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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

The Genesis was Sega's entry into the 16-bit era of video game consoles.[2] 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.[3]

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 suspend the idea and instead release the Sega Nomad, a handheld version of the Genesis.[4] The codename used during development is "Project Venus".[5] Eventually, the Nomad was released in October 1995, only in North America.[1][5] This release was five years into the market span of the Genesis, with an existing library of more than 500 Genesis games.[citation needed] 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.[6]

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 more successful than Sony's PlayStation, so Sega Enterprises CEO Hayao Nakayama decided to focus on the Saturn.[7] With the Nomad'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 is said to have 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.[8] The final Nomad sales estimate is 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.[8] 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[5] which provides a battery life of two hours.[8] It could also be powered by an AC adapter, as well as a rechargeable battery pack known as the Genesis Nomad PowerBack.[5]

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.[8]

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.[8]

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."[5] 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.[8] 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."[8]

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. ^ "Mega Jet Lands!!". Electronic Gaming Monthly (57) (EGM Media, LLC). April 1994. p. 64. 
  4. ^ Fahs, Travis. "IGN Presents the History of SEGA (Page 7)". IGN. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Marriott, Scott Alan. "Sega Genesis Nomad - Overview". Allgame. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  6. ^ Horowitz, Ken (2013-02-07). "Interview: Joe Miller". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Retro Gamer staff. "Retroinspection: Sega Nomad". Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (69): 46–53.