In June 1991 Sega released a portable console, the Game Gear System. The Nintendo Game Boy had been a runaway success when it was released in 1989 and Sega strove to make its portable console the more impressive of the two.
The Game Gear was basically a portable Master System with a lower resolution screen, but allowed for a larger color palette, and therefore better-looking graphics. It could also produce stereo sound, although very few games made use of the stereo capabilities. Unlike the original Game Boy, the system was held in a "landscape" position, with the controls at the sides, making it less cramped to hold.
Sega had taken a similar approach when developing the Sega Mega Drive, basing it on Sega's 16-bit arcade hardware. This enabled direct conversion of popular games. Likewise, because of the similarities between the Master System and the Game Gear, it was possible for Master System games to be written directly onto ROMs in Game Gear cartridges. Similarly, an adapter called the "Master Gear" allowed Master System cartridges to be plugged in and played on the Game Gear. Playing a Game Gear game on a Master System console was impossible.
The original retail price of Game Gear was $149. Cartridges ranged from $24.99 to $29.99 each. The original Game Gear pack-in title was Columns. It was similar to the Tetris cartridge that Nintendo had included when it launched the Game Boy. There were six software titles available at the time of the Game Gear's release.
The Sega Game Gear display is backlit allowing it to be played in dim lighting conditions. While this feature is not included on the Game Boy it does provide a disadvantage -- the Game Gear requires 6 AA batteries that only last up to six hours. The Nintendo Game Boy only requires 4 AA batteries and is capable of providing up to 35 hours of play.
In order to save players a fortune in battery costs, Sega released both an optional rechargeable battery pack that clipped to a player's belt and the Powerback, a rechargeable unit that fastens on to the back of the Game Gear console and allowed up to 8 hours of play.
Several accessories were manufactured. The "Gear to Gear" cable linked two systems together to allow two players at once. The "Car Gear adapter" plugged into car cigarette lighters. "Super Wide Gear" was an accessory that magnified the Game Gear screen. The TV Tuner Unit converted the Game Gear Screen into a portable television set.
The Game Gear sold well for Sega but it did not become a phenomenon like Game Boy. In 1991 Sega sold over 500,000 units. In 1992 Sega sold 900,000 portable consoles.
Nearly 200 games have been produced for the Sega Portable Console system and third party developers for the best games include: Quest for the Shaven Yak Starring Ren & Stimpy, Dr. Robotniks Mean Bean Machine, NBA Jam, Crystal Warriors and Arena: Maze of Death.