wide Gear seriously detracts from the sleek design of the base unit making it bulky and cumbersome and definitely less easily portable.
- Peripheral Madness! With so many peripherals available for the system, obtaining a full collection of systems, games and peripherals can be quite a daunting task. Many of the peripherals help address, and exemplify, the system’s weaknesses. Most peripherals detract from the system’s portability and the sleek compact design of the base unit.
- Not all games were designed with the Game Gear’s screen resolution firmly in mind and as such can be difficult to see what is going on during game play.
- System, game and peripheral packaging can be difficult to find in display quality, this is especially true of game packaging. For some games which were released in small quantities, it can even be difficult to find game manuals to accompany the games.
- The target audience of the Game Gear was typically younger gamers and as such many systems, games and peripherals have led a rough life. The collector concerned with blemish free items complete with all their original packaging will have to work harder and spend more to find more pristine examples.
- Racing: As with the Genesis and the arcade, Sega was strong in the area of racing games and this of course carried over to the Game Gear. Some of the better games include: Super Monaco Gran Prix I & II, Micro Machines, Road Rash, Super Off Road, and Sonic Drift 1 & 2
- Sports: Another area of strength for Sega in the ‘90s was sports games and the Game Gear again benefited from this. Some of the best sports titles available were: Leaderboard Golf, Joe Montana Football, NFL ‘95, The Majors Pro Baseball, PGA Tour Golf, and Fred Couples Golf
- RPG: The Game Gear lineup lacks a strong library of RPGs but a few did reach the market. The best of the bunch was Defenders of Oasis.
- Platformers: If any single genre exemplifies Game Gear/Genesis era console gaming it is 2D platformers and the Game Gear had plenty of them. There are too many to list here, but some of the best include the Sonic series (including Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble, the first Sonic GG exclusive), Tom & Jerry The Movie, Bart vs. The Space Mutants, Krusty’s Funhouse, and the Ecco Series. (We’ll try to have a more thorough list of games later)
- Beatemups: There is Streets of Rage on the Game Gear. Need I say more?
- Shooters: A good number of quality shooters were available for Sega’s little hand held. The better ones include: Aerial Assault, G-Loc, Desert Strike, Super Space Invaders, Super Battletank, Choplifter III, Fantasy Zone, and Halley Wars
- Puzzle: Puzzle games were by far not the largest genre available on the Game Gear, a number of quality puzzlers were available: Columns, Super Columns, Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and Marble Madness.
- As mentioned above, all games can be played on all systems, including Master System games with the use of the Master Gear converter.
- The TV Tuners are region specific with each being geared toward the broadcast signals typical in the area to which they belong. The North American and UK tuners look quite similar but function differently.
- In addition to the standard platforms like the PC, Mac, and Linux, emulators are available for many other platforms such as the Sega Dreamcast, Windows Mobile, iPod, Playstation Portable, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Palm OS.
- Due to the similarities between the Game Gear and the Sega Master System hardware, Game Gear emulators usually play Master System games as well and vice versa.
- A working base system can often be acquired for as little as $10-$15, though more pristine boxed versions will typically run upwards of $50 or more.
- A good selection of games can be obtained for a few dollars apiece. Some games can still be found brand new still in the factory shrink wrap.
- Many games received wide releases and as such are readily available through typical sources such as eBay and used game stores.
- While a few great games are hard to locate and expensive to obtain typically due to low issue rates, a wide variety of quality games across all genres are easy to obtain from worldwide sources.
- Limited edition colored units can command significantly higher prices. The US received a blue unit marketed as a sports edition packaged with sports games and a carrying case. Japan received a yellow unit and a Coca-Cola related unit in red. Other rare colors may have been available in small quantities.
- You can also buy one of these newer handhelds with built-in Game Gear games rather inexpensively.
- TV Tuner: allows reception of broadcast TV signals on the Game Gear unit turning it into a small TV. A coaxial cable to mini pin adapter can also allow the Game Gear to receive cable TV signals and can allow the unit be used as a camera monitor/playback screen. The tuner can be expensive and hard to find in complete, boxed condition.
- Rechargeable batteries: two versions of rechargeable battery packs were available. One is a sausage shaped heavy unit which has a belt clip allowing it to remain portable with the unit. The other, called the Power Back, attached to the back of the unit integrating well with the overall design of the unit itself though it adds significant weight and a little bulk to the system. Given their age, both units often will contain worn out NiCad batteries but these batteries can be replaced relatively easily. Both battery packs are charged by the same AC or car adapter that is used to power the Game Gear itself. (Another alternative is to simply use modern high quality rechargeable AA batteries.)
- Gear to Gear link cable: this cable links two Game Gear units for full two player competition. This requires two Game Gears and two copies of the game to be played. Many games offer Gear to Gear compatibility.
- Super Wide Gear: this is a screen magnifier and helps make the screen more visible also by blocking out most external ambient light. Other brands of screen magnifiers can be readily found, but few work as well or fit as well onto the unit as the Sega brand item.
- Carrying case: The Sega brand case provides secure compact storage for the base unit and the more useful peripherals. Relatively easy to locate and often not expensive.
- Master Gear converter: this adapter allows Master System games to be played on the Game Gear. This adapter only works with Sega Master System cartridges, not the SMS game cards. Note: only about 6 or 7 SMS games were ever issued on the game card.
- AC adapter and car adapter: A must have to compensate for the high battery usage rate of the system. These same adapters are used to charge the Sega brand battery packs so only one adapter is needed for charging and directly powering the unit. Additionally, the battery packs can be charged while using an adapter to power the unit during use.
- Cheat devices: Game Gear versions of cheat devices such as the Game Genie were available.