Sega Nomad

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Sega Nomad
Sega Nomad.svg
Manufacturer Sega
Type Handheld game console
Retail availability NA October 1995
Units sold 1 million[1]
Media Sega Genesis cartridges
CPU Motorola 68000
Predecessor Sega Game Gear, Mega Jet

The Sega Nomad (also known as Sega Genesis Nomad) is a handheld game console by Sega released in North America in October 1995. The Nomad is a portable variation of Sega's home console, the Sega Genesis (known as the Mega Drive outside of North America). Designed from the Mega Jet, a portable version of the home console designed for use on airline flights in Japan, Nomad served to succeed the Sega Game Gear and was the last handheld console released by Sega. Unique about the Nomad is its additional functionality as a home console through a video port designed to be used with a television set. Released late in the Genesis era, the Nomad had a short lifespan.

Sold exclusively in North America, the Nomad was never officially released worldwide, and employs regional lockout. Because of the timing of Nomad's release in October 1995, Nomad released to an active game library of over 500 Genesis titles, but did not include a pack-in title itself. Sega's focus on the Sega Saturn left the Nomad undersupported, and the handheld itself was incompatible with several Genesis peripherals, including the Sega CD and Sega 32X. Selling approximately one million units, the Nomad is considered to be a commercial failure.


Sega Mega Jet, a portable Mega Drive designed for airplanes and the design inspiration for the Nomad

Released in Japan in 1988, North America in 1989, and in Europe, Australasia, and other regions in 1990, the Genesis was Sega's entry into the 16-bit era of video game consoles.[2] Due to the Genesis' head start, a larger library of games when compared to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System at the latter's release, and a lower price point,[3] Sega was able to secure an estimated 60% of the American 16-bit console market by June 1992.[4] Sega's advertising continued to position the Genesis as the "cooler" console,[3] and at one point in its campaign, it used the term "blast processing" (the origin of which is an obscure programming trick on the console's graphics hardware[5]) to suggest that the processing capabilities of the Genesis were far greater than those of the SNES.[6] Even with the Genesis often outselling the Super NES at a ratio of 2:1,[7] neither console could maintain a definitive lead in market share for several years, with Nintendo's share of the 16-bit machine business dipping down from 60% at the end of 1992 to 37% at the end of 1993,[8] Sega accounting for 55% of all 16-bit hardware sales during 1994,[9] and Donkey Kong Country paving the way for the Super NES to win a handful of the waning years of the 16-bit generation.[10][11]

In Japan, Sega released the Mega Jet, a portable version of the Mega Drive designed for use on Japan Airlines flights. As a condensed version, the Mega Jet required a connection to a television screen and a power source, and so outside of airline flights it was only useful in cars equipped with a television set and cigarette lighter receptacle.[12] This unit later made its way to Japanese department stores and was released to the public[13] on March 10, 1994.[12] Media reaction to the Mega Jet speculated on its potential, that with a screen and the ability to run on batteries, the Mega Jet could be competitive in the handheld console market as the Game Gear had been. The design of the Nomad would later be based on the Mega Jet.[14]

A front-to-top view of the Nomad, showing the red power switch, the 'DC in' port, the cartridge input, and an 'AV out' port to show the Nomad on a TV monitor

Planning to release a new handheld console as a successor to the Sega Game Gear, Sega originally intended to produce a system which was to feature a touchscreen interface, many years before the Nintendo DS. However, such technology was very expensive at the time, and the handheld itself was estimated to have a high cost. Instead, Sega chose to shelve the idea and release the Sega Nomad, a handheld version of the Genesis.[15] The codename used during development was Project Venus.[14] Eventually, the Nomad was released in October 1995, only in North America.[1][14] According to former Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller, the Nomad was not intended to be the Game Gear's replacement, and believes that there was little planning from Sega of Japan for the new handheld.[16]

By the end of 1995, Sega was supporting five different consoles: Saturn, Genesis, Game Gear, Pico, and the Master System, as well as the Sega CD and Sega 32X add-ons. In Japan, the Mega Drive had never been successful and the Saturn was beating Sony's PlayStation, so Sega Enterprises CEO Hayao Nakayama decided to focus on the Saturn. While this made perfect sense for the Japanese market, it was disastrous in North America: the market for Genesis games was much larger than for the Saturn but Sega was left without the inventory or software to meet demand.[17] As the Genesis fell, so too did the Nomad. With the handheld's late release several months after the launch of the Saturn, combined with the 1995 release of Pokémon for Nintendo's Game Boy, the Nomad suffered from its poorly timed launch. Due to Sega's decision to stop focusing on the Genesis in 1995, Nomad was unable to be successful. By 1999, the Nomad was being sold at less than a third of its original price.[13] Final sales for the handheld are estimated at about 1 million units.[1]

Technical specifications[edit]

Motorola MC68000, similar to one used in the Sega Nomad

Similar to the Genesis and the Mega Jet, the Nomad's main CPU is a Motorola 68000. Possessing similar memory, graphics, and sound capabilities, the Nomad is nearly identical to the full-size console, but is the only variation that is completely self-sufficient. The Nomad has a 3.25 inch backlit color screen and also contains an A/V output that allows the Nomad to be played on a television screen—a feature unique to the Nomad. Design elements of the handheld were made similar to the Sega Game Gear, but included six buttons for full compatibility with later Genesis releases.[13] Also included were a red power switch, headphone jack, volume dial, and separate controller input for multiplayer games. The Nomad is powered by six AA batteries[14] which provides a battery life of two hours.[13] It could also be powered by an AC adapter, as well as a rechargeable battery pack known as the Genesis Nomad PowerBack.[14]

The Nomad is fully compatible with several Genesis peripherals, including the Sega Activator, Team Play Adaptor, Mega Mouse, and the Sega Channel and XBAND network add-ons. However, the Nomad is not compatible with the Power Base Converter, Sega CD, or Sega 32X. This means that the Nomad can only play Genesis titles, whereas the standard Genesis can also play Master System, Sega CD, and 32X titles with the respective add-ons.[13]

Game library[edit]

A typical in-game screenshot of Sonic the Hedgehog, taken from its first level, Green Hill Zone

The Nomad does not have its own game library, but instead plays Genesis games. This meant that at the time of its launch, Nomad had over 500 games available for play. However, no pack-in title was included with the handheld. The Nomad is compatible with a wide range of Genesis peripherals, and its inclusion of six buttons allows the Nomad to be played with most Genesis games. Some earlier third-party titles have compatibility issues when played on the Nomad, but can be successfully played through the use of a Game Genie. Likewise, due to its incompatibility with the Power Base Converter, Sega CD, and Sega 32X, the Nomad is unable to play games for the Master System or either of the Genesis add-ons. The Nomad is also equipped with regional lockout, but methods have been found to bypass this.[13]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Reception for the Nomad is mixed between its uniqueness and its poor timing into the market. Blake Snow of GamePro listed the Nomad as fifth on his list of the "10 Worst-Selling Handhelds of All Time", criticizing its poor timing into the market, inadequate advertising, and poor battery life.[1] Scott Alan Marriott of Allgame placed more than simply timing into reasons for the Nomad's lack of sales, stating, "The reason for the Nomad's failure may have very well been a combination of poor timing, company mistrust and the relatively high cost of the machine (without a pack-in). Genesis owners were too skittish to invest in another 16-bit system."[14] The staff of Retro Gamer, however, praised the Nomad, saying in a retrospective of the handheld that the Nomad was "the first true 16-bit handheld" and declared it the best variant of the Genesis.[13] In the same article, Retro Gamer notes the collectivity of the Nomad due to its low production and states, "Had Sega cottoned on to the concept of the Nomad before the Mega Drive 2, and rolled it out as a true successor to the Mega Drive... then perhaps Sega may have succeeded in its original goal to prolong the life of the Mega Drive in the US."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Snow, Blake (2007-07-30). "The 10 Worst-Selling Handhelds of All Time". GamePro. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  2. ^ Retro Gamer staff (2006). "Retroinspection: Mega Drive". Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (27): 42–47. 
  3. ^ a b Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World. Roseville, California: Prima Publishing. pp. 434, 448–449. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  4. ^ Pete Hisey (1992-06-01). "16-bit games take a bite out of sales — computer games". Discount Store News. 
  5. ^ Damien McFerran. "Retroinspection: Mega-CD". Retro Gamer (London, UK: Imagine Publishing) 61: 84. During the run-up to the Western launch of Mega-CD ... [Former Sega of America technical director Scot Bayless] mentioned the fact that you could just 'blast data into the DACs'. [The PR guys] loved the word 'blast' and the next thing I knew 'Blast Processing' was born." 
  6. ^ "The Essential 50 Part 28 - Sonic the Hedgehog from". Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  7. ^ CVG Staff (2013-04-14). "History Lesson: Sega Mega Drive". CVG. Retrieved 2013-10-10. Granted, the Mega Drive wasn't met with quite the same levels of enthusiasm in Japan, but in the US and Europe the Mega Drive often outsold the SNES at a ratio of 2:1. 
  8. ^ Gross, Neil (1994-02-21). "Nintendo's Yamauchi: No More Playing Around". Business Week. His first priority is fixing the disaster in the U.S. market, where Nintendo's share of the 16-bit machine business plummeted from 60% at the end of 1992 to 37% a year later 
  9. ^ Greenstein, Jane (1995-01-13). "Game makers dispute who is market leader.". Video Business. Sega said its products accounted for 55% of all 16-bit hardware sales for 1994 
  10. ^ "Sega farms out Genesis". Consumer Electronics. 1998-03-02. Archived from the original on 2012-07-09. 
  11. ^ Greenstein, Jane (1997). "Don't expect flood of 16-bit games.". Video Business. 1.4 million units sold during 1996 
  12. ^ a b "Mega Jet Lands!!". Electronic Gaming Monthly (57) (EGM Media, LLC). April 1994. p. 64. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Retro Gamer staff. "Retroinspection: Sega Nomad". Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (69): 46–53. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Marriott, Scott Alan. "Sega Genesis Nomad - Overview". Allgame. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  15. ^ Fahs, Travis. "IGN Presents the History of SEGA (Page 7)". IGN. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  16. ^ Horowitz, Ken (2013-02-07). "Interview: Joe Miller". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  17. ^ Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World. Roseville, California: Prima Publishing. pp. 508, 531. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.