The Game Gear Directory: (Ar-Ay)

Almost every Game Gear ever, reviewed. Part two of god knows how many.

Arcade Classics (1996)

A great little cart, leading off with an absolutely banging version of Missile Command, shockingly true to the arcade original. There are also a bunch of wildly silly variants of Pong (six bats at once!) and an excellent take on Centipede, making this something of a must-have. The games run a little slower than the arcade versions, but the intensity remains all present and correct, and the myriad options are a pleasant surprise that could absolutely have got away with not including. Incidentally, have you ever seen someone playing Centipede well in real life? It is a sight to behold! ****

Arch Rivals (1992)

Midway's classic "Basket Brawl" game is a nice little port, though of course it doesn't match the brash, obnoxious (in a good way!) arcade version. It's a pretty simplistic 2-on-2 game, but the camera swooping all over the place can be confusing and disorienting. The big, cartoony graphics are great, especially the interstitials with chunky, silly visuals of such basketball mainstays as a cheerleader jiggling her pneumatic chest at you. I can't see that the shallowness of Arch Rivals' gameplay could see it holding up for long, but it's definitely fun for a few games. Probably better to just have a couple of goes on the coin-op, though. ***

Arena - Maze of Death (1995)

Opening with an impressive parallax sequence, Arena is a visually stunning experience, if not a very original one. An isometric shooter set in a futuristic world of warehouses, lasers, robots and, um, doors and keycards. You know the drill - explore, shoot, collect. Stage design can be a touch cheap, funnelling you through gauntlets of death beams multiple times, but this is solid and very playable, with an admirable lack of slowdown. Hitboxes can be a little squiffy, but this is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable little dystopia. ***

Ariel - The Little Mermaid (1992)

Look at this stuff, isn't it neat? No, not particularly. This juddery, unimpressive Disney license sees fishy female Ariel exploring large, maze-like stages in an attempt to rescue her fellow mer-people, who have been transformed by Ursula into polyps. Yes, polyps. I don't understand either, but it's in the manual. Anyway, this might be sort of okayish but it's all ruined by just how slowly everything seems to run, right down to the map on the status screen which inches into existence like a high-res image on 56k internet. Very weak. *

Asterix and the Great Rescue (1994)

I love a bit of Asterix, me, and this game delivers a fairly enjoyable little dose of it, without shooting for the moon. It's well known that the original Asterix on Master System is a bit brilliant, but this game doesn't really follow it up, instead going for its own sort of thing. And that's alright, because this is far from bad, if a little tepid. The levels contain plenty of secrets, which I appreciate, but the combat is awful, essentially a crapshoot of button tapping. You can switch between Asterix and Obelix to utilise their unique talents (read: Obelix can push heavy blocks), but the game just never sees fit to rise above "fine". ***

Asterix and the Secret Mission (1994)

This is closer to the original Master System Asterix I mentioned above. As well it should be, as it seems to be its sequel. There's fun to be had, with Asterix gaining a sweet double jump, but playing as Obelix feels silly given his enormous hitbox and lack of an obvious benefit to overcome it. The game is nice-looking and well-balanced, but it's a little bland at times. Some of the level design is pretty clever, mind you, so it's definitely far from a disaster, and it's definitely better suited to the handheld than Great Rescue, which at times would task you with some leaps of faith. Secret Mission is short and sweet, and that's what you want on the Game Gear, so well worth a look. ***

Ax Battler - A Legend of Golden Axe (1991)

Oh bollocks, the Golden Axe has been stolen. Would you Adam and Eve it! The Golden Axe! It's, like, the main thing!! Anyway, jokes aside, Ax Battler is a fun, silly little action RPG thingummy in which the titular Ax Battler of Golden Axe fame explores a sizeable map akin to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and engages in combat via side-scrolling carnage akin to... erm... Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. So what we have here is clearly Sega's answer to that, and it's not bad. The sprites are a little small, but the hack-and-slash gameplay delivers. They seriously need to turn down that random encounter rate though, it's absolutely bonkers. ***

Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP II (1992)

A fast-paced little racing game, Super Monaco GP II sadly cannot compete with its Mega Drive big brother, the spectacle of the speed and vehicles lost in the Game Gear crush. The entire top half of the screen being given over to a map of the course is a total misfire, making the action below even smaller and less impressive. It's smooth, speedy and controls well, but there's just not enough of it. In every sense. A shame, because the presentation is excellent here. **

(Next time: Ba-Be)