Best known nowadays for publishing the Cooking Mama and Zumba fitness games in the US, budget specialists Majesco have been around for far longer than most gamers realise. Back in the mid-‘90s, when the 16-bit market was entering its twilight years, the company purchased Acclaim’s Mexico-based cartridge manufacturing facility and begin to re-release Genesis and SNES titles in the US at bargain prices.
These re-releases are usually frowned upon by collectors as they came in flimsy cardboard boxes rather than hard plastic cases. Manuals were printed in black and white, while the cartridges themselves were mostly formed out of Acclaim’s unsold stock. It wasn’t uncommon to find the Acclaim logo on reverse of a Majesco re-release, even if the game itself had nothing to do with the now defunct publisher. Cart labels meanwhile had a cheap matte finish to them.
The list of games Majesco re-released is a long one – everything from Disney tie-ins to first-party SEGA titles. There were a few EA games re-issued too – including Road Rash 2 – which did away with those infamous EA carts that featured a pointless yellow tab.
It’s fair to say that Majesco had a good idea of what games were worth re-releasing – the hard-to-find Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps both gained a re-issue, which probably prompted a degree of rejoicing back in the day.
Slowly but surely, gamers left their Genesis and SNES consoles behind to jump onto the 32-bit bandwagon – or 64-bit, as was the case for Nintendo fans. Majesco attempted to give the Genesis a new lease of life by releasing the Genesis 3 in 1998, but the fact that these units are little-known would suggest their attempt failed. Far smaller than the Genesis 2 – which was also re-issued by Majesco – they aimed to sell 1.5 million units of the drastically re-designed 16-bit system. An optimistic figure, considering the three-way console war between the PSone, Saturn and N64 was currently well underway.
Then in 2001 Majesco made a rather unexpected announcement – they planned not only to re-manufacture the SEGA Game Gear, but also publish new games for it:
“February 21, 2001
EDISON, NJ, February 21, 2001 – Further strengthening its position in the handheld arena, Majesco, Inc., today announced it has acquired rights from Sega Toys to re-manufacture the classic Sega Game Gear portable gaming console. The system will be available at Toys R Us stores and online a twww.toysrus.com and will be value priced at $29.99. Majesco additionally announced plans to support the system by publishing original Game Gear games, also value priced at $14.97.
Originally introduced in 1990, Game Gear features portable gameplay on a full color, hi-resolution 3.2 inch backlit LCD screen. Games display 32 blazing colors for arcade-quality graphics and vivid animation with 4-layer audio and 24k RAM.
Majesco will manufacture and publish 10 games for the Game Gear system. These titles include: Disney’s The Lion King, Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Deep Duck Trouble, Caesars Palace, Super BattleTank, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Spinball, Pac Man, and Ms. Pac Man.”
Presumably Majesco intended it to be a low-cost alternative to the Game Boy Advance. The mere $29.99 price tag must have also made it an appealing proposition to those who past the handheld by when it was first released.
In terms of build quality, the Majesco Game Gear was a mixed bag. The screen was brighter and clearer but as you can see from our images, the plastic
“lens” was prone to scratching. The notably darker plastic casing meanwhile had a cheap feel to it, while the Game Gear’s tri-colour logo was now in monochrome. This does at least make Majesco’s system easy to distinguish from the original model.
Majesco’s model wasn’t compatible with the TV tuner accessory either, while reportedly one of the Master System converters refused to work.
Thankfully Majesco didn’t make the same mistake that SEGA did and use cheap capacitors – whereas our original Game Gear now suffers from sound and screen issues due to the capacitors inside dying, our Majesco unit is still going strong some thirteen years later. For this reason alone, we would recommend the Majesco Game Gear over SEGA’s own. They can be tricky beasts to track down however – to the average gamer it is no more than your everyday Game Gear, and so they’re usually listed as such on auction sites. Like we said: look out for a monochrome logo.
As mentioned, Majesco planned to support the handheld with new software. The reverse of the Game Gear’s box featured screenshots of Frogger and Ten Pin Bowling, both of which failed to materialise.
Although SEGA did once have a Frogger game in development during the handheld’s early days, it was cancelled due to license disputes. The screenshot on the Game Gear box suggested that this wasn’t SEGA’s Frogger resurrected, but rather a new game resembling the arcade original. Majesco takes the accolade for not just releasing the final Genesis game in the US but also the final SNES game – 1998’s Frogger. It makes sense to assume that it would have been a shrunken down conversion of that. What happened to Ten Pin Bowling is a mystery. Presumably sales of the revived handheld simply weren’t strong enough to warrant any new releases.
Majesco’s cost cutting measures raised their head again when it came to the re-released games. The protective plastic cases were no more; manuals were in black and white. Cartridges too were manufactured using the cheaper, darker, plastic.
It’s believed that the Majesco Game Gears were never released outside of the US, but that’s not quite the case. In 2001, UK retailer GAME announced plans to stock retro gaming systems and software. Those expecting to see the shelves lined with shiny new Mega Drives and copies of SEGA’s 16-bit hits would have been sorely disappointed – the consoles and games were supplied by Telegames, who had just acquired all of Atari’s surplus stock. Clearly keen to offload it, GAME’s acquisition of still shrink-wrapped retro goods mostly comprised of Atari Jaguar consoles and Lynx handhelds. The Game Gear did make an appearance though – available at £29.99 – and these were in fact the Majesco models.
Rather than flying off the shelves, GAME’s retro stock simply collected dust until reaching the bargain bin. In this Eurogamer article from 2001, current editor-in-chief Tom Bramwell claims to have seen Jaguars reduced to £19.99 with games £10 a piece.
Majesco’s re-released Game Gear games likewise found a backdoor into the UK. Just a few years ago, the likes of The Lion King turned up in 99p shops, before subsequently appearing on eBay at vastly inflated prices. Where this stock had been sitting for the past ten years is a complete mystery.
So there we have it – the curious tale of Majesco unexpectedly giving the Game Gear a second lease of life. Going against the might of Game Boy Advance, the incredibly outdated handheld barely stood a chance of making a dent in the handheld market. Yet for SEGA fans who still owned a collection of games, the chance to slide them into a shiny new system must have felt like something from a surreal dream.