Game Gear (1990 – 1997): Sega’s Top 90’s Handheld Game Console

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The 90’s was a nice period for the gaming world. As most of the game manufacturers were upgrading their gadget with even more innovative features, while others were trying the waters with completely new products. Sega was already on top of the list with some of the best-selling consoles in the United States and across the world. The Game Gear was one of the top handheld gaming consoles by Sega that was released in the 90s. You could confuse this console with the Game Boy. Although Game Gear had its own distinct features that differentiated it from the rest of the handheld consoles at the time.

This console had an amazing history that I could resist but write about it. As we take yet another nostalgic trip back in time courtesy of the Game gear. This console graced our childhood back in the old good days of the ‘90s through to the early 2000s. Although the production of the Game Gear stopped in 1997, they remained in the market for over 3 years. It is unfortunately that they didn’t last for that long after the first release.

Evolution of the Game Gear

Out of the blues, Sega recently the launch of a miniaturized version of it s Game Gear devices which was successful in Japan in 1980s and early 1990s. The Game gear Micro were developed last year to pay homage to the classic game gear system of the 90s. This brought sweet memories of the original Game Gear. The fans and the retro-game enthusiast could not wait to have their hands on this tiny device that represented a piece of their past.

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Sega’s 60th anniversary announcement of the Game Gear Micro brings back warm memories of the classic Game Gear. The game was a handheld console that competed with Nintendo’s Game Boy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In spite of being mostly overtaken by the Game Boy in popularity, Sega’s Game Gear nevertheless enjoys an enviable following to this day.

The 1990s Game Gear is once again in the spotlight thanks to the Sega Game Gear Micro’s release. For those unfamiliar with the Sega Game gear, it is still fun to experience how the 90s felt. The micro–Game Gear brings some interesting tidbits about the underappreciated pocket device from the golden age of video gaming. Just when the gaming world was starting to open up to use of the most advanced technologies and the development of in the microchip design architecture.

Background History of the Game Gear Handheld Console

Sega released the Game Gear in Japan on October 1990 and the following year it was released in the United States. Game Gear was an8-bit fourth generation handheld games device. Nintendo Game Boy, Atari, and NEC’s TurboExpress were the primary competitors for the Game Gear.
The Master System adapter is required to play Master System games on this system. Sega Marketed the Game Gear as a technologically superior handheld to the Game Boy because of its full-color backlit screen and landscape format.

As a result of the Game Gear's rushed release, it had a distinct advantage over the Atari Lynx and TurboExpress. As a result, by March 1996 the Game Gear had sold only 10.62 million units, compared to the Game Boy's 16.7 million. On April 30, 1997, the Game Gear was axed from store shelves. It was reissued in 2000 by Majesco Entertainment under license from Sega as a low-cost version of the system.

With plaudits for its full-color backlit screen and processing power, the Game Gear received a mixed reception, with complaints about its bulk and limited battery life as well as doubts about the quality of its game collection. In June 2020, the Game Gear Micro, a retro-console, was revealed and released.

The Game Gear was developed under Project Mercury name in the early ‘90s. Sega America CEO Michael Katz was the lead for the production of this handheld game console. A full-color screen, unlike the Game Boy’s monochromatic screen, was included in the portable edition of the Master System.
Gamers that preferred a more ergonomic design over their competitor's Game Boy tended to favor Sega’s Game Gear because of its similarity in form to a Genesis controller and its length. To achieve a total mass between the Game Boy and Atari Lynx (full-color screen device), significant consideration was given to the console’s mass at the outset of its design and development.

In spite of the fact that the Game Gear and Master System shared many characteristics, Master System games could only be played on the Game Gear using a Master Gear attachment. In the original Game Gear, Nintendo provided a pack-in-game called Columns, which was quite similar to Tetris.

The Rise and Fall of the Game Gear Handheld Gaming Console

Having fallen behind Nintendo in sales due to its lack of a handheld, Sega pushed to bring the Game Gear into stores as quickly as possible. While the Master system had just 64 colors, the Game Gear could display 4096 colors, making it one of the first portable gaming systems to feature such a vast color palette. This adjustment was made in order to make it easier to adapt Master System games to the Game Gear. As a result of its more advanced architecture, the Game Gear had a significantly shorter battery life than the Game Boy.
The Game Boy could run for up to 30 hours on four AA batteries, whereas the Game Gear required six AA batteries and could only last three to five hours. The handheld sold 40,000 units in the first two days in Japan and 90,000 in a month, with over 600,000 back orders for the system, thanks to the country’s rapid debut. There is certainly a need for a great portable system that includes capabilities that other systems have failed to deliver. This translates to clear, full color graphics and engaging, age-appropriate gameplay.

Sega’s primary focus on its home consoles impacted support for the Game Gear. Sega also supported the Sega CD and 32X, as well as the development of its new 33-bit system the Sega Saturn, in addition to the success of the Genesis. Despite selling over 10 million devices by 1996, the Game Gear was unable to compete with its major rival, the Game Boy, which sold more than ten times as many units in the same time period.

Nintendo’s announcement of the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller version of the Game Boy that could operate on two triple A batteries, significantly hampered the sales of the Game Gear system. This was the beginning of the downfall of the Game Gear sales all over the world. Gamers preferred the small portable device that they could carry anywhere and was also efficient in terms of power consumption.

Sega had hoped to bring its handheld game into the fifth generation with a 16-bit successor to the Game Gear, but the company never produced a new handheld system, leaving only the Genesis Nomad, a portable version of the Genesis.

It was meant to compliment the Game Gear rather than replace it; Sega representatives stated in press coverage before to the Nomad’s introduction that Sega was not withdrawing support for the game gear in favor of the Nomad. Sega did not formally discontinue support for the Game Gear until 1996 in Japan and later internationally in 1997.

Sega stopped supporting the system in 2000, but Majesco Entertainment published a version for $30, with games costing $15 each. A port of Super Battletank was launched, as was a slew of other games. The TV turner and several Master System converters were incompatible with this version, which was also compatible with all prior Game Gear games. In 2011, Nintendo announced that its 3DS Virtual Console Services on the Nintendo eShop would contain games from the classic Game Gear over 10 years later.

Some Interesting Facts About Game Gear That Probably Didn’t Know

Even though the Game Gear lasted in the market for only a few years since its initial release, it still remains one of the most appreciated devices from the 90s. This handheld gaming console had many features that were adopted and informed the design of many devices in the market today. Here are some facts and figures about the Game Gear:

1. It was developed under the code name “Project Mercury”

During the development phase, Sega has a history of naming its devices after planets. Examples include Sega Genesis that was also referred to as Project Venus. The 32X was also referred to as Project Mars internally.
2. Game Gear was built purposefully to compete with the Nintendo Game Boy

Game Gear was Segar’s answer to Nintendo’ Game Boy. The Game Gear was released in 1990 to compete with the Game Boy. In 1991, the console was released in the United States and Europe. Originally, the Game Gear used to cost 150 dollars. The console lasted to 1997 but it was still available in the market even after it was discontinued.

3. Game Gear was essentially a Portable Sega Master System

The 8-bit Sega Master Technology was essentially used in the Game Gear. In order to get the Master system into the hands of gamers as quickly as possible, Sega is report to have built a portable version of the device. Because the Game Gear’s internal were identical to those of the Master System, many well-known Master System titles were ported to the portable system.
4. Game Gear Was Technologically More advanced than it Rival

It was not clear to many people which handheld gaming console was superior. But it was apparent that the Game Gear had some superior features that trumped the Nintendo’s Game boy especially in terms of technology. Game Boy was the only close competitor of the Game Gear. With 4096-color palette, the Game Gear handheld console had a 3.2-inch full-color backlit display. The Game Boy, on the other hand, had a dot matrix screen.

5. The Game Gear had a robust build and was Light in Weight

In terms of aesthetics, the Game Gear looked great and wasn’t too cumbersome to hold. A D-pad and two action buttons adorned the machine’s small control panel. Using a set of headphones with the Game Gear enabled stereo sound as well. Otherwise the audio output of the console was limited to a single speaker. The Game Gear, like the Game Boy, supported multiplayer gameplay.

6. Game Gear was designed to be a multimedia device in future

Sega envisioned the Game Gear as a multimedia device, despite the fact that it was primarily a portable console. The Game Gear could be used as a TV with the help of a TV tuner device because it had a full-color screen. An accessory dubbed Super Wide Gear, which was attached to the bottom of the handheld console, makes it easy to see everything.

7. Game Gear Was considered a failed Handheld Console on the Sega Lineup

When it comes to handheld consoles, Sega’s Game Gear is considered a failure. But this is not entirely true because the console soled over 11 million copies round the world, which is not a failure by any means. In spite of its relative lack of popularity, calling the Game Gear a flop is unjustified. It sold over 60 million units over its short lifetime.


8. The Game Gear Had the worst Battery Life in the Lineup

Well, the Game Gear also had its issues, it was not a flawless device. Even with its supremacy over the Game Boy, it had its fair share of problems. The Game Gear’s battery life was one of its main challenges. It used six AA batteries that would last gamers only two hours of continuous play. Its arch rival the Game Boy’s battery would last for over 30 hours and only used four AA batteries. This was a bummer to pro-gamers and enthusiasts of the Game Gear because the cost of replacing the six batteries everyday was too high.

9. The Game Gear Had More Titles that the rivals at the time

In its early days, the Game Gear was mostly a port of Master System titles, such as Castle of illusion and Columns. Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya and the GG Shinobi were two excellent Game Gear exclusive that came out as the platform gained traction in Europe and Japan. A total of 363 games for the portable console were released.
Final Thoughts

Even though Sega’s Game Gear did not last long enough in the market, it still remained an amazing handheld game console that changed the way we looked at games. Especially being the first device that came with full-color, this was an attractive choice for the ardent gamers.

What is your view of the Sega’s Game Gear?

Would you wish to see a revival of this retro-game?


Aug 6, 2021
Looks interesting, but I never got into consoles, handheld or not. I did briefly own the original Nintendo and Atari 2600. As an adult, A PS3, PS4, and an Xbox. I don't own any of them now.