Gaming

7 Forgotten Sega Game Gear Classics

I had heard for years that the Game Gear library is not very good, but that’s not true. Let’s explore underrated and overlooked games from Sega’s first handheld console.
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7 Forgotten Sega Game Gear Classics

The Sega Game Gear came into this world with a curse: the Game Boy Yardstick. Due to its release two years after Nintendo’s first handheld system—a blockbuster success—Sega’s handheld found itself doomed to forever follow in Nintendo’s critical footsteps.

It’s all relative. American journalists often cite the Game Gear as a market failure, despite it selling over 11 million units worldwide and hanging on for at least six years. That’s because Nintendo’s monochrome gray competitor sold about 60 million units during the same period.

So the Game Gear did not loom nearly as large as the Game Boy in American culture. But it still had its place thanks to a core group of diehard Sega fans who often played popular titles such as Columns, Sonic Chaos, Streets of Rage II, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Shining Force: The Sword of Hayja, Shinobi II, Defenders of Oasis, and more. Dozens more wonderful games for the Game Gear launched in Japan and Europe, where the handheld also built healthy fan bases.

But I found myself wondering recently: What are some of the most underrated and overlooked games in the Game Gear library? I set out on an adventure, purchasing a newly refurbished Game Gear (my vintage unit needs new capacitors) and a flash cart so I could try the most rare and obscure titles firsthand on real hardware.

What I found was astonishing. I had heard for years that the Game Gear library is not very good, but that’s not true. Aside from the high-profile hit games many know about, I also discovered dozens of great titles that most American gamers are not familiar with. There are too many underrated games, in fact, to list them all here. So paring my selections down to a handful of entries was a painful process that cannot possibly do the entire Game Gear library justice.

That said, I am confident that most modern gamers will enjoy every game on this list, and as always, I’d love to hear about your favorite Game Gear games (and other memories) in the comments.

  • Sylvan Tale (1995)

    Sylvan Tale (1995)

    It’s a crime that this stellar game never made its way to America as an official release. Sylvan Tale plays as an overhead action adventure similar to Zelda but with more RPG elements. In the game, you’re a warrior who must find six magic droplets, and along the way you will acquire the ability to transform into different creatures that will help you on your quest. Being a late-era Game Gear title, the production values are top-notch. The graphics, theme, and music complement each other beautifully and the fluid animations and excellent menu interfaces seem unusually modern. I recommend finding the English fan-translation online and trying it out.

  • Super Space Invaders (1992)

    Super Space Invaders (1992)

    In my book, any game with a “Cattle Mutilation Round” must be a good one—and so we encounter Super Space Invaders, a handheld port of the 1991 arcade title that one might otherwise overlook. I found the Game Gear port so fun recently that I could not stop playing. It packs genuinely interesting variations on the Space Invaders formula, including novel alien attack patterns, interesting backgrounds, good sound effects, and bonus stages where you attempt to prevent flying saucers from stealing cattle—it’s definitely a product of the ’90s. Rollicking handheld arcade action at its best.

  • Woody Pop (1991)

    Woody Pop (1991)

    When considering games for a handheld system like the Game Gear, we need to keep in mind its physical limitations (a somewhat blurry screen, 3-hour battery life) and the context in which people play it (often in short sessions while traveling). Those factors make Woody Pop, a playful ball-and-paddle Arkanoid clone, a delight to play on the Game Gear. It’s easy to jump into for quick sessions, pleasant to see on a low-contrast screen, and fun. One neat feature is that after beating a stage, you get to choose which stage you play next by picking a direction (up, left, right), making for a branching and varied gameplay experience somewhat akin to Puzzle Bobble.

  • Berlin no Kabe / The Berlin Wall (1991)

    Berlin no Kabe / The Berlin Wall (1991)

    It’s funny how a politically charged name that conjures up images of oppression and sadness in the West can become a cutesy playful game title in Japan with no ill-results. But that’s exactly what happened with The Berlin Wall, a Japan-only Game Gear port of an obscure arcade release that draws heavily from Space Panic (arcade, 1980) and Lode Runner (multi-platform, 1983). Upon playing, you’ll find a single-screen action game where you knock holes in the ground, wait for monsters to fall in, and knock ’em down to kill them, collecting colorful rewards similar to Bubble Bobble. Best of all, it plays well on Game Gear’s limited screen technology.

  • Ristar (1995)

    Ristar (1995)

    Ristar feels like a full-hearted attempt to recapture Sonic the Hedgehog’s platform glory. It generally matches the quality of the Sonic titles, although playing as a star with stretchy-arm game mechanics takes some getting used to. Fans of better-known Genesis version of the game enjoy the Game Gear interpretation because it contains completely different levels. It’s also very well-produced for Game Gear platformer (there are many stinkers out there), with competent graphics, sound, and animation.

  • Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1995)

    Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1995)

    A Long Time Ago in a Game Gear Far Away, a handful of kids played this excellent action platformer, which many describe as a colorized version of the Game Boy Return of the Jedi game (…or is it the other way around?). You can play as Luke, replete with green Jedi lightsaber, or Leia in bounty hunter disguise hacking their way through Jawas and otherwise. Along the way, you’ll also fly through some vehicle levels. There are ewoks. The production Force is unusually strong with this licensed title, which makes it a delightful surprise for anyone not already neck-deep in Star Wars video game history.

  • Royal Stone (1995)

    Royal Stone (1995)

    Like the aforementioned Sylvan Tale, it’s a shame that Sega never released Royal Stone in America. This turn-based strategy RPG title may represent peak production values for a Game Gear RPG, with excellent graphics, sound, and the usual mid-1990s interface bells and whistles. It’s definitely a step up from its 1991 predecessor, Crystal Warriors, which itself garners plenty of respect. Fans of the Shining Force series will enjoy the strategy elements as they fight through the world of Anzeria. It does get quite difficult near the end, but if you love Game Gear and RPGs, you can’t miss Royal Stone. Be sure to check out the English fan translation online. Happy gaming!

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