Despite offering a full color screen against Nintendo's green dot-matrix, Sega's Game Gear hasn't been so lovingly remembered. The handheld didn't have the library of its competitor, the GameBoy. It's legacy largely consists of slowdown, blur, and poor battery life. So as Virtual Console offerings go, Game Gear is probably the least revered. That's why it's such a pleasant surprise that, despite a weaker stable of games, the emulation itself puts others to shame.
Sega and developer M2 have created a loving tribute to the long-forgotten system. The Virtual Console menu appears with a faster and smoother transition than we’ve seen in the past. The games already include Restore Points, a function that Nintendo has yet to include in some of its offerings to Ambassadors.
The Game Gear emulator offers even more functionality. The face buttons are fully mappable, including options to use the spare buttons for rapid fire functions. Due to the 3DS's increased screen resolution, the screen is set to a zoomed-in view by default. But you can match the original pixel count with a nicely rendered 3D Game Gear border, complete with color options. The GameBoy had a similar feature, but it was an easter egg to be enabled at start-up, rather than an option to be toggled within the game. You can even turn on Blur and Original performance settings, if you want the titles to show some of their original technical hiccups. By default these are set to Off and Special, respectively, which makes the games run significantly better than the originals.
The opening volley of games haven't aged as well as the fantastic emulation might imply, however. Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble ($4.99) once offered the novel promise of Sonic on the go, but the fast-action hero feels sluggish compared to his speed on the Genesis, and the stages are more stymied by obstacles than the ones that naturally flowed in his first few adventures. This was certainly an acceptable trade-off when I was a kid looking for a game to play on a road trip, but now the differences are harder to ignore. Shinobi ($3.99) is more akin to its console roots, but it's also very simplistic and stripped down in its combat options. Dragon Crystal ($2.99) is a charming, classical rogue-like, and may be the standout of the bunch simply because it doesn't feel compromised by the limitations of the original system.
The Game Gear library as a whole might not have been a match for its competitors, but it did have a few hits of its own. (I still have a special place in my heart for Shining Force II.) Once more of those gems hit, we can be assured it will be running on the best emulator the 3DS has to offer. In the meantime, Nintendo might want to take notes.
[This Field Report is based on 3DS eShop review codes provided by publisher Sega.]