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Game Gear

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Game Gear
TypeHandheld game console
Release date
Introductory price¥19,800 (equivalent to ¥22,000 in 2019)
US$149.99 (equivalent to $340 in 2023)[2]
£99.99 (equivalent to £270 in 2023)
Units sold10.62 million
MediaROM cartridge
CPUZ80 @ 3.5 MHz
Memory8 KB RAM, 16 KB VRAM
Display3.2-inch backlit screen
Graphics160 × 144 pixel resolution, 4096-color palette, 32 colors on-screen
Power6 AA batteries, 3 to 5 hours
Dimensions210 × 113 × 38 mm
Best-selling gameSonic the Hedgehog 2 (400,000)[4]
SuccessorGenesis Nomad

The Game Gear[a] is an 8-bit fourth generation handheld game console released by Sega on October 6, 1990, in Japan, in April 1991 throughout North America and Europe, and during 1992 in Australia. The Game Gear primarily competed with Nintendo's Game Boy, the Atari Lynx, and NEC's TurboExpress. It shares much of its hardware with the Master System, and can play Master System games through the use of an adapter. Sega positioned the Game Gear, which had a full-color backlit screen with a landscape format, as a technologically superior handheld to the Game Boy.

Though the Game Gear was rushed to market, its unique game library and price point gave it an edge over the Atari Lynx and TurboExpress. However, due to its short battery life, lack of original games, and weak support from Sega, the Game Gear was unable to surpass the Game Boy, selling 10.62 million units by March 1996. The Game Gear was discontinued in 1997. It was re-released as a budget system by Majesco Entertainment in 2000, under license from Sega, this continued until about 2002.

Reception of the Game Gear was mixed, with praise for its full-color backlit screen and processing power, criticisms over its large size and short battery life, and questions over the quality of its game library.



Developed as codename "Project Mercury",[5] the Game Gear was launched in Japan on October 6, 1990,[6] in North America and Europe in 1991, and in Australia in 1992.[5] Originally retailing at ¥19,800 in Japan,[6] US$149.99 (equivalent to $300 in 2023) in North America, and £99.99 in the United Kingdom,[5] the Game Gear was developed to compete with the Game Boy, which Nintendo had released in 1989.[7] The decision to make a handheld console was made by Sega's CEO Hayao Nakayama and the name was chosen by newly appointed Sega of America CEO Michael Katz. Both Sega's chairman Isao Okawa and cofounder David Rosen approved of the name. The console had been designed as a portable version of the Master System, with more powerful features than the Game Boy, including a full-color screen instead of monochromatic.[8] According to former Sega console hardware research and development head Hideki Sato, Sega saw the Game Boy's black and white screen as "a challenge to make our own color handheld system".[9]

To improve upon the design of its competition, Sega modeled the Game Gear with a similar shape to a Genesis controller, intending the curved surfaces and greater length more comfortable to hold than the Game Boy.[10] The console's mass was carefully considered from the beginning of the development, aiming for a total mass between that of the Game Boy and the Atari Lynx, another full-color screen competing product.[9] Game Gear can use the Master Gear adaptor to play games from the similar Master System.[11] The original Game Gear pack-in game is Columns, which is similar to Tetris which was bundled with the Game Boy launch.[7]

Game Gear displays the Sega trademark in color.

With a late start into the handheld console market, Sega rushed to get the Game Gear into stores quickly,[12] having lagged behind Nintendo in sales without a handheld on the market.[10] As one method of doing so, Sega based the Game Gear hardware on the Master System, with a much larger 4,096 color palette compared to the Master System's 64 colors.[5] Part of the intention was easy conversion of Master System games. The Game Gear's technological superiority over Game Boy means that Game Boy can run for more than 30 hours on four AA batteries and the Game Gear runs for three to five hours on six AA batteries.[10] Its quick launch in Japan sold 40,000 units in its first two days, 90,000 within a month, and more than 600,000 back orders. According to Sega of America marketing director Robert Botch, "there is clearly a need for a quality portable system that provides features other systems have failed to deliver. This means easy-to-view, full-color graphics and exciting quality games that appeal to all ages."[5]

Release and marketing


Before the Game Gear's launch in 1990, the 16-bit Genesis had been successfully marketed as a "more mature" option for players, and this was repeated against the Game Boy. Sega's marketing in Japan did not take this perspective, instead opting for advertisements with Japanese women featuring the handheld, but Sega's worldwide advertising prominently positioned the Game Gear as the "cooler" console than the Game Boy.[10]

In North America, marketing for the Game Gear includes side-by-side comparisons against the Game Boy and liken Game Boy players to the obese and uneducated. Most of those advertisements feature the "Sega Scream" with a person yelling the name. One Sega advertisement in early 1994 features the quote, "If you were color blind and had an IQ of less than 12, then you wouldn't mind which portable you had."[10] Such advertising drew outrage from Nintendo, who sought to have protests organized against Sega for insulting disabled persons. Sega of America president Tom Kalinske responded that Nintendo "should spend more time improving their products and marketing rather than working on behind-the-scenes coercive activities". Ultimately, this debate would have little impact on sales for the Game Gear.[12]

Europe and Australia were the last regions to receive the Game Gear. Due to delays, some importers paid up to £200. Upon launch in Europe, video game distributor Virgin Mastertronic unveiled the price as £99.99, positioning it as being more expensive than the Game Boy, but less expensive than the also full-color Atari Lynx.[5] Marketing in the United Kingdom includes the slogan, "To be this good takes Sega", and advertisements with a biker.[10] In the United Kingdom, the Game Gear had a 16% share of the handheld market in January 1992, increasing to 40% by December 1992.[13]



Sega reduced support for the Game Gear in favor of home consoles. The successful Genesis yielded two major peripherals, the Sega CD and the 32X. Sega's new 32-bit Saturn console was launched in 1994.[5] Though selling 10.62 million units by March 1996 (including 1.78 million in Japan),[14] the Game Gear was never able to match the success of its main rival, the Game Boy, with ten times the sales.[8] Game Gear's late sales were further hurt by Nintendo's release of the smaller Game Boy Pocket running on two AAA batteries.[10]

Plans for a 16-bit fifth generation direct successor to the Game Gear were made and canceled, leaving only the Genesis Nomad, a portable version of the Genesis.[15] Moreover, the Nomad was intended to supplement the Game Gear rather than replace it; in press coverage leading up to the Nomad's release, Sega representatives said the company was not discontinuing the Game Gear in favor of the Nomad, and that "We believe the two can co-exist".[16] Though the Nomad had been released in 1995, Sega did not officially end support for the Game Gear until 1996 in Japan, and 1997 worldwide.[10]

Though the system was originally discontinued in 1997, third-party developer Majesco Entertainment released a version of the Game Gear at US$30 (equivalent to $50 in 2023), with $15 games in the year 2000. New games were released, such as a port of Super Battletank. This machine is compatible with all previous Game Gear games,[8] but incompatible with the TV Tuner and some Master System adaptors.[5] The system and its repressed games were likely sold throughout 2000 and 2001 but were likely discontinued the following year.[3][17][18][19] Over ten years later, on March 2, 2011, Nintendo announced that its 3DS Virtual Console service on the Nintendo eShop would feature Game Gear games.[20]

Technical specifications

A Game Gear with TV Tuner

The Game Gear was designed to be played horizontally.[8] It contains an 8-bit 3.5 MHz Zilog Z80 CPU,[21] the same as the Master System. Its screen measures 3.2 inches (81 mm) diagonally and is able to display up to 32 simultaneous colors from a total palette of 4,096,[7] with a frame rate of 59.922751013551 Hz[22] with 160 × 144 non-square pixels.[5][6] The screen is backlit for low light using a small CCFL tube. Powered by six AA batteries, its approximate battery life is 3 to 5 hours.[10] To lengthen this and reduce consumer cost, Sega released two types of external rechargeable battery packs.[7][23] The system contains 8 KB of RAM and an additional 16 KB of video RAM. Its sound chip is a Texas Instruments SN76489 PSG, like the Master System except with stereo sound via headphones. Game Gear is 210 mm (8.3 in) wide, 113 mm (4.4 in) high, and 38 mm (1.5 in) deep.[21]

Accessories include a TV Tuner with a whip antenna for the cartridge slot, to become a handheld television. Released at £74.99 (equivalent to US$130), the add-on was expensive but unique for collectors and contributed to the system's popularity.[5] The Super Wide Gear magnifies the screen. The Car Gear adapter plugs into cigarette lighters to power the system while traveling, and the Gear to Gear Cable (VS Cable in Japan) establishes a data connection between two Game Gear systems using the same multiplayer game.[7] Master Gear enables the Game Gear to play Master System games.[24]

Game Gear model variations include several colors, including a blue "sports" variation in North America bundled with World Series Baseball '95 or The Lion King.[5] A white version was bundled with a TV tuner. Other versions include a red Coca-Cola theme bundled with Coca-Cola Kid, and the Kids Gear Japan-only variation for children.[6]

Game library

The title screen of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) for Game Gear

Over 300 total Game Gear games were released,[6] although only six launch games. Prices for game cartridges initially ranged from $24.99 to $29.99. The casings are molded black plastic with a rounded front to aid in removal.[7] Games include Sonic the Hedgehog, The GG Shinobi, Space Harrier,[8] and Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, which was considered the best game for the system by GamesRadar+.[25] Later games include franchises that had originated on the successful 16-bit Genesis[6] and much of the Game Gear's library is Master System ports. Because of the landscape orientation of the Game Gear's screen and the similarities to Master System hardware, it was easy for developers to port Master System games to the Game Gear.[5]

Because of Nintendo's control over the console video game market, few third-party developers were available to create games for Sega's systems. This contributed to the many ports from Master System. Likewise, because of this, much of the Game Gear library is unique among handhelds, pulling sales away from the Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress and helping to establish the Game Gear's market position.[5][12] However, the Game Boy's library is over 1000 individual games.[10] Several Game Gear games were released years later on the Nintendo 3DS's Virtual Console service on the Nintendo eShop.[26][27] The emulator for the Virtual Console releases was handled by M2.[28]

Game Gear Micro


On June 3, 2020, as part of its 60th anniversary, Sega revealed the Game Gear Micro[b] retroconsole. The Micro was released in Japan on October 6, 2020, through Japanese storefronts in four different versions, varying in color and the game selection, with each containing four separate Game Gear games. Each unit otherwise is the same size, measuring 80 mm × 43 mm × 20 mm (3.15 in × 1.69 in × 0.79 in) with a 29 mm (1.1 in) display, and is powered by 2 AAA batteries or through a separate USB charger. Each unit also includes a headphone jack. A magnifying accessory modeled after the original system's Big Window accessory was included with preorders.[29][30] A special version of the device (published by M2 and licensed by Sega) was being shipped with a limited edition of Aleste Collection in December 2020. This version includes a newly developed Game Gear title G.G. Aleste 3 as well as four other Aleste titles.[31]



Game Gear surpassed the Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress, but lagged far behind the Game Boy in the handheld marketplace. Retrospective reception to the Game Gear is mixed. In 2008, GamePro listed the Game Gear as 10th on its list of the "10 Worst-Selling Handhelds of All Time" and criticized aspects of the implementation of its technology, but also stated that the Game Gear could be considered a commercial success at nearly 11 million units sold. According to GamePro reviewer Blake Snow, "Unlike the Game Boy, the Game Gear rocked the landscape holding position, making it less cramped for human beings with two hands to hold. And even though the Game Gear could be considered a success, its bulky frame, relative high price, constant consumption of AA batteries, and a lack of appealing games ultimately kept Sega from releasing a true successor."[32] In speaking with Famitsu DC for its November 1998 issue, Sato stated that the Game Gear achieved significant handheld console market share, but that "Nintendo's Game Boy was such a runaway success, and had gobbled up so much of the market, that our success was still seen as a failure, which I think is a shame."[9]

GamesRadar+ offered some praise for the system and its library, stating, "With its 8-bit processor and bright color screen, it was basically the Sega Master System in your hands. How many batteries did we suck dry playing Sonic, Madden and Road Rash on the bus or in the car, or in the dark when we were supposed to be sleeping? You couldn't do that on a Game Boy!"[25] By contrast, IGN reviewer Levi Buchanan stated the Game Gear's biggest fault was its game library when compared to the Game Boy, stating, "the software was completely lacking compared to its chief rival, which was bathed in quality games. It didn't matter that the Game Gear was more powerful. The color screen did not reverse any fortunes. Content and innovation beat out technology, a formula that Nintendo is using right now with the continued ascendance of the DS and Wii." Buchanan praised some of the library: "Some of those Master System tweaks were very good games, and fun is resilient against time."[8] Retro Gamer praised Sega's accomplishment in surviving against the competition of Nintendo in the handheld console market with the Game Gear, noting that "for all the handhelds that have gone up against the might of Nintendo and ultimately lost out, Sega's Game Gear managed to last the longest, only outdone in sales by the Sony PSP. For its fans, it will remain a piece of classic gaming hardware whose legacy lives on forever."[5]

See also



  1. ^ Japanese: ゲームギア, Hepburn: Gēmu Gia
  2. ^ ゲームギアミクロ, Gēmu gia mikuro


  1. ^ "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: Game Gear". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. p. 34.
  2. ^ "The Real Cost of Gaming: Inflation, Time, and Purchasing Power". October 15, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Game Gear - Hardware". SMS Power. Retrieved April 13, 2024.
  4. ^ Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer's Edition. Jim Pattison Group. 2015. p. 149. ISBN 978-1910561096.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Wild, Kim (2009). "Retroinspection: Sega Game Gear". Retro Gamer (41). Imagine Publishing Ltd.: 78–85.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Forster, Winnie (2005). The Encyclopedia of Game.Machines: Consoles, Handhelds, and Home Computers 1972-2005. Variant Press. p. 139. ISBN 3-0001-5359-4.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Beuscher, David. "Sega Game Gear - Overview". AllGame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Buchanan, Levi (October 9, 2008). "Remember Game Gear?". IGN. Archived from the original on June 23, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c Sato, Hideki; Famitsu DC (February 15, 2002). Interview: The Witness of History. Famitsu Books (in Japanese). Enterbrain. pp. 22–25. ISBN 978-4-75770789-4. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help) | others=Translation by Shmuplations Archived August 14, 2020, at the Wayback Machine)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kapa, Damien (2005). "Sega Game Gear". Retro Gamer. No. 17. Live Publishing. pp. 26–35 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ "Gear Up Master System Games" (PDF). GamePro. No. 68. IDG. March 1995. p. 136. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 13, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c Wesley, David; Barczak, Gloria (2010). Innovation and Marketing in the Video Game Industry: Avoiding the Performance Trap. Gower Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-5660-9167-4.
  13. ^ "Geared For Success" (PDF). Sega Force. No. 16 (April 1993). March 4, 1993. p. 17. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 29, 2016.
  14. ^ "Weekly Famitsu Express". Famitsu. Vol. 11, no. 392. June 21, 1996. Retrieved August 2, 2019. See lines 8 and 20 for units sold in Japan and other regions, respectively.
  15. ^ Fahs, Travis (April 21, 2009). "IGN Presents The History of SEGA". IGN. Archived from the original on June 23, 2018. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  16. ^ Ramshaw, Mark James (November 1995). "Generator". Next Generation (11). Imagine Media: 31.
  17. ^ GamePro (US) Issue 152 - May 2001 (PDF) (Issue 152 - May 2001 ed.). GamePro (US). May 2001. p. 26. Retrieved April 13, 2024.
  18. ^ "Amazon.com - April 05, 2001 - Archive.org Capture". Amazon. Archived from the original on April 5, 2001. Retrieved April 13, 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  19. ^ "IGN.com Sonic Advance Article - Dec 2001". IGN.com. IGN. Retrieved April 13, 2024.
  20. ^ Newton, James (March 3, 2011). "Sega Names First Game Gear Games for 3DS Virtual Console". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on June 23, 2018. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  21. ^ a b ゲームギア 取扱説明書 [Game Gear Instruction Manual] (in Japanese). Sega Enterprises Ltd. 1990. p. 18.
  22. ^ "TASVideos / Platform Framerates". tasvideos.org. Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  23. ^ "GamePro Labs". GamePro. No. 57. IDG. April 1994. pp. 104–106.
  24. ^ "GameSpot Presents: The History of Video Game Compatibility". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 31, 2004. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  25. ^ a b GamesRadar Staff (June 23, 2012). "Best Sega Game Gear games of All Time". Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  26. ^ Whitehead, Thomas (March 6, 2012). "Game Gear Hits North American eShop on 15th March". Nintendo Life. Gamer Network. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  27. ^ Drake, Audrey (May 17, 2013). "3DS eShop: Zelda Sale and Tons of GameGear Games". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on December 24, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  28. ^ Fletcher, JC (March 14, 2012). "Game Gear emulation outclasses the other 3DS Virtual Console games". Engaget. AOL. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  29. ^ Plunkett, Luke (June 2, 2020). "Sega Is Releasing A Game Gear Micro". Kotaku. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  30. ^ Byford, Sam (June 3, 2020). "Sega's Game Gear Micro is four $50 consoles with four games each". The Verge. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  31. ^ Romano, Sal (September 16, 2020). "Aleste Collection announced for PS4, Switch". Gematsu. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  32. ^ Snow, Blake (July 30, 2007). "The 10 Worst-Selling Handhelds of All Time". GamePro.com. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008. Retrieved January 17, 2008.