The Game Gear was Sega’s handheld entry into the fourth generation of video game consoles, being released between the Sega Genesis and the Sega Saturn.
Primarily competing with NEC’s TurboGrafx-16, Nintendo’s Game Boy, and the Atari Lynx, the Game Gear had a fully backlit screen and more advanced graphics than its competition, using the 16-bit system of the Genesis. As well as its lit screen, the Game Gear also could be used to watch analog TV, and play multiplayer games, and it even had backward compatibility with Sega’s Master System through the use of an adapter.
Unfortunately, the Game Boy far surpassed the Game Gear in terms of sales, even though it was technically inferior, probably due to its more extensive library of original games and longer battery life. Even so, some of the best Game Gear action games are worth playing and didn’t always make their way to the Game Boy.
While there are many genres of action games, most of them for the Game Gear would be of the platformer variety, but all relied more upon the player’s reflexes and hand-eye coordination rather than strategic thought. The wide screen of the Game Gear made it an excellent choice for 2D side-scrolling action games, and many are still loved today.
Join us as we take a look at some of the most top-rated action games to be released for the Sega Game Gear!
#7: emSonic Chaos/em
- Dr. Robotnik's stolen the red Chaos Emerald, and it's up to Sonic The Hedgehog to get it back! As Sonic or "Tails" the two-tailed fox, you'll zip through the Zones, using your quick moves and quicker...
Being the first Sonic game on Sega consoles to feature Tails as a playable character, emSonic Chaos/em was released in 1993 and is considered a sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The story follows Sonic and Tails as they set out to recover the stolen Chaos Emeralds from Dr. Robotnik, who plans to create nuclear weapons.
Like other Sonic games, each world is called a “zone” and is made up of several “acts.” The 8 worlds must be completed, along with defeating Robotnik’s minions, before the player faces Robotnik himself. There’s a heavy emphasis on speed and collecting rings, which protect the character from being hit by an enemy.
Sonic and Tails have slightly different moves — Sonic can move at higher speeds temporarily and Tails can fly over obstacles for a limited time. There’s also a new power-up for Sonic called the Rocket Shoes, which gives him the ability to fly also. Chaos Emeralds can be collected via special stages unlocked upon the collection of 100 rings in a level, with different endings being achieved depending on the number of emeralds obtained.
Electronic Gaming Monthly considered emSonic Chaos/em to stay faithful to all the elements which made the previous Sonic games successful and awarded the game Best Game Gear Game of 1993. GameSpy thought this and the original were the best Sonic titles on the Game Gear. While some criticized the game for being too easy, others praised this for making the game more accessible to a younger audience.
If you’re after some good old-fashioned Sonic fun rather than an intense challenge, emSonic Chaos/em will hit the spot as one of the best Game Gear action games.
You can check it out on Amazon right here.
#6: Tails Adventure
As one of only 2 Sonic the Hedgehog titles to have Tails as the primary protagonist, the 1995 release of Tails Adventure featured Tails on a journey around Cocoa Island, as he attempts to stop the Kukku Army from invading.
Rather than focusing on a high-speed dash through linear levels, Tails Adventure emphasized exploration instead, as backtracking through levels to collect items is a common gameplay element. Items can grant Tails different abilities, such as powerful bombs or fitting through confined spaces with the aid of a small robot. Tails also has the unique ability of flight, which is typical for the character. Overall, the game was seen as comparable to the Castlevania and Metroid series.
The contrast with more traditional Sonic games received mixed criticism, particularly the sometimes necessary repetition in order to complete a stage. However, wide praise was given to the secret areas available, along with the visuals and controls. If exploration games are your thing, as well as those titles with a rather steep learning curve, Tails Adventure will have a lot to offer. It’s not without its flaws, but still deserves a spot on this list of the best Game Gear action games.
Based on the hugely successful emX-Men/em comics by Marvel, the 1994 game emX-Men/em has a rather simplistic storyline, following Wolverine and Cyclops on their mission to rescue their fellow X-Men from Magneto’s grasp and face off against the nemesis himself.
As the X-Men are rescued, they also become available for use by the player. Players navigate through levels by running, jumping, punching, and kicking enemies. Their special mutant abilities can also be activated, but they drain energy from the character which is slowly regenerated. Other playable characters include Storm, Psylocke, Rogue, Nightcrawler, and Iceman. Several classic villains from the series make an appearance as bosses, such as Callisto, Sauron, Omega Red, and Magneto. The levels also feature some iconic areas from the X-Men franchise, such as the Morlock Tunnels, Hellfire Club, and Avalon.
The game was received very well, being the best-selling Game Gear game in the U.S. in February 1994. GamePro rated the game very positively, particularly for it graphically pushing the limits of the system as well as the complexity of its levels and balanced difficulty. emX-Men/em diehards and retro gamers should definitely give this classic title a go, as it’s easily up there with the best Game Gear action games.
Check it out on Amazon here.
#4: Prince of Persia
While originally released for the Apple II computer in 1989, the original Prince of Persia was ported to a massive variety of consoles, including the Game Gear in 1993. The narrative centers around the unnamed prince, who fights to free the princess from the evil vizier Jaffar’s control, who wishes to wed her. The prince must complete his mission before time runs out.
As the prince ventures through dungeons and towers, he faces obstacles such as spike traps, guillotines, and deep pits, as well as hostile enemies. After obtaining a sword early on, this can be used to defeat enemies, with a rather interesting range of moves available, including parry, advance, back off, slash, and a combined parry-slash attack. Either reducing their health to zero or pushing them into a trap will destroy an enemy. Health can be restored by collecting red potions, as well as increased capacity by collecting larger jars of red potions. While the game can be saved after the completion of the second stage, the timer continues where it left off, adding a challenging element to the game.
Although the game was quite a commercial failure in the U.S., it was regarded positively by critics. Computer Gaming World wrote that the game captured the feel of those “great old adventure films,” and PC Format named it one of the 50 best computer games, specifically for its excellent animation. The title influenced many later games, such as Tomb Raider, in terms of controls. Fans of old-school platformers will likely be impressed with this title, as the controls, soundtrack, and graphics were all quite elaborate for their time. Therefore, Prince of Persia is undoubtedly among the best Game Gear action games.
The 1995 release of emRistar/em brought a relatively unique protagonist into the action game world; the titular character is an animated star with human-like qualities, who has the objective of rescuing his hero father and thwarting the efforts of space pirate Kaiser Greedy, who desires to control Planet Neer and all its inhabitants.
The Japanese version differs slightly, as it begins with Ristar’s mother, Oruto, awakening him. However, she’s completely omitted from the U.S. version.
Having gameplay reminiscent of such titles as Super Mario and Sonic, emRistar/em relies on 2D side-scrolling action, but with more of an emphasis on using his extendable limbs to grab enemies, open chests, and swing through stages. Little stars can be collected in the Game Gear version, which adds to the overall score, as well as red stars which grant emRistar/em temporary invulnerability (this will be familiar to Mario players, as it’s very similar to the golden mushroom). There are a lot of differences between the Game Gear and Genesis versions of Ristar, mostly in the level designs and the ability to use enemy weapons present in the Game Gear version.
The Game Gear version of emRistar/em was praised for its depth of gameplay and graphics, particularly by Electronic Gaming Monthly, although slightly less so than the Genesis version. Honest Gamers even called the title the best found on the Game Gear, especially for its soundtrack and visuals. Gamers who are familiar with the original will still want to check this alternate version out, as well as those in the market for the best Game Gear action games.
Check it out on Amazon here.
While not the first in the Shinobi series, it’s still the first to be released for a portable console. Released in 1991, the story follows the same protagonist, Joe Musashi, as he quests to rescue 4 kidnapped ninjas and defeat the dark force that has taken a stronghold within Neo City.
Not too dissimilar from the Mega Man games, rescuing the ninjas gives special abilities to the player, like a unique weapon, ninjutsu magic skill, and other abilities. The first four stages can also be completed in any order, also resembling the Mega Man series. Switching characters is recommended and even required to obtain hidden items and navigate through some stages, especially the last stage before reaching the final boss.
Retro Gamer considered Shinobi to be a classic, although extremely difficult at the same time, almost requiring the player to memorize boss attack patterns to succeed. The somewhat simple gameplay is tempered by the challenges presented through enemy attacks and tricky placement of traps and is part of what makes Shinobi one of the best Game Gear action games. Players can expect to die quite often, as is the case for a lot of retro games. Those looking for a challenge should certainly pick up Shinobi and test their mettle with one of the most difficult games the console has.
As the direct sequel to Sonic Chaos, emSonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble/em retained what made its predecessor so great. This 1994 release follows a similar story of Sonic and Tails venturing to recover the Chaos Emeralds from Dr. Robotnik, but this time the evil doctor is joined by Knuckles the Echidna and newcomer Nack the Weasel.
The player can still control either Sonic or Tails in the sequel, each with their own set of skills, collecting rings along the way which protect them from enemy hits. Special stages are still present where the player can obtain Chaos Emeralds, but this time only 50 rings are required to unlock the stage, as well as destroying a box with a Chaos Emerald icon. This time around, there are 6 zones instead of 8, and extra power-ups such as the jet board and sea fox, exclusive to Sonic and Tails respectively.
emSonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble/em received universal praise, although it was thought to be too similar to previous offerings by some critics. Mean Machines Sega thought that the sprite animation and backgrounds were superior to earlier Sonic games, and among the best on the Game Gear overall. Nintendo Life and GameSpot both considered the game mechanics to be the best example on the system of classic Sonic gameplay, so it’s definitely a title to collect if the best Game Gear action games are on your radar.
You can find it on Amazon right here!
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Christos Film/Shutterstock.com.