The Game Gear (GG) is a great little system that doesn’t get a lot of love in the West right now. Having experience more of it over the past few years, I’d like to over some of the reasons why it isn’t appreciated and discuss if those problems can be addressed or are relevant today.
If you find a GG in the wild, it will mostly likely have some screen issues (and possibly sound issues). Most of the time this is because the capacitors used when these first came out were very cheap and would leak acid over time (unfortunately on the board).
I’d say about 90% of screen issues go away with a cap replacement (and you’re going to want to replace those leaky capacitors regardless). So if you get one or notice your childhood one acting wonky (or if it has a crazy fishy smell from the acid-leaking caps), you might want to pursue this repair. I’d recommend grabbing one already refurbished from a game shop or ebay. Yes they cost more, but it’s worth it.
Unfortunately the motion blur (which was something that plagued the original) will still be present on the Game Gear – even after the caps are replaced. I’m actually used to it, but I can understand those that aren’t. This is due to the older LCD technology that the Game Gear deploys, which consists of a light tube behind a LCD transparent screen (I’ll discuss this more in the battery life section below).
There is a handy workaround for screen blur, but it’s somewhat costly (OK actually really costly). The mod I’m talking about requires replacing the original screen entirely with a new modern LCD screen (similar to those in back-up camera systems for vehicles). And, with the new screen, includes installation of an internal video driver board (also enabling VGA output if you’re interested in playing the games on a monitor). Expect to pay around $300-500 for this mod (and at this point you’re probably doing this as a collector more than a practical solution). But the result is quite nice and it’s great to play these games using the original hardware.
Of course the more practical solution is to just play the games you’re having trouble seeing on an emulator (such as those on Raspberry Pi or even the Ouya).
But if you really need to use your original cartridge, there is currently an adapter for the RetroFreak (an all-in-one HDMI system) that extends cartridge support to include Game Gear, Sega Mark III, and SG-1000. There’s also one in the works for the Retron-5 (for those of you that have one that still functions).
Another factor to consider in regards to Game Gear screen issues is the plastic screen cover itself. You’re probably going to want to replace that scratched-up original with a glass one that you can buy off of ebay or various retrogaming sites. They even come in white as well as the original black.
This will go a long way in making the GG more usable if you previously had a scratched up screen. Be aware that this is glass and is prone to shattering if dropped (so be careful). You’ll also want to apply it in a dust-free environment – since any dust making its way between the glass and the LCD will show up from the back-lighting.
The legendary issue with the Game Gear is the battery life. While the GG was ahead of its time with a backlit screen (at a time where the competition was the original Game Boy), that came with a cost.
The lighting behind the LCD screen is a CFL tube light and that draws a lot power – resulting the battery life being only 3-5 hours (and I think that’s being quite generous) from the six AA batteries. This wasn’t a huge deal for parents with the 12-volt cigarette lighter adapter back in the day, but for those kids on the bus or collectors today it is. Of course you can use a Sega Genesis Model 2 power adapter to play your Game Gear without batteries even today.
This power-consumption issue is addressed these days by replacing the CFL tube with a modern LED back-light panel (a mod similar to what is done with the Game Boy or the Atari Lynx (will have to do another article for that).
With this LED mod, the battery life goes way up to 7-9 hours. Now, while the Game Gear is hardly portable (i.e. it’s huge), this does allow you to play it on the go (well you know what I mean).
Also, I thought I’d mention that the LCD mod posted above (where the screen is totally replaced) does consume more power than the LED-modded one – actually getting pretty close to the unmodified Game Gear’s consumption. This is to be expected since there are extra electrical components that require power on their own. So your best bet battery-wise is to just use the LED-modded version and suffer through the motion-blur.
Lack of Genre Games in the West
By genre games, I mean games of various genres. If you’re curious about what genres are and why they exist, I recommend Kris Asick’s youtube video regarding it.
I’m not sure if I really buy this complaint. Sure the western catalog was chock full of action platformers and sports games, but there were also plenty of other games present too.
These include shmups like Fantasy Zone and Halley Wars (among the many)
There were also RPGs like Ax Battler and Dragon Crystal
And don’t forget puzzle games like Klax and Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (Puyo Puyo).
There are also racing games like Chase H.Q., Road Rash, R.C. Grand Prix, and Micro Machines.
The list goes on and on.
I certainly think the Game Gear library in the west alone is very very good for the system (certainly more than the Sega Master System as far as just numbers). If you find most of the system’s US games (there were only 390 put out worldwide.. 233 in the US), you’ll be very happy with the games.
Of course if you pull in the Japanese releases you get more awesome shmup games like Panzer Dragoon Mini, Galaga ‘91, and Griffin.
You also get more puzzle games like Puyo Puyo and Magical Puzzle Popils.
Don’t forget that the Game Gear had an attachment (cartridge pin converter) that allows you to play Sega Master System on it. It turns out that the Game Gear had very similar specs to the SMS and so the cartridge converter made sense.
The Game Gear actually had a more impressive color palette than the SMS, so the cross-platform compatibility only goes one way. Anyways, that opens up the handheld to a whole other world of games (although there are certainly titles that were on both platforms).
These days you can also get an Everdrive and have access to all the Japanese titles as well as even more homebrew and SMS conversions. And you don’t have to carry around cartridges. But for those of us that like to collect, having the cartridges is kind of the point.
So that’s it for my list of issues with the Game Gear and their solutions or at least workarounds. Sure the screen still has motion blur (unless you buy a LCD-modded Game Gear), but it’s still a lot of fun to play (even if you just replace the caps and call it a day).