The Game Gear’s Lessons After 25 Years


There sure are some anniversaries going down in October 2015, so it might look like I’m putting these kinds of posts out in rapid fire. Maybe it’s gonna be like this every fall since that’s usually the biggest season for game releases. Today’s post is about a platform though, and a Japanese release from the early 90’s at that.

The Game Gear is, honestly, a footnote in the grand scheme of portable gaming. It wouldn’t be totally inaccurate to call it the PSP of its time in relation to its competitor from Nintendo, but it was also likely far less successful. In 2012 I made a post wondering just how many worthwhile Game Gear games even existed (all of them might already be on 3DS Virtual Console). The system however still had a palpable impact on my gaming experience during the mid 90’s.

Thinking back, maybe I just lived in a heavily SEGA-oriented neighborhood back then. I don’t think any house but my own had a Super NES, but almost everybody had a Genesis. I know the Genesis was a least as popular as the SNES in North America in those days but in my neck of the woods this felt particularly lopsided, to the point of drifting into the handheld space. Yes, Game Gears were at least as popular where I lived as Game Boys.

No, the Game Gear didn’t have Mario Land, it didn’t have Link’s Awakening, nor did it have Metroid II, but it did have the best portable conversions of a lot of console games at the time. My peers couldn’t help but show off the bright and colorful pocket editions of Mortal Kombat IILemmingsSamurai Shodown, and that one version of Sonic 2 I honestly didn’t like at all. Circa 1993 the Game Gear’s screen probably looked as bright and beautiful as the PlayStation Vita’s OLED screen did when it first launched.

That’s why the Game Gear was the PSP (and Vita) of its time. It was one of the many handhelds that have tried to beat Nintendo with superior hardware and decent ports of console games instead of killer apps well-suited to portable gaming. A lot of its appeal was flash and beauty. That said, when I finally got a Game Gear myself my main draws to it were Sonic Chaos and Sonic Triple Trouble — two exclusive Sonic games that were in fact quite good, especially Triple Trouble. The Game Gear in essence had its Mario Land. After it came out on 3DS Virtual Console I went and re-bought Triple Trouble (the screen of my old Game Gear is done), and it is indeed still legit.

Outside rare games like that though, it seems no one really learned the lessons of systems like the Game Gear, PSP, Vita, or all the others that tried and failed to stand up to the Game Boy and DS systems, not until Apple sort of out-Nintendo’ed Nintendo. That’s what it’s taken for Sony to admit it might not bring out a Vita successor at all, and for even Nintendo to relent and start developing software for another company’s hardware.

What’s ironic about Apple’s takeover of portable gaming is most mobile games are tiny on-the-go affairs, but Apple’s hardware is indeed a lot more powerful and trendier than Nintendo’s. It makes you wonder if SEGA and Sony could have done better with the same hardware approach but a different software approach to handheld gaming.


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