Let's talk one of the most marmite systems Sega ever released. This my fellow retrobates, is Sega's introduction into the handheld video game market (a "portable" console as SegaRetro finely put it!) - the one developed as Project Mercury (hell yeah, planets!) - the badmanz of the playground: the Sega Game Gear.
Sega's epic foray into the handheld market crashed onto the scene at the turn of the totally rad 90's (1990 for Japan, 1991 for North America and Europe), so to be completely logical you know the system could only be rad itself. Oh, it really was. Though its primary creation (reportedly rushed, no less) was Sega doing the Sega thing of seeing what Nintendo did and sayin': "...Psht. We can make a better system!", it was also competing with the Atari Lynx and the TurboExpress/PC Engine GT). While the Game Boy and Lynx relied on their own cart systems and the NEC system essentially being something Sega would attempt with the Nomad later on (in that it simply played home titles on a handheld), the Game Gear had the ability with an adapter (more on the MasterGear later coz Transbot) to be backward/cross-compatible with the entire Master System library. Mind blown, much?!
But yes. As this was a Sega system you bet your planet Uranus that it was marketed in that classic Sega (of America/Europe) fashion. It was sold as the coolest kid in town and the option for teen/adult gamers for on the move action. After all, as it said here in the UK: to be this good takes Sega! Nintendo didn't take too kind to some of SoA's marketing (teehee) which basically painted Game Boy players as retards. I kid you not. Nintendo called Sega out for being insensitive to disabled people, but then-President Tom Kalinske had a no-bones response claiming Nintendo should start improving products and marketing rather than their 'behind-the-scenes coercive activities' (which may level out as one of the first points Nintendo's partially illegal monopoly Stateside was brought to light, let alone in such a casual manner). Go Sega! Although priced higher than the Game Boy, it was less than the Lynx and the previously successful Virgin link-up in the UK continued here.
I, for one, have always been a fan of the overall design of the Game Gear. I find it comfy to play. It was in part designed this way, too. Rocking the landscape/lengthwise posistion and overall bulky yet smooth nature allows longer comfort and less hand-cramp induced annoyance. Thing is, to call it a pocket system is a tad of a stretch. The thing is near monolithic and certainly larger than a typical Walkman-like device (even of the time). Not only that, but there is ever-lasting complaints over the way the console nom's through batteries like nobody's business.
6xAA's equated to roughly 3-5 hours on general consensus (Bad Influence!, a show here in the UK, did their own test on portables at the time which you can seek out on YouTube regarding this - but my top-end with modern battery power with its new capacitors has been roughly 8 or so hours) - making a battery pack a must, or just making sure you've got your big ol' Sega AC adapter on you at all times for plug n play funtimes (even if that does mildly defeat the object of a purely portable system)!
Earlier I mentioned cross-compatibility with Master System cartridges (cards unfortunetly not supported) and I know those of you completely unawares of the Game Gear are probably thinking: "IT DOESN'T FIT HOW THE...WHAAA!?". Chill, Winston. I present the Master Gear, a/k/a; the Master System Converter, or whatever it was called by whatever third-party or region. It's all the same thang. Essentially a lil' plastic shell with a pin-input for the SMS carts that slots into the cart slot of the Game Gear. May look a tad silly, you think, but you wont be saying that when you're playing Transbot on the go and in FULL COLOUR GLORIOUSNESS (no four shades of green here, my freundlich). That alone logically makes the Game Gear the best handheld ever. Deal with it.
So you gots to be thunkin, 'howzit do dat?'. Well, 'tis all rather simple science mixed with a sassy blend of Sega magic. Oh yeah, its tech-specs time! Its fairly literal to call the Game Gear a portable Master System, as thats essentially the inards with its main processor being the legendary 8-bit Zilog Z80, a CPU (here) clocked at 3.5Mhz meanin' POWAH! With 24kb of RAM (8Kb RAM, 16Kb VRAM) it knew how to handle itself in a tech specs battle, especially when you factor in the awesomness of the fact it even presented more colours than what the Master System was capable of with 4,096 available (32 on screen, with maximum of 64 sprites).
A stunning tech-feat, even if less powerful than the Lynx, it logically beats the Game Boy in any other regard visually speaking. Audio wise you've got your typical 4-channel tone generator going on, which could obviously hold its own in kicking out some quality chiptuneage (even if it isnt on-par with the mythic nature of the Game Boy). A healthy 160x144 resolution was again typical of the period, but with the fact it was a backlit full colour display is what made it stand out. The size of the screen could make some Master System games tough however, due to sprite size differences. Just squint, you're cool. Though the speaker is mono, stereo sound was yet again available through headphone socket support. Nice.
The Game Gear had a good few peripherals, too. Though the Master Gear Converter has already mentioned the other chief additions would be the Gear-to-Gear link cable (ala Game Boy) that allowed multiplayer joy and of course, the TV Tuner. Wha'!? YES! You could literally make your Game Gear a mini-TV set. When you saw such a thing as a kid, trust me; green-eyed monster would rear its head. So dope.
Much criticism, perhaps unfairly stems from the game library. Comments on the fact it was mostly 8-bit ports with bigger sprites, or 'a Master System game with more colours'; much of that has to be placed in the context of something Mr. Kalinske mentioned earlier. Damn Nintendo and their shady practices blocking much third-party support on the system. Though none of this really matters if the games still rock, right? Especially in retrospect, ja? I say: Game Gear's library is as solid as any, in large fact due to what is available. I'm talking, this was your way to play Sega titles, so if you're a Sega fan it should be a no brainer!
If you want some exclusives, I'll list a few and name my choice-cuts. Most importantly you've got the awesome Shinobi GG games. If you're a big fan of the series you're only doing yourself a massive disservice by not experiencing them. Taking the best of Shinobi and scaling it down and throwing in unique features just makes them full of win - great graphics, cool music, ace level design and the difficulty curve you'd expect. If you love your Shining Force, there were a few titles released in Japan and Shining Force 2: Sword of Haija. An exclusive Sonic title (which is also rather dandy, IMO) in Sonic Triple Trouble is more than worth a shout-out and to go alongside it there is Sonic Drift games which are basically little Mario Kart clones. Golden Axe: Ax Battler was also on the system, which again I recommend for its unique feel and cool gameplay. Panzer Dragoon Mini, the 4-in-1 Pack, Bonkers: Wax Up and Virtua Fighter Animation were all on the Game Gear too, although many of these titles also had direct ports from GG back to MS if you're willing to spend big bucks outside of Brazil to get those TecToy releases.
Many of the titles that were ported over had their own original elements to them to point to reasoning to double up. OutRun, the Mickey Mouse series, Columns, Fatal Fury Special, Earthworm Jim, Strider Returns and more. If you're not convinced yet with a line up like that, you probably lack a soul. Jus' sayin'. You could even get a remade MegaMan on there, so there's that, too!
With near 400 releases worldwide software wise, there's a good chunk to choose from in the grand scheme of things. Other recommended titles (if you can't get versions for its big brother, or just wanna go play some 'Gear): Taito Chase HQ (seriously good), Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, the Disney games like Aladdin, The Lion King (oh yeah!) and The Jungle Book (Aladdin plays much differently to the MegaDrive version), The Excellent Dizzy Collection (you're welcome, Megatron), Ninja Gaiden (mmhmmm), Ristar, Power Strike II/GG Aleste II and the Japanese GG Aleste (exclusives~!), NHL Hockey, Micro Machines, BattleToads (unique-ish version), the 8-bit Sonic games, Dynamite Headdy (cool version), Batman Returns (though hard as hell, much like), The Terminator, Baku Baku Animal and many, many more fantastic gems that make the system a must-have for on the go brilliance.
There is a fierce and obsessive collectors market for the Game Gear, but that doesn't mean you can't be a casual type collector picking carts for the system up. The boxes were cardboard, much like Nintendo's which means loose carts are plentiful. It's not a particularly rare system in itself, it did afterall place (no-matter how distant) second place to the Game Boy and was the best-selling non-Ninty handheld prior to the PlayStation Portable.
Expect sometimes silly money on some of the rarer complete in box games, but in general you can get many a great deal if just playing is what your main goal is. Hey, if I can do it on a tight budget? So can you! Shop around, but just make sure that if you aint too handy with a soldering iron that you get a system that's fully working. The capacitor plague haunts the Game Gear much like other handhelds of its generation, so just be aware. The fixes are relatively simple, however. You can easily find good services to get it working good as new, aswell as modifications to the screen/light to improve battery life and vision. So do not be deterred, folks! Just hunt dem games!
Although 'officially' discontinued in 1997 without a true successor by Sega, a company named Majesco started re-releasing the system in roughly 2000 alongside a whole bunch of repro games. Their version of the system is incompatible with the MasterGear, but as the console is multiregion the fact they were Made In Mexico for the American market is irrelevant, meaning you can nab games complete in box and often sealed for mere pennies! Well, perhaps quids. Cheap, at the very least. So if you're not fussed on original-originals, then bam. There you go, Joe.
Overall, Sega's handheld leapt into the fifth-generation head-on and while not supported as strongly as perhaps it could/should have been, it proved that Nintendo weren't the only choice available and that you could go elsewhere if you prefered to do so. It took a while for others to catch on. For anyone who loves their Sega, especially of the 8-bit flavour, then the good ol' GG is a beloved member of your gaming family. The previously mentioned collectors market goes to show that people still love the Game Gear and no amount of bad mouthing and dodgy press can ever eliminate something that is simply good. Thats just what the Game Gear is.... Good. So wise up and go play it. Don't be 'color blind [with] an IQ of less than 12'..... Instead just be a bit more Transbot!