Game Gear

11 May

I knew that the coming 3DS system update would add the ability to purchase classic Nintendo, Game Boy and GBA games via Nintendo’s online store. But for some reason I was unaware that it was also going to allow us to buy and play Game Gear games on our 3DSes.

My first reaction to this news was, “Yes. Yessss.” But then I thought about it some, and I’m not so sure I miss any of those Game Gear games. I think I miss the Game Gear itself.

As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t allowed to own any proper videogame consoles growing up; I played PC games pretty much exclusively. I say “pretty much” because my parents did allow me and my sister to have handheld game systems, a compromise that they informed us of in typically devious fashion. After refusing to let me get one for months, they suddenly gave us both Game Boys for Christmas. (I think it was for Christmas, anyway.) It was almost more than I could handle.

As excited as I was about the games I would get to play, I was even more excited about the hardware itself. The way the new plastic and the electronics smelled, the weight of the system in my hands, the layout of the buttons. The speaker on the lower-right corner, those four ‘AA’ batteries lined up in the back, giving the system some extra heft.

I also remember the Game Boy came with its own headphones. They were color-coded—I just looked them up and found a picture. I’m surprised by the level of feteshistic nostalgia I feel when I look at that picture. Those headphones were for Game Boy Use Only; they were not for Walkman (or later, Discman) use. They were for listening to the Tetris theme, over and over and over and over again.

Eventually the Game Boy lost its hold over the portable gaming market. My friend Bjorn got an Atari Lynx, a monstrous thing with reversible controls, a wide, washed-out screen and a weird selection of games. He had a game that involved flying a blue fighter jet, and I was really bad at it. But who cared? The Lynx had a color screen.

So pretty soon everyone wanted a color handheld, and in a year or so we had three choices: the Lynx, NEC’s extraordinarily overpriced but allegedly amazing TurboExpress, or the Sega Game Gear. The Game Gear seemed like the best compromise between affordability, game library and screen-awesomeness, so I decided I wanted one.

For a long time Game Gears were prohibitively expensive, at least for me. But on a random visit to Sam’s Club with my dad, I wandered over to the electronics section. I remember thinking, “Wow, Sam’s Club has an electronics section? I thought they only sold box wine and weird extra-large sweatshirts!” As I walked through the field of vaguely sad off-brand TVs and stereo recievers, I saw a small screen glowing in the distance. Holy shit, it was a Game Gear.

A bundle package, in fact. It included a Game Gear, carrying case and two games and for more or less the list price of the baseline unit. I’m not totally sure which games came with it… I know one was Sonic the Hedgehog. I barely had the money for it, but I made the purchase right there.

I’ll never forget how awesome the Game Gear felt to hold, to play. The contours of the plastic, the grooves dug in beneath the D-Pad and the two big buttons. The odd, half-moon start button. The glowing red power light and of course, the big, glowing screen.

Sega was really into the screen. They had this (*sold separately) TV Adapter for the Game Gear that, they stressed, could turn your Game Gear into a TV!

The above image was on the box, and was featured in all of the promotional materials for the system. There was always an asterisk that read:

*Simulated Image

I have a feeling that the TV Tuner’s actual reception was less than crisp, but for me, that was unimportant. I was never, ever going to buy it.  The important thing was that simply by existing, the TV Tuner proved that the Game Gear’s screen was as good as a TV screen. For kids whose only portable gaming experience was the Game Boy, this was a big frickin deal.

I loved my Game Gear. I don’t entirely remember the games I had on it, though I do know I had Mortal Kombat. I suppose that at some point or another it was given away or it broke. I’m actually a bit troubled by the fact that I can’t remember what happened to it… maybe it’s still in a drawer at home somewhere. I doubt it.

But I am struck by how vividly I remember the way that rounded black rectangle felt in my hands, the way I would organize and lay out my game collection before traveling with it. Little things like what it was like to plug in the power adapter and how the batteries went into two separate compartments on the back, one on each side of the cartridge-tray.

I felt a sort of lonely, personal attachment to the Game Gear, because none of my friends had one. In fact, to this day I don’t believe I’ve ever even met someone who had one. None of my friends in the videogame community have ever talked about owning one. As far as I know I’m the only person in the world who ever bought a Game Gear. Maybe that’s why they were on sale at Sam’s Club.

At any rate. I don’t know if playing Game Gear games on my 3DS will bring back warm Game Gear memories any more than browsing Google Images did, but I’ll sure give it a shot. Plus Shinobi was pretty sweet, from what I remember.

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