The Sega Game Gear is an 8-bit handheld games console that was ultimately developed to compete with the Game Boy and Atari Lynx. The system is seen by many as a mini Sega Master System as it shares most of the hardware and with the use of an adaptor could even play master system games.
Although the system never caught up to the sales and overall popularity of the Game Boy, the large library of games and cheaper price tag gave it a distinctive lead over the Lynx. However, there were many issues with this arguably rushed system. The Game Gear significantly lacked battery life and original game titles. Additionally, Sega were supporting their home consoles over the handheld so less effort was put onto the maintenance of the Game Gear. The console was in production for a few years, as Sega attempted to prolong the life of it, only being discontinued in 1997. However, it was re-released in 2000 by Majesco as a budget system.
Whilst in development, the system was developed under the name ‘Project Mercury’, and upon release was sold for £99.99 in the UK. The Game Gear was developed to rival the Game Boy in every way possible. For example, the system was made to be landscape, to have a more powerful internal system and had a fully colour screen, with the shape slightly resembling a genesis controller.
Furthermore, the console came packaged with the game Columns, which was very similar to Tetris (the game launched with the Game Boy). Although Sega had attempted to try and pick up on Nintendo’s flaws, due to the more powerful system, battery life was sacrificed. Where a Game Boy could last for over 30 hours on four AA batteries; the Game Gear required 6 AA batteries to last only 3-5 hours of play.
Upon initial launch in Japan, 40,000 consoles were sold in the first two days. In addition to this, the Game Gear sold 90,000 in a month with a further 600,000 on back order. Which can show some popularity over the Game Boy as the system filled the gap that Nintendo had left.
Whilst marketing the Game Gear, Sega kept it in line with the selling point of the company trying to advertise it as a ‘cooler’ model which was a more grown-up console over Nintendo’s offering. In North America, it can be argued that this rivalry went a bit too far when Sega started to directly compare the consoles in adverts. Some of these adverts likened Game Boy players as to being obese and uneducated. Whilst others featured the direct quote “if you were colour-blind and had the IQ test of less than 12 then you wouldn’t mind which portable you had”.
One reason of declining sales of the Game Gear was the fact that Sega had placed their primary focus on their home console systems such as the Mega Drive and the Saturn. Additionally, their sales were hindered greatly by the release of the Game Boy Pocket, which provided an updated system and less batteries than its predecessor, ultimately having an edge over Sega’s console.
Though Sega did attempt to create a 16 bit handheld system, due to the internal lack of interest this was never fulfilled. Instead, the Genesis Nomad was manufactured, with Sega themselves not expecting to be successful and thereby continuing the production of the Game Gear. Therefore, production and support for the system was only discontinued across the globe in 1997.
Alike many other consoles of its day, the Game Gear included some additional content. These included a TV tuner accessory which made it possible for players to watch TV through their console. This device was originally released at an RRP of $105.88 ($186 in 2016). A further supplement to the Game Gear was a car adaptor, this would allow consumers to power their console whilst a car was running.
The games library for the console holds very mixed reviews, with over 300 games released! Upon launch of the system only six games were available for purchase which included the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s prided mascot, as well as Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse. The library is criticised for mainly consisted of Master System ports rather than featuring its own individual games. Furthermore, the Game Gear’s greatest competitor, Nintendo’s Game Boy, had a library of over 1000 games which were highly praised by the majority.
The reception to the Game Gear was, overall, very mixed. Although the console sold over 11 million units it was slated by the media and consumers for the short life of the batteries needed to power the console alongside the large design. On the other hand, the system was widely praised for the power and high-quality graphics with a coloured screen; this making it a pioneer of its day and appealing to many.