The Game Gear Directory: (The Finale)
Rounding up, rounding off and sounding off. See you in the funny pages.
Well, I did it. We made it. Every Western Game Gear release and a handful of Japanese titles. All covered to what I'd deem the necessary extent. You - yes, you, can now find out what I think of each and every one of these games from the contemporary perspective of a slightly bonkers Brit who grew up playing all the wrong games at all the wrong times. But I'm not quite done, no. Not yet. First, I need to pick out some of the more remarkable games from the pack to showcase what the system has to offer. Admittedly I haven't written many words about each title, but they're all covered in the appropriate Directory entry. Now, on with the show of shows.
Best Beat-'Em-Up: Streets of Rage 2 (1993)
This remarkable conversion of the best belt scroller of its era (it is, don't argue) is a bit of a handheld triumph. Naturally it doesn't manage the level of visual bombast that defines the Mega Drive original, but the gameplay is certainly here and the performance holds up very well indeed. Two-player link-up made the cut, too, and it's a more or less mechanically complete take on an absolute classic.
Best Fighting Game: Fatal Fury Special (1994)
There are quite a lot of fighting games on Game Gear, but I put that down to trend-chasing rather than any kind of overt suitability of the genre to Sega's handheld. Most of them are duly bland, but Fatal Fury Special is pretty damn good. It packs in eight characters and they all look and feel nicely distinct. Care has been taken with the handling and the animations to ensure maximum playability, and everything about the presentation is very well done. It's worth noting that being the best fighting game on Gear isn't saying too much, but Takara did the work, here.
Best Platform Game: Smurfs, The (1994)
Honestly, I was as shocked as you are. On a system with at least three very good Sonics and two tremendous Mickey Mice, it's Peyo's dimunitive blue bastards who take the crown. I was delighted every second I played this game in all its terrific-looking, secret-area-hiding, polished-to-the-hilt glory. It is peak jumping. In fact, it's so smurfing good that it made me smurf in my pants.
Best Puzzle Game: Popils/Magical Puzzle Popils (1991)
Tough pick, as the Game Gear is not short on ***** puzzle games - Baku Baku Animal or Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine could easily have taken this slot - but I had to give the nod to Popils for being both an exclusive and among the most fully-featured cartridges on the system. Not only do you get a beautifully tricksy set of 100 brainteasers, you're also privileged to receive a level editor that allows you to save a massive thirty of your creations to the battery back-up. Top tier stuff that I'm baffled has never seen a re-release.
Best Racing Game: Super Off Road (1992)
As compelling as, er, I dunno, the religion you were indoctrinated into at birth. Super Off-Road packs all the action and game feel of the coin-op into a perfectly crystallised little gem of a cartridge. It's not a perfect 1:1 reflection of the arcade cab, but it has been scaled down sensibly and carefully to account for the limitations of the Game Gear. Bite-size races and risk/reward upgrades for cash. Brilliant fun.
Best RPG: Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya (1994)
Calling this an RPG is probably grounds for my arrest in some quarters of the internet, but... you know... it's a strategy RPG, innit. Sue me. I thought this was grand fun, a shockingly complete take on Fire Emblem with a lengthy campaign and deceptively strategic combat. Okay, sure, the Mage units are shockingly overpowered, but do you know any Mages in real life? How do you know that's not accurate, eh? Look, it's very good, just play it.
Best Shoot-'Em-Up: Super Space Invaders (1992)
Out of nowhere, this one swept in and hoovered up five stars' worth of score without my foreknowledge. Invaded, you could say. It's essentially a nicely varied and downright clever take on Space Invaders, avoiding the typical banality of its source material - yes, it's a classic and a formative title for the medium, but do you really want to play it now? Thankfully Super Space Invaders is a smart, challenging and occasionally quite funny update. This is how to do it. Well, like this and Space Invaders '95: Attack of the Lunar Loonies, but nobody has ported that masterpiece yet. Sob.
Best Sports Game: FIFA International Soccer (1994)
Probably the most high budget feeling Game Gear title, there's an absolute glut of different modes and options in this footy sim, though calling it a sim is a bit of a misnomer given that the game deliberately has fouls switched off by default, presumably because the devs are aware that it's much more fun that way. Looks great, plays smooth as you could possibly want, it's a beautiful game of the beautiful game. Can't ignore the fact that it could have been Sensible Soccer, mind, if only it had a multiplayer. FIFA doesn't either, to be fair, but offers a more complete single player experience.
Biggest Surprise: Sonic Drift 2 (1995)
I fully expected to dislike this one as much as I did when I first shoved it down my screaming face via Sonic Adventure DX, but it turns out that with the benefit of context - both as played on its host hardware and within the library thereof - Sonic Drift 2 actually throbs with quality; a genuinely exhilarating little handheld gem that's polished as the dickens, fast-moving and just generally fantastic fun. Colour me tickled pink! That's the colour of Amy Rose, so it's both relevant and clever.
The "Stuart Gipp" Award for Best Game Only Stuart Gipp Likes: Phantom 2040 (1995)
It's definitely a curate's egg, but then again I am a curious egg myself. I thought this was great fun, a beautifully-drawn and surprisingly methodical platforming adventure starring America's favourite totally shite crime fighter, The Phantom. Slam evil in this lovely, intricate little thing, a strong companion piece to the similarly excellent and underappreciated Phantom 2040 on Mega Drive. Honourable mention goes to the absolutely spectacular Yogi Bear in Yogi Bear's Gold Rush, but that never actually got released. Play the ROM or just get the Game Boy version, it's just as good if you don't mind the monochrome.
Worst Game: Junction (1991)
I spit on this crap. A perverse take on Pipe Mania which saps every bit of joy from that game's flawlessness with an utterly incomprehensible control scheme and the quite frankly appalling idea to make the whole thing a sliding puzzle. If I could go back in time and smother this game's creator at birth, I would. No, actually, I wouldn't. That would be a sickening act. I'll just continue to do what I do now and not play it, and tell people it's shit. Because it is. Shit, I mean. Junction.
Best Year: 1994
With seven ***** games and a whopping fifteen **** efforts, no other year came close to the sheer number of quality titles released in 1994, from the jump n' run likes of Ristar and Tails Adventure to outstanding puzzler Baku Baku Animal and the surprise hit Monster Truck Wars. Now, granted, there were more * and ** titles released that year than any other, but that's because a whopping 82 Directory-covered Game Gear titles were released in 1994, more than any other single year in the system's lifespan. It seems as though '94 was the year that developers had a grasp on what the darn thing could do, as well as a significant enough audience to make it worth putting actual effort into the carts.
Afterword: From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this. Thank you for following the Game Gear Directory, thank you for your feedback, thank you for making it such a rewarding and enjoyable project. Hopefully you've discovered a handful of interesting new games through this writing; I know I certainly have.
What's next on the docket, then? Well, I have some ideas... first of all I'd like to compile the Game Gear Directory into ebook form so you can take it anywhere with you, but I'll be doing some polishing up etc before that happens. As for my next long-form project, well, I think I feel a SNES coming on...
And now... Statistics!
Total games covered: 280
* games: 57
** games: 75
*** games: 74
**** games: 50
***** games: 24
(Marvel-style post-credits sequence)
JP-only games left to cover: 64