Picture the scene, it’s Christmas 1994 and I’m 8 years old. The Sega Megadrive is still riding a wave of popularity but it’s starting to wane as Nintendo fights back with the Super Nintendo and Donkey Kong Country. Sony has just entered the home console market in Japan with the Playstation, setting in motion a seismic shift in the gaming industry. The Lion King reigned supreme at the box office, Dookie, the seminal album from Green Day was released (not that I knew that at the time!), Brazil won the 1994 World Cup hosted by the USA and Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections to be held since the end of apartheid. However, none of this mattered to me at the time as I was a carefree, middle-class, suburban boy living in Southampton, UK and only one thing mattered to me that cold December morning.
Unwrapping a brand new, shiny Sega Game Gear from underneath the Christmas tree!
The excitment was at fever pitch!!
Christmas Eve was torture. Unable to sleep, I woke every hour until 5 am, I rose from my bed, snuck along the landing and into my sister’s room, where she too was awake, gripped with the same fever, and we quietly, tip-toed down the stairs to see what good old Father Christmas had left for us. Now, looking back on this now, my family were not rich, but we weren’t poor either. We sat very much in the middle, 2 point 4 children category as it was known back in the ’90s. My parents, under the guise of Santa, always came through when it came to Christmas and I will be forever thankful that they worked damn hard to give us all they could. I don’t tell them enough, but I am forever thankful for the childhood that we had and it’s largely down to them. Anyway, back to the story. Laid out across the sofa and armchairs were 2 piles of presents, one for each of us. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, surely it wasn’t all for us? We both knew it was too early for opening presents. Our parents wouldn’t be up for a couple of hours at least so we made a deal. We would go back to bed, but first, we would carefully unseal a present, just to catch a glimpse of what we had been lucky enough to receive, then reseal it and pretend that it had never happened. We made our choices. Strangely, although I was close to exploding with excitement at the thought of Sega’s sleek, black handheld being there, I went for a much smaller present. One that I hoped would confirm my impending ownership of a certain handheld device. Unsealing the top, I peeked in. There they were, in all their glory, the words, The Lion King! I was ecstatic! Giddy with joy, I resealed the present and went back to bed until around 7 am. Oh, sorry, you might be wondering why I was so happy to see The Lion King. Well, that particular Disney classic’s name was printed across the most glorious of sights, the tell-tale silver/grey box of a Sega Game Gear game! God being a kid ruled.
How many Batteries does it take!!!
Once the clock hit 7, my sister and I were up again pestering our parents to let us open our presents, which, of course, they did, knowing we couldn’t be contained any longer. Armed with the knowledge that I had at least one Game Gear game downstairs, I went straight for what I thought would be the prize I had been seeking for such a long time. Sure enough, there it was. A Sega Game Gear! I finally had my own handheld. I could now game anywhere I wanted and in full colour too! It’s fair to say that Christmas 1994 was a good Christmas. That was until the 6 AA batteries that my parents had purchased ran out after 2 hours and I was forced to plug in the AC adaptor! The Game Gear is a battery hog! Good job all that portable gaming I was gonna do was largely based in my own house anyway! Despite this disappointment, I was of course overjoyed. The system was sleek and cool. The screen was vibrant. It was everything I had imagined and I couldn’t wait to show it off. Fast forward to 2022 and I still have that very system. It’s a little scratched, not too badly. The screen packed up years ago, almost certainly due to the notoriously poor capacitors Sega used in the building of the handhelds. I have had it refurbed and it’s now working, but that screen isn’t too hot these days and the need for 6 AA batteries is pretty rough considering I rarely have spares lying around. I can’t bring myself to mod it. I’m too attached to it. There are far too many great memories like the tale above and I’m happy to keep it as it is. Untouched, original and the same as it was the day I got it.
The game gear is better than the gameboy, Change my mind!
So I’ve told you the story of how I got my Game Gear, but now let me tell you a little about why I love the system so much and why I think it’s still a fantastic pick up in 2022. Back in 1994, Nintendo ruled the handheld market with the Gameboy. Released in 1989 in Japan and the US with Europe following the next year in 1990, along with the NES, Nintendo ruled the videogame world. The Gameboy was the first truly successful handheld gaming machine and quickly amassed a huge library of games. Its green monochrome display however was not backlit, and graphically, although it’s billed as an 8-bit portable, the games rarely matched what the NES could do. The battery life is decent, but I never liked the vertical orientation of the device and the shoddy screen. After successfully releasing the Mega Drive worldwide, Sega looked to capitalise and further take a chunk out of Nintendo’s dominance and release their own handheld, the Game Gear. Releasing in October 1990 in Japan and April 1991 in the US and Europe, the Game Gear was a powerhouse compared to the Gameboy. The 8-bit system, largely based on Sega’s previous 8-bit home console, the Master System, has a full colour, backlit screen and a more comfortable landscape format. The screen is a decent size too and the system can play Master System games via the Master Gear Converter. I was blown away when I first laid my eyes on it and put it alongside the Gameboy, there was no contest for me. I already had a Master System so being able to play those games on the go as well as play exclusive Game Gear games that were as good if not better than their Master System counterparts, I was ready to hand over my parent’s money on the spot! It even had a TV tuner and handheld TVs were the epitome of cool in the ’90s. I always wanted this accessory but unfortunately, never got it. The design is far nicer than the Gameboy too. Nintendo’s system is a brick. It’s ugly, uncomfortable to hold and lacks any kind of ability to play NES games. The colour is also prone to yellowing over time. The Game Gear is black, sleek and cool. It’s comfortable in the hand. Yes, it is big but I find that it’s far nicer to hold than the Gameboy. When I got my system back in 1994, putting it alongside my best mate’s Gameboy, it looked like alien technology from the future. In fact, he still tells me to this day how jealous he was of my Game Gear back then!
Lets talk about games though.
This is the divisive one. I was a Sega kid, so my view on the Game Gear library is and was a little biased. Sonic the Hedgehog was the game of my early childhood and I played anything and everything Sonic related. The Game Gear is well served with Sonic titles and the majority of them are decent with a couple of excellent ones. Naturally, this meant that I was almost certainly pre-programmed to love the Game Gear. Mario just wasn’t on my radar back then. Being able to play many of the franchises that I loved on Master System and Megadrive on the go was a massive deal to me then as it was to a lot of other people. Streets of Rage, Shinobi, the Disney games, Outrun, Space Harrier etc all got ports to the Game Gear and they were all mostly decent. Back in 94, I only had a small collection of games, but re-visiting them today has been eye-opening. I’m in the fortunate position of owning a modded Game Gear with an Everdrive which I have loaded with the full Game Gear and Master System libraries and the sheer variety of games on offer for the handheld is amazing. Every genre is covered, RPGs, shooters, platformers, fighters, racing games, puzzle games, it’s all there. Of course, there are some bad games in there, no system is perfect in this regard, but there is far more in the Game Gear back catalogue that I want to revisit than the Gameboys.
The ultimate retro handheld?
Like any videogame system, time passes, old technology is replaced by new and we as gamers, inevitably move on to whatever comes next. Sadly for Sega, nothing ever came next. We never got a Game Gear 2. The Sega Nomad, a portable Megadrive never saw a release in PAL regions and was never intended as a replacement for the Game Gear. Sega never went back into the handheld market, with many considering the Game Gear a failure. The Gameboy was far too entrenched as the number one portable gaming system for Sega to make a massive dent in its market share and the system just wasn’t as well supported as Nintendo’s but it definitely wasn’t a failure. Just like everyone else, I moved on and my Game Gear was consigned to its carry case for many years before I dug it out again and got it refurbished. Now in the age of nostalgia, where we are all looking back at our childhoods and digging out our retro systems, that childhood Game Gear of mine doesn’t quite cut it anymore. The screen is terrible. In 1989, it was cutting edge, but now it’s pretty bad. The battery life is still awful. However, we now live in a time where modding retro systems are big business and there are multiple mods you can do to a Game Gear to improve on what Sega released back in ’89. Screen mods, speaker mods, replacement boards, rechargeable batteries! This is why I now consider the Game Gear the ultimate retro handheld!
Putting a new LCD or IPS screen in your Game Gear is a game-changer. This is what Sega wanted it to be when it was conceived. The image quality is stunning. The colours are vibrant, everything is razor-sharp now! Trust me, this is one mod that I consider truly necessary to revive any old Game Gear. However, if you want to go the whole hog and completely pimp it out, the possibilities are staggering. Slap a couple of rechargeable batteries in there with a USB-C port for charging and all of a sudden, taking the Game Gear on a long trip becomes much more appealing. A modded Game Gear really is a sight to behold. There are also endless options for custom shells too. There are multiple sites that will build you a custom Game Gear with all the mods, but the shell is a blank canvas in my opinion. You can paint it, mix and match shells and lenses, and different colour buttons!
This is where Andrew here at Retro Gear Customs comes into play. He’ll build whatever you want, but he’ll also paint and design whatever you want to give you the ultimate Game Gear that is totally unique. I personally have a Sonic themed system which has been completely pimped out with a new screen, speakers, batteries and a custom paint job. I love it! Combined with my Everdrive, it’s perfect. I truly believe it’s the best retro handheld to mod as the gains are massive. The Gameboy can be modded of course, but it’s still the same monochrome display with a backlight. Seeing the full-colour display of the Game Gear using a backlit, the IPS panel is just beautiful. Obviously, all of this comes at a cost but I think its worth it and the happiness I have found by going back and revisiting games I played as a child while discovering a whole new library has been a real journey that has been both fun from a gaming point of view, but also inspired me to get involved with this website, writing reviews of the games I play and now creating different content like this blog post or a buyers guide for anyone interested in buying or fixing up an old Game Gear. Let me make it clear, I don’t dislike the Gameboy. I have owned many and even just recently got a modded Gameboy colour and it’s great. I’m purely basing this on the OG Gameboy and the Game Gear, what I experienced as a child and how I feel about what can be achieved by modding the systems now. In my opinion, the benefits of modding a Game Gear far exceed any negatives and paired with my love of Sega and the memories of a childhood spent sitting in an armchair, plugged into the AC adaptor, the glow of the backlit Game Gear screen lighting up my face, this is why I love the Sega Game Gear.
About the author
Tom Anson (Classic_Console_Wars) – A Sega kid through and through, I grew up in the 90s and loved all things Sega. I love all things gaming but I still hold a deep passion for my Sega consoles and retro gaming. Find me creating awesome content for the Retro Gear Customs website and on my socials below.
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