By: Jimbo X
HEY! LOOKING FOR THE REST OF THE COUNTDOWN?
PART ONE IS RIGHT HERE.
PART TWO IS RIGHT HERE..
Oh, the Sega Game Gear. The 8-bit, full-color handheld always played second fiddle to the Game Boy, despite being a much more impressive piece of hardware. Alas, while Sega's portable is largely remembered today as an epic hardware failure (thanks in no small part to an absurdly short battery life), the truth of the matter is that there actually were quite a few good, great and flat-out excellent titles released on the platform, including a number that not only rival the best the Game Boy had to offer, but in some cases, even exceeded them. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the Game Gear has such a less-than-stellar reputation today because the pool of North American cartridges was rather shallow compared to the MUCH more robust library overseas. Thankfully, the Game Gear is a region-free unit, so as long as you don't mind stumbling through some kanji, you can play virtually every title released on the handheld worldwide on your U.S. hardware. Well, that, or you can cheat and hit up the emulators. Not that we would EVER condone such behavior at The Internet Is In America, obviously.
To help repair the handheld's somewhat dinged-up image, I decided to conduct an experiment. Over the course of three years, I played EVERY SINGLE game released on the Game Gear. As in, all 400 or so U.S., Japanese and PAL releases, along with a few weirdbeard Brazilian offerings (don't ask me why, but in Blanka's home country, they were still making unlicensed games for the system in the late 1990s.) Scoring the games on a 10 point scale (with one being the worst and ten being the best), I quantitatively ranked every last Sega Game Gear title. Before you today is a final tally of the top 50 cartridges released on the system, the titles representing the absolute cream of the proverbial crop when it comes to early-to-mid 1990s non-Nintendo portable gaming. Before we hop into the countdown, however, there are a few caveats I'd like to address:
Number One: Only officially licensed Sega Game Gear games were eligible for the countdown. That also means homebrews are off limits, no matter how cool they are.
Number Two: For the sake of making things simple, I played fan-translated versions of all of the text-heavy Japan-only games (chiefly, all of the role playing games.) For every other type of Japan-only Game Gear game, I opted for the original version, complete with the indecipherable characters.
Number Three: The games were rated on how well they compared to similar genre offerings on the handheld, so a game like "FIFA '96" would be scored on the same criteria that "Sensible Soccer" was scored, and not the criteria used for a game in an entirely different genre, like "Sonic the Hedgehog" or "Factory Panic."
Number Four: As always, AC adapter gameplay is much encouraged.
Now, with all of that stuff out of the way, who is ready to take things to the next level? You know, as long as the six Double-A batteries can make it, anyway...
"Sonic the Hedgehog 2"
This was the very first game I ever played on the Game Gear. Seeing as how it was a pack-in game for the system during its peak year, I'm guessing it was also the first Game Gear game tons of other '90s kids played, as well.
There were a ton of "Sonic" games released for the system, and this is certainly one of the better ones. The audio-visuals are nice, the controls are solid and the level design is really, really good. There's a whole lot more going on than there was in the first Sonic Game Gear title, and this one is refreshingly devoid of all of the superfluous additions found in later system offerings, like "Triple Trouble."
Of course, "Sonic 2" on the Game Gear will probably forever be remembered most for its stage one boss fight, which has to be far and away one of the most frustrating in the annals of video gaming. You are forced to do battle with a giant crab, on an inclined plane, without sliding into its pincers. Oh, and while you are trying to avoid falling into its maw, you also have to avoid a menagerie of bouncing balls, which are near impossible to dodge unless you time your shit absolutely perfectly. And on top of that? You have to make it through the entire ordeal without any power rings -- to say this caused some displeasure around my homestead would be the understatement of the 1993 holiday season.
Now here is one of the weirdest goddamn games you will ever get your hands on.
At its core, "Ganbare Gorby" is actually a really solid little puzzle game, with a very inventive hook. The idea is to evade guards and make sure certain items are redirected along a conveyor belt to specific endpoints. To do so, you have to maneuver your avatar across the game space, hitting specific switches on the floor at certain times to keep items moving along. It's a very simple concept, to be sure, but it is also really fun and, in the latter stages, quite the brain-teasing dynamic.
So, what makes this game so strange, you may be wondering? Well, it's primarily the overt political tones of the game, seeing as how you play as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (complete with his iconic facial birthmark!) and use your vodka breath(!) to stun KGB agents and hook up starving families with pot roasts and marginalized workers with ... Sega Game Gear units. The game did get ported to the U.S. under the name "Factory Panic," but the references to Gorbachev were removed; since this game is a bit harder and has that undeniable WTF factor, I'd strongly suggest playing this one instead of its less satirical American cousin.
"Godzilla: Kaiju Dai Shingenki"
The Sega, Toho and real-time-strategy freak I was, I undoubtedly would have loved this Japanese-only cartridge as a kid. Alas, as was the fate of MANY great GG games, this one sadly never made it stateside -- thank goodness the handheld is region-free, no?
Structurally, the game is very similar to the second "Godzilla" game released on the NES. As a stand-alone action-strategy game a'la "Advanced Wars," this is certainly one of the finest on the portable, if not the absolute best. But it's not just the fact that "Kaiju Dai Shingenki" is a great, robust military sim; the game even goes the extra mile and lets you play as Godzilla and his Tokyo-stomping brethren!
This game excels as both a Toho love-in and a damned solid arcade-strategy offering.The maps are diverse, there are tons of cameos (Gigan and Mecha King-Ghidorah, among them) and the real-time combat provides a ton of options, without once sacrificing accessibility. Come to think of it, this might just be the best Godzilla game ever made; if nothing else, it's worlds better than "Super Godzilla," for sure!
Number 36 (tie):
"J-League Soccer Dream Eleven" and "J-League GG Pro Striker '94"
Released: 1995, 1994
The Game Gear was certainly not hurting for quality footy sims, and these two "J-League" titles are definitely among the finest sports offerings to hit the handheld.
I suppose the big tiebreaker here depends on your camera perspective preference. "Dream Eleven" utilized a vertical playing field, and therefore offered a larger game space, while "Pro Striker" offered a horizontal playing field that led to much quicker gameplay.
In terms of extras, both games sported some robust franchise modes, so ultimately, choosing between the two hinges on what type of soccer game you're feeling at the time. If you want something a little more defense-oriented, with more emphasis on strategy? Go with "Dream Eleven." Wanting a faster paced, offense-oriented game with lots of scoring opportunities? Then "Pro Striker" is right up your alley. As long as you have a passion for the world's game AND 8-bit simulators, you are unlikely to be disappointed by either.
""Lunar: Samporusu Gakuen"
Developer: Studio Alex
Publisher: Game Arts
The two "Lunar" games on the Sega CD were among the best RPGs to ever grace a Sega console. While "Samporusu Gakuen" isn't really on par with either of those titles, it's nonetheless a solid JRPG, with pleasant visuals and an above-average story.
This game (which was remade on the Saturn as "Magic School Lunar!") takes place centuries before "The Silver Star." You control Ellie, your stereotypical anime farm girl as she enrolls in a floating wizardry school (remember, this thing came out years before the "Harry Potter" books) to avoid being sold into slavery(!?!). Alongside her best pal Lena, a she-beast called Senia and a depressed kid named Wing, she battles the forces of evil in order to save the school instructors, who have all been kidnapped by some generic dark lord or something.
It's not the most original game in terms of storyline or gameplay mechanics, but everything it does, it does very well. The characters have a lot of, well, character, and the narrative is a tad more cerebral than most genre games of the like on the Game Gear. If you're a hardcore "Lunar" fan, of course you want to get your hands on this one -- indeed, if you are a hardcore JRPG fan looking for ANY quality, obscure title, "Samporusu Gakuen" is likely a game well worth tracking down.
"NBA Jam: Tournament Edition"
Developer: Iguana Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
The first "NBA Jam" game on the handheld was pretty lackluster. Thankfully, this re-do addressed all of the fundamental flaws from the first game, revamping the gameplay to produce what is far and away the best basketball game on the portable.
I'm not really sure what the developers of the game did differently on the engineering side of things, but this is a much, much brisker and fluid basketball game than the first go-around. Not only are the controls smoother and the overall pace of the game much faster, the audiovisuals have also been drastically improved. Quite frankly, this is about as good a port of the home console game as you could probably get on the Game Gear.
Pretty much everything you loved about the arcade and SNES/Genesis version is included in the game, including the impressive stats-tracking. You get all of the crazy dunks and shattered backboards, plus more contemporary NBA stars to choose from, and there's even an all-rookie team included on the roster, comprised of such up-and-comers as Jason Kidd. The lack of a real "franchise" mode is a downer, but when the core gameplay is this good? It's hard to not celebrate the product as-is.
"Mortal Kombat II"
Visually, this might just be one of the top five most impressive games on the handheld. The sprites here don't just look good, they look ASTONISHINGLY good -- how the developers of this one got so much out of the hardware, I'll never comprehend.
The game is missing a few characters (sorry, but there's no Baraka, Raiden, Johnny Cage or Kung Lao included), but if you can overlook that, you'll find a very, very solid button-masher that plays so much like its home console brethren that you may mistake it for black magic. Not only is this far and away the best fighting game on the Game Gear, it might just be the best fighting game you will ever play that utilizes just two face buttons.
Oh, and if like AC/DC, you want blood? In this version, you must definitely get it -- not only does the game include some gnarly fatalities, pretty much all of the iconic "environmental kills" from the arcade game are likewise faithfully reproduced here.
"Panzer Dragoon Mini"
Yep, there indeed WAS a "Panzer Dragoon" game released on the Game Gear. Unfortunately, as was the fate of almost half the games on this countdown, it never got ported outside of Japan
Despite the very kiddie cover art, the game itself stays relatively true to the series' roots. It's not a terribly difficult game, but it's no walk through the park, either. Of course, the game couldn't employ the same Saturn-caliber 3D graphics, but overall, I'd say this is a pretty damn good looking (and playing) little handheld shooter.
To be frank, although it's called "Panzer Dragoon Mini," the game itself plays more like a souped-up "Space Harrier." The levels fly by very quickly, and the shooting action is fairly intense (if not a little unwieldy at first.) Thankfully, the game DOES import the "lock-on" feature from its Saturn inspiration; as such, it's one of the more unique rail shooters you will likely ever get your mitts on.
There were a ton of great, inventive puzzle games on the handheld, and "Slider" is certainly one of the lesser appreciated genre offerings.
"Slider" is a relatively simply game, in theory. You play a character who has to avoid obstacles and enemies (some of whom I believe are members of the Ku Klux Klan) and touch every square on a floor. By turning the panels a different color, you advance to the next stage -- and if you're looking for a long-term investment, you are in luck, since the title includes no less than 99 stages.
The latter stages get very, very tricky, and you will definitely need some serious grey matter muscle to power your way through. The game was also released on the TG-16 under the name "Skweek," but I think I might actually prefer the Game Gear iteration -- if nothing else, for having one of the most unintentionally horrifying box art mascots of all-time.
THANK YOU, SEGA
FOR GIVING US THE GREATEST TWENTY MINUTES IN THE HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMING.