The Game Gear Directory: (Ph-Pow)

Getting mad, but also getting even. Slam evil!

Phantom 2040 (1995)

I feel like I'm probably going against the grain here, but I like this a lot. It's a somewhat involved little multi-genre thing that you'd anticipate was a hot mess, and I guess it kind of is, but I feel as though it's been very well designed and thought out. The platforming sections let you set your own pace, and the difficulty seems to be pitched just right - whenever I found myself low on health, there was always a collectable coming up. There's a lot of leeway for taking hits and it seems as though sometimes it's unavoidable, but it's all so fair, with small but detailed sprites and a view zoomed out enough to let you actually see what the heck you're doing. There are some overhead shmup-ish sections that were similarly easy and threw some impressive speed around without sprite flicker or slowdown. I don't know a good goddamn thing about this Phantom chap, but I feel like I know decent games and this is very much better than decent. In fact, while I strongly feel your mileage may vary, I'm giving this baby a four. It even has rad-looking hacking sections! ****

Pinball Dreams (1994)

Three tables means this is far from an ungenerous pinball package, but unfortunately it just doesn't feel very good to play. Sometimes that's the best critique I can offer! The ball just seems not to be particularly adherent to any kind of sensible physics, and it is inordinately difficult to give the flippers a proper smash and send the ball pinging around in the way that makes pinball actually fun. Also, and this may be a skill issue, it almost seems like the ball is magnetised towards the pitfalls and losing balls super early in a game is just not enjoyable at all. It looks nice, with smooth scrolling and a decent field of view ensuring that you can actually see what's going on, but it isn't enough for me to recommend picking this up. The second and third tables are quite uninteresting, too... a shame, because the Game Gear seems to be lacking a decent pin-'em-up. This effort just doesn't live up to the Amiga original. **

Poker Face Paul's Blackjack (1994)

Poker Face Paul's Gin (1994)

Poker Face Paul's Poker (1994)

Poker Face Paul's Solitaire (1994)

Gross gambling sims that don't deserve separate writeups. They're all reasonably full-featured simulations of whichever card game they're offering, but one wonders why they didn't just make one single cart with all the different games and options in there. I'm no programmer but it seems doable. So yes, this is a pretty well-made series with nice-looking graphics and a strong line in modifiers, like different rulesets for different Vegas casinos, etc. Buit it's all in service to stupid gambling bullshit with absolutely no point to any of it, like there's absolutely no joy in winning a game of fucking Blackjack of all things against a CPU dealer. Who cares? Who could possibly give a shit about any of this? If I seem angry, it's because I kind of am! I hate this type of thing, I hate gambling and I especially hate this kind of gambler's methadone bullcrap that exists to simulate the rush of winning money while not actually granting you any goddamn money. It's ugly as hell and I find it morally bankrupt. But I'm not insane. They're old games from before the time when you could just take out your debit card and casually lose hundreds to a rigged online slot machine, but in 2023 I struggle to review anything that involves gambling. I struggle to tolerate its existence in a supposed first world country where people are starving to death in the streets. And shitheads will get angry about me "getting political", well too bad. Gambling ruins lives. It shouldn't be glorified in any respect. I hope "Poker Face Paul" is dead in the cold, cold ground, and I hope I don't encounter any more BS gambling games in this Directory. *

Popils (1991)

This may be one of the Game Gear's absolute killer apps. It feels designed for the hardware in a way very few titles in this Directory manage, with a compelling set of puzzles to enjoy and rage at. Your task in each stage is to rescue the Princess, who wanders around in a sort of Lemmings-y stupor, waiting for you to smash up the level with your powerful punches, kicks and headbutts in an effort to get to her. Touch the Princess and you win, but it's far easier said than done. There's a battery back-up feature, not to mention a full-featured level editor to go along with the 100 puzzles you get in the base game. This is an outstanding effort with tremendous presentation, reams of content and lovely music to top it all off. Total belter from arsehole to breakfast. *****

Power Drive (1994)

This top-down driving sim is a little awkward at first, but its slippy-slidey controls actually generate quite a lot of fun. It's got that whole joy of levelling up your car, buying new parts with the money you earn in each race. It's a touch lonely at times, as you rarely mix with other cars on the tracks, but said courses are nicely diverse and challenging, with very good graphics and controls that take a little while to get used to but deliver in spades once you have. It's a very meat-and-potatoes sort of game but there's nothing wrong with that and it all works. It's very good and I recommend it, though as I've said it will take some time before you are fully on board with the controls. ****

Power Strike II (1993)

Well, consarn it, there sure as darn-tootin' is a whole lotta monkey business going on here. I don't know what I was going for with that opening sentence, try to ignore it. This ambitious shmup has eyes that are far bigger than its stomach, with some truly egregious sprite flicker. It's incredibly impressive, with visuals that could honestly be mistaken for 16-bit, and the gameplay is very much on point with fast-moving enemy formations and a surplus of incredible firepower. I find the view is just a smidge too zoomed in for my liking, and the enemies who swoop in from below you are a little bit of a dick move. That said, Power Strike II is a heck of an achievement. Otherwise known as GG Aleste II, this is hyper-kinetic shoot-'em-up feels like it's going to split the Game Gear in half, at times, such is it pushing the damn thing's visuals. There's an argument to be made that this is the best-looking game on the system - I disagree, though it is certainly impressive. It's fun to play, too, though it takes too long to become challenging. The constant explosions and enemy sprite numbers have a tendency to induce both flicker and slowdown, but they're not too intrusive and it's still very enjoyable. If you want to see what the Game Gear can do when it's pushed to the limit, here's the game for you. ****

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