At the end of the 80s, handheld consoles that were viable alternatives to home consoles became a reality with the release of the Nintendo Game Boy. The Sega Game Gear was Sega’s attempt to impact this market in which competitors had already made ground.
An assumption made about the Game Gear is that it simply plays ports of Master System games, but there are many unique Game Gear exclusives that differ from their Master System counterpart.
The Game Gear boasts a 3.2-inch backlit color screen with 32 on-screen colors at one time from a palette of 4096, so on paper, things looked fantastic, especially when compared to the Game Boy’s monochrome display.
But as we know, tech specs are not the whole picture when it comes to a handheld’s success, so how did the Game Gear library hold up? Let’s look at some of the best Sega Game Gear games and find out.
10. Streets of Rage 2
The Streets of Rage games were instant hits on the Genesis with their striking visuals and absolutely belting soundtracks, so translating all of this to the modest Game Gear should have been quite the challenge.
The great news is that Sega pulled off an awesome conversion, with Streets of Rage 2 delivering all of the excitement of the Genesis original, in a miniaturized format.
The only real omissions are that there are 6 levels instead of 8, as well as a new character ‘Max Thunder’ who was cut from both the Master System and Game Gear versions of the game, but you still get to choose either Axel, Blaze, or another new character, Skate.
But Streets of Rage 2 plays wonderfully on Sega’s modest Game Gear with all the flaws of the original game having been addressed.
9. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Released in late 1992, Sonic 2 on the Game Gear provided more of the same as the original but is more refined in its appearance and gameplay.
Those familiar with the Genesis version of Sonic 2 will enjoy this as Sonic 2 on the Master System and Game Gear are completely different games. As with the first Game Gear Sonic, there is more of an emphasis on exploration and tricky jumps, which makes this a totally different experience.
Some tweaks to the gameplay have certainly improved this sequel, for example, a key element added is that you can now pick up rings you lose when hit by an enemy, one of the most infuriating things about the first Sonic on the Game Gear!
The only thing that it lacks is the ability to play as Tails like with its 16-Bit counterpart, you actually are on a mission to save Tails in this version of the game who has been kidnapped by Dr. Robtnik, so actually, given how annoying Tails can be in the Genesis game, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing!
8. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Another Sega game that appeared first on the Genesis, Castle of Illusion is a fantastic platformer where Mickey sets off to rescue Minnie from the Castle of Illusion, captured by the evil witch, Mizrabel.
In a similar way that Sonic was translated to the Game Gear, Castle of Illusion receives the same treatment, whilst the fundamentals and levels of the game are similar, the 8-Bit version has its own design and features which work translate brilliantly on the modest Game Gear.
There’s plenty of exploring, bouncing off enemies, collecting items, and end-of-level bosses. It’s all very traditional platformer stuff but is a stand-out title on the Game Gear and one which fans of the Genesis original should play too.
7. Bubble Bobble
Bubble Bobble appeared on most systems following its arcade release, and Game Gear owners were not left wanting either.
The interesting thing about this conversion is that the Bubble Bobble world has been shrunk down to size, with levels appearing on single screens, but scaled a lot smaller than they do on other versions, but actually, it works well and there is a really enjoyable version of Bubble Bobble packed into the Game Gear cartridge.
The Game Gear’s superior power and color screen allowed this to be one of the best ways to play Bubble Bobble on the move when it was released.
6. Super Columns
Super Columns is the sequel to the original Columns, also released on the Game Gear. Super Columns is fundamentally the same classic Sega puzzler, where you arrange the falling gems into lines of three or more of the same colour.
In Super Columns, however, this is no longer restricted to only working with a vertical stack of gems, you can now rotate your line of blocks horizontally, allowing for more options when matching blocks of gems. Along with new types of gems that perform actions such as flipping the grid upside down and the ability to clear whole lines of the grid, Super Columns is an improvement on the already classic original.
5. Out Run
One of the most famous Sega titles, Out Run found its way on the Game Gear in 1991 and is a simplified version of the Sega Master System version and not a direct copy.
You take control of your Ferrari racing against the clock across a series of difficult locations, all with their own challenging environment and traffic to avoid crashing into. Nothing is lost though in translation, you still get to choose which path you take before reaching each checkpoint, allowing for some decent replay value, so you can go back and check out all of the different routes available.
Even better is that the Game Gear version retains its own great versions of the classic soundtrack, including Magical Sound Shower, Passing Breeze, and Splash Wave.
Also known as ‘The GG Shinobi’, this port is a Game Gear exclusive version, which differs from the arcade original.
You still play as Joe Musashi in this side-scrolling beat em up, who is out to rescue four other ninjas, this is where the Game Gear version is quite unique, once you rescue your ninja colleagues, you are then able to utilise their skills by switching between ninja characters.
There are 5 levels to complete but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a quick game to blast through, Shinobi on the Game Gear is well-known for being a tough one to crack!
3. Fantasy Zone
Another Game Gear game that is not a straight Master System copy, Fantasy Zone actually is technically better, with the Game Gear’s enhanced colour palette being utilised.
Aside from this, Fantasy Zone is essentially a miniaturised version of the original game, with the above-mentioned enhancements and some small compromises, but is still just as much fun.
You play as Opa-Opa Jr, a living spaceship with legs! You can fly around levels and walk along the ground, shooting the smaller waves of enemies whilst trying to destroy the enemy bases dotted around each level. Once all the bases have been destroyed, you are then matched against and of level boss.
Fantasy Zone is a tricky game, especially on the Game Gear’s small screen, but oh so classic and cute! Another gem in the Sega Game Gear library.
2. Road Rash
Road Rash is a motorcycle racer/fighter that sees you participate in street races, with no rules! You race against your competitors for cash prizes, which can be exchanged for better and faster bikes as you progress through the game.
You have to avoid traffic as well as the other racers trying to not just outrace you but will attack you with kicks, punches, and weapons in an attempt to take you down. The good news is, you can fight back too. A big part of the game is deciding whether to just press on and race or get drawn into a brawl which can slow you down, getting distracted trying to take out your opponent.
Road Rash is best known for its Mega Drive / Genesis version, but Road Rash for the Sega Game Gear is an absolute marvel with how they managed to shrink the original classic down, losing none of the gameplay, and amazingly, plays and runs just as good as the 16-bit version.
1. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is the final game on our best Sega Game Gear games list, not necessarily because it’s the absolute best, but because it cannot be argued it is many people’s favourite game for the Game Gear.
Also known as Winder Boy III; The Dragon’s Trap on the Master System, the Game Gear version offers just as good a version, but with the benefit of taking it on the go (so as long as you had a couple of dozen batteries with you!).
The game is set after the previous game Wonder Boy in Monster Land, but this time, Wonder Boy has been subject to a curse by the Mecha Dragon and has to adventure his way through different lands, taking different forms to find the Salamander Cross to lift the curse. The gameplay is simple, but very fun and has both action and light RPG elements, perfect for casual players and RPG lovers alike!
It is such a loved title, it received a remake in 2017, available for all modern consoles and mobile platforms.
What other Sega Game Gear games did you enjoy? Do you think there are other titles deserving of being on this list?
Want to play Sega Game Gear games with an emulator? Then check out our recommendations for the best Sega Game Gear emulators. Also, what about other colour handhelds of the time? One of the Game Gear’s competitors was the Atari Lynx, read our article on the best Atari Lynx games to see how they hold up to what you’ve seen here today.