My dad bought me a Game Gear when I was still a toddler. I probably got it when i was two or three. I had a grand total of three games for it: Sonic The Hedgehog 2, NBA Jam, and Aladdin. I played the everloving hell out of Sonic 2, but I have grown to hate that version of the game with a passion due to the zoomed-in screen, which makes things significantly more difficult since you can't see enemies until they're right on top of you. The Master System version of Sonic 2 doesn't have that problem. Play that one instead.
The Game Gear was Sega's attempt at cutting into some of that delicious handheld gaming pie.
I bet that pie tasted of AA batteries and liquid-crystal screens. Nice and crunchy.
Atari had previously tried to overthrow Nintendo's Game Boy and claim dominance in the handheld market for themselves, but Atari's Lynx handheld wasn't quite up to snuff. Sure, it had color and a backlight, but it drained AA batteries inhumanly fast. The Lynx game library was also quite poor, with little to no third party support.
The Game Gear came out in 1991. To Sega's credit, they definitely made a nice-looking handheld. The Game Gear fits in with the style of the Sega Genesis quite nicely, easily cementing its' status as the "kid brother" to the Genesis. The game library reflected this ideal, as well. Most of the games were ports of Genesis titles or side-games that tie into existing Genesis franchises.
At least, that's the case for games that were originally made on the Game Gear. A small percentage of the Game Gear library consists of ports of Sega Master System games. At its' core, the Game Gear was a portable version of Sega's Master System, a console that did not quite catch on in the United States. It was an interesting device, but, as Alton Brown always said on Good Eats, "That's another show."
The Game Gear had everything done right on paper: It was wider-shaped than the Game Boy, which made it easier to hold for long periods of time. It was in color and it had a front-light, as opposed to the Game Boy's green/black monochrome screen, and it had a lot of games that would never have come out on the Game Boy for one reason or another. What went wrong?
A few things.
1. The battery life was abysmal. Six AA batteries would get you roughly three hours of play. If you were a kid who took long car rides to school or liked to get in some gaming to alleviate boredom on a road trip, three hours is nothing. This hurts more when you realize that the Game Boy can get 10-12 hours of battery life with four AA batteries.
2. The LCD screens Sega used for the Game Gear were some of the worst offenders of the classic "ghosting" issue. Games that had too much action going on at once often blurred together, at its worst becoming an unplayable mess and showing afterimages at best. This made things like the first boss in Sonic 2 completely impossible, as you couldn't see the projectiles that were being thrown at you. RPGs were easier to deal with since the action wasn't necessarily real-time, but whenever movement happened, it was hard to see. This issue is something that plagued not only the Game Gear, but the Game Boy, the Atari Lynx, and NEC's TurboExpress as well.
3. The biggest flaw with the Game Gear, by a wide, wide margin, is the issue with the Game Gear's inner-components. Every Game Gear that was made had faulty capacitors installed within, so they would go bad prematurely. Bad caps aren't an uncommon problem with electronics, but they're usually never widespread. As far as I know, EVERY Game Gear ever made had faulty capacitors installed, which, once they failed, would ruin some aspect of the Game Gear, from the sound dying to the screen being impossible to see unless you held the console at an odd angle. It's not just a bad batch of consoles, like with the Xbox 360 "red ring of death." This issue was much larger than that.
It's not a matter of IF the Game Gear will break, it's a matter of WHEN.
†It WILL happen, mark my words. 95% of the Game Gear consoles I've come across in the wild have had some sort of issue related to bad capacitors. I haven't seen a 100% working one in years.
Now, before you toss out your broken Game Gears and curse Sega at the top of your lungs, know that there is a solution to this problem. Replacing the bad capacitors will solve any issues that they have caused. The biggest problem with this is that this requires knowledge of electronics and soldering, and you really should know what you're doing before you decide to crack open your Game Gear and perform surgery.
As for the effed-up screen and the battery drainage, that's a whole 'nother beast that I'm not willing to tackle right now.
If you don't mind losing true portability, there are people out there who "consolize" Game Gears for people. Basically, they make this handheld console into a regular one, by allowing you to hook it up to a TV and run off of an AC adapter, possibly allowing you to use a controller as well. That's a fairly-difficult process, though.
Honestly, that's a lot of work.
I own around 80 or so Game Gear games. The only reason I own so many is because I got a ton of them in a lot at a local game store. They were willing to cut me a break since nobody buys these games. Here's a recent purchase, from last week:
Streets of Rage
Poker Face Paul's Gin
Shining Force: Sword of Hijya
The Itchy & Scratchy Game
The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants
Ren & Stimpy: The Quest for the Shaven Yak
I was all psyched to play Shining Force when, all of a sudden, my Game Gear decided to break.
Seriously. These consoles are a goddamn time bomb.