Here is the Sega Game Gear, a piece of equipment I once considered to be the pinnacle of technology, simply because I could play Sonic in the backseat. Then again, I once considered a lot of things the pinnacle of technology: 8 bit graphics, the Power Pad, color screens on computers, blue Kool Aid, the MexiMelt, portable CD players, and then 16-bit systems. I had no idea what technology could do to top these things. But then came portable video games. While the first true handheld electronic game came out in 1977, Mattel’s Auto Race, the first time I ever heard of such a technology, it was the Nintendo Game Boy.
All children, except one, had a Game Boy. And that child was me. Everywhere else, glue-eyed kids pushed their A Buttons and D Pads, in school, on the bus, even in line at the grocery store. But I was forgotten and left for dead, only to subsist on regular old Nintendo on regular old TV, stale biscuits and water.
But there was still hope; there was Christmas, that one redeeming day of the year where you could equalize your social standing through material goods. By then, the Game Boy also had competitors, the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx handhelds. I would have to choose wisely, scanning the toy catalogs and studying the commercials.
The Sega Game Gear came out asking why anyone would want to play something the color of creamed-spinach. They went straight for emotions, calling Nintendo crap. The technology on all Sega systems was superior to Nintendo, with better graphics and sound, but Sega didn’t bore people with technology jargon in their marketing. They made it simple: “Sega does what Nintendon’t.”
The Game Gear commercials portrayed zombified fat kids playing Game Boys, their worlds in black and white. Only a lone rebel with gel in their hair dared to play the Game Gear, their world turned on and awash in color–32 colors in fact. Take the following commercial, where a bovine-looking kid beats himself in the head with a stiff, dead squirrel in order to see his Gameboy in color:
Our consoles, ourselves. I knew who I wanted to be. I was a lone wolf, the rebel with gelled hair, an ahead-thinker. And I’d never, ever touch a dead squirrel. You could get rabies. I chose the Game Gear.
The Game Gear had a 3.2 inch screen, utilized a landscape shape to prevent hand cramping, had impressive backlit technology so that you could even see the game screen in the dark, and weighed a ton with 6 AA Batteries. Welcome to the Next Level.
I got 3 games–George Foreman’s KO Boxing, Sonic Chaos, and Ren & Stimpy’s Quest for the Shaven Yak. Dead squirrels, shaven yaks, and hedgehogs with attitude–that was the Sega Game Gear.
I had been most excited about the Foreman game, having longed for another boxer to admire after my parents said I couldn’t like Mike Tyson anymore. The big assignment that year at school was the Fifth Grade Research a Famous Person at the Library. I had wanted to do Tyson but my mother wouldn’t let me, and she forced me to write about Mother Theresa instead. I thought my mother was cruel for making me learn about some nun. But Mike Tyson had done something bad, even warranting his removal from Punch-Out.
So I needed George Foreman. Too bad George Foreman’s KO Boxing is one of the worst boxing games of all time. Still, I admire his lean grilling machines. You know, I admire Mother Theresa too.
The main problem with the Game Gear was the cornucopia of batteries you needed to run it. It only lasted about 4-5 hours on 6 batteries, compared to the Game Boy’s efficient use of four batteries which lasted up to 10 hours. So if you’re calling this thing a portable gaming system, understand that it was only portable for about five hours–unless you had a stockpile of Duracells, and if you’re a kid, you’re unlikely to have a stockpile of anything. Then again, if you’re a kid, where are you gonna go for so long? I might have taken this along on a holiday trip to the mountains once or twice, but most of the time, I played Shaven Yak under my bedsheets. I had the AC Adaptor.
The adaptor was sold separately, meaning you had to save your money for a stupid plug, or you had to waste a Christmas present on a stupid plug. It’s as sneaky as the Genesis coming with only one controller. Now I knew what they meant when they said life was unfair, my first taste of the real world, this and the time I wasn’t allowed to have a glow stick at the circus.
As an adult, I find the Game Gear unplayable, none of the games worth squinting at a 3 inch screen for longer than 7 minutes. But the cartridges are just adorable:
No, you know what? They’re not just adorable, they’re darling. The design of these darling things is great–light weight, come in darling little cases, and they load in and out of the system easily. I could just eat them. Sega’s marketing strategy was to give away the razor to sell the blades: selling the Game Gear for a relatively cheap $150, but all the games for $29.99, which is about as much as a video game today.
And like any Sega system, they also offered a crapload of expensive “options” that you could upgrade your system with–peripherals, attachments, and Gucci bags. There was the car adaptor, a screen magnifier, and my favorite, a TV tuner. Imagine hooking in a tuner, earphones, and a magnifying glass to your Game Gear. You’d look like an astronaut ready for take-off. All of this to watch your favorite show on channel 9, the only thing the tuner barely picks up.
So you were all hooked in, figeting with the tuner, and getting a fuzzy channel 9 only. Watch your favorite shows! It seemed so novel. Except, you know what? Your favorite show isn’t on channel 9. No one’s favorite show is on channel 9. Then you’d realize this TV tuner sucks. Wish you’d saved your money for the AC Adapter instead. Life sucks and this is crap.
I’ve been there, kid. I’ve been there.