Is this the most underrated handheld of all time?

Before we start, let's make it clear.This isn't just aregular Game Gear retro article.It's true that despite its wildly superior specs and backlit display, Game Gear got trounced by Nintendo's Game Boy because itate batteries, had a fuzzy screen and was way too big to fit in your pocket.

But I want to show you a different version - one which I just picked up on eBay and am enjoying more than my PSP and DS combined right now. The Majesco Game Gear - the most underrated handheld of all time.


Above: Born in the USA, now in my hands thanks to eBay

"Eh?" I hearyou say.Don't worry, I know nobody cares about it - the rest of the team like to humour me when it comes to retro stuff, but I want to show you why you should care. This 2001 remake is superior to the original in many ways and, coupled with advances in other tech since then, it's become just as enjoyable a handheld as the DS or PSP. Here's why:

The screen is better

The original Game Gear came out in 1990. That's 20 years ago, so obviously the technology in it is about as advanced as a Pokewalker. But the Majesco version was a 2001 re-release. That meant the company could include a superior screen.

The resolution's the same as it always was (which I've shown in extreme close-up on the right)and of course an iPhone's screen looks like poetry next to it. But the simple fact is, when images move across the screen here, you can still see what they're supposed to be. That's GG's biggest criticism smashed.

The buttons are better

The D-Pad is unquestionably superior to the old, clacky version. Pushing on it yeilds a spongey yet firm sensation, allowing for greater control. It doesn't move around so muchin the casing, either - much more like a modern joypad, and more pleasing to push than the pad on a DS Fat, DSi or a PSP. DS Lite's is probably better, but it's a close call.


Above: The Majesco version's d-pad is way better than the old one

Battery life has improved

While the unit itself hasn't changed in power consumption since 1990, battery technology has.As if to prove how far ahead of its time the machine was even with the sound up, you'll get more play time out of your Game Gear than a fully-charged PSP Go. Admittedly, you'll still need 6 AA batteries to play on the move, but you've got rechargeables, right?

The games still stand proud

Especially now you can see them. I'vementioned beforeabout how great the handheld version of Sonic 1 is and I stand by that. But one game alone won't convince you. So how's this fora list of 20 highquality games?


Above: There are loads more - these are just the cream of the crop

It's region free

Go ahead and scour eBay for obscure Japanese releases - they'll all work on this unit. That means you too could own one of the best handheld conversionsof all time.


Above: Japanese Game Gear boxes are works of art. Gansuta Hirozu!

In fact, there's only one area where the Majesco Game Gear is inferior to the original. There's no TV Tuner support. Butthe UK's terrestrial analogue TV signal was switched off earlier this year, so TV tuners are completely obsolete now anyway. Yup, this is the ultimate Game Gear - and one of the best handhelds ever made. I highly recommend picking one up.

However...

Oneword of warning -while there are plenty of working units still readily available,Game Gear's capacitors for the screen and the sound have been known to malfunction over time, causing dim displays and distorted/quiet/zero sound. The unit in this article isa reconditioned Majesco unit I bought from eBay to replace my faltering 1st gen machine - and, as a personal recommendation, I would gladly point you in the direction ofthis guywho changes the capacitors inevery Game Gear he sells. The unit was spotlessly clean and works perfectly.

Looking at the unit, it's a shame Game Gear didn't get a bigger market share. It's easy to say revised hardware is better, but thisMajesco unit is unquestionably one of the best handhelds ever made. It's more assured than the experimental-feeling WonderSwan, it's backlit which is favourable to a Neo Geo Pocket and the original GBA and the games are better than anything on Lynx. Just remember, if you really want one too, track down aMajesco model. You won't regret it.

13 May, 2010