The Simpsons, dial-up internet, tamagotchis…the 90s gave us many cool things, and things were hotting up in the handheld console market, too, as the decade started.
Sega released its brand-new Game Gear in Japan at the end of 1990 in an attempt to compete with Nintendo’s revolutionary Game Boy, and over the new few months it had also hit the European and U.S. markets.
The 8-bit console’s unique games library and competitive price meant that it was a hit across the world, with characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog now available in handheld form.
But it wasn’t just Sonic that caught our imagination. Here are six more games that the Game Gear is remembered for, 30 years after its release.
Streets of Rage II
Several elements of the Mega Drive version of this beat-em-up were left out of the eight-bit Game Gear version – enemies didn’t have names or life bars, for example. Yet this was still a brilliant handheld game for its time: especially the two-player mode where players could cable-link their devices and battle it out.
Each character came equipped with a Special Attack, triggered by a button combo for each one, which caused extra damage to enemies and enabled the fighter to take on several people at once.
Sega released several sequels that built on the success of the original versions, including a 3D title in 2015, but SoR fans still look back fondly at the first time they had this classic in their hands.
It’s easy to forget just how revolutionary a 2D racing game felt on a handheld device back in the early 90s. While these days we might get better graphics on games for our smartwatches, back then it felt like Road Rash jumped out of the screen at us as we steered a skidding motorbike around a winding asphalt track.
The game’s saving function, relatively new for its time, allowed you to pick up and carry on from where you left off – perfect for the Game Gear – while the range of locations to choose from took you on a virtual tour of North America.
But perhaps the game’s best feature? The ability to kick and punch rival riders mid-race. Great fun.
Lemmings was the brainchild of a group of Scottish programmers who were playing around on Deluxe Paint one day. The concept was simple: save the lives of as many lemmings as you can – not a simple task when the little creatures seemingly had no common sense of their own.
The puzzle platform was trickier than it looked. While the tactics players had to use were not as complex as on other games, such as strategies you could use in Blackjack or the tips and tricks for Command and Conquer: Rivals, you still had to think logically about your next step. These could include assigning specific skills to lemmings, such as climbing and parachuting, or even the kamikaze task of blowing one lemming up to clear a path through obstacles.
The game was originally designed for Amiga, but also enjoyed great success on the Game Gear, selling over 20 million copies overall. Several sequels and remakes have been made since, but many argue that none of them really hit the heights of the original.
Mortal Kombat II
The Mortal Kombat franchise is one of the most successful punch-em-ups in history, up there with the likes of Street Fighter and Tekken.
The good news for Game Gear fans was that their 8-bit version didn’t lose much when ported from a home system. Characters from the original version, such as Sub Zero and Liu Kang, could now deliver more powerful roundhouse kicks and a new crouching punch, while their recovery time was much lower. They had new special moves and could dish out combos quicker than ever before.
Reviewers hailed the Game Gear’s ‘eye-popping graphics’, with many calling it the best handheld beat-em-up on the market. Makers Acclaim knew how to market it, too, releasing it along with the Game Boy, SNES and Genesis on a day they called ‘Mortal Tuesday’.
Prince of Persia
With tensions high thanks to a 60-minute time limit, Prince of Persia got us hooked to our Game Gear screens from the first minute. An evil wizard stages a coup and kidnaps the sultan’s daughter — it’s your job to save her from his grasp. This might sound straightforward but it certainly isn’t: you first have to escape from your dungeon, battle past numerous enemies and dodge sneaky traps.
This game was a trailblazer in how it allowed the player to pull off a host of moves, such as jumping, running and fighting, at the same time when previous portable platforms only allowed you to do these things separately. With the clock ticking, there’s always that suspense in the air, too, as you knew you had to make quick decisions. A true classic of a game.
Ever walked into a shop and seen a mysterious crystal sitting on the shelf whose power sucks you into a fantasy world full of monsters? The answer’s probably no, but in this Game Gear classic you got the next best thing through a virtual protagonist who you must guide through this weird and wonderful world.
The game’s top-down view was perfect for a game that presented you with several mazes to twist and turn through. It also allowed you to easily gather weapons and collectibles that boosted your health… and to see those fearsome enemies approaching.
This game is often compared to Zelda, but this is slightly unfair given that the latter is one of Nintendo’s finest ever creations. Dragon Crystal does a great job of transporting you to a fantasy land and giving you one of greatest adventures you could have on a handheld console in the mid-90s.