|Also known as||Sega Nomad|
|Generation||Handheld game console|
|Media||Sega Genesis ROM cartridge|
|Display||3.25-inch backlit color screen|
|Power||6 AA batteries, 2 to 3 hours|
|Predecessor||Game Gear, Mega Jet|
The Genesis Nomad (also known as Sega 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 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 Game Gear and was the last handheld console released by Sega. In addition to functioning as a portable device, it was designed to be used with a television set via a video port. 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 a regional lockout. Sega's focus on the Sega Saturn left the Nomad undersupported, and the handheld itself was incompatible with several Genesis peripherals, including the Power Base Converter, the Sega CD, and the 32X.
The Sega Genesis represents Sega's entry into the 16-bit era of video game consoles. 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 requires a connection to a television screen and a power source, and so outside of airline flights it is only useful in cars equipped with a television set and cigarette lighter receptacle. On planes, the Mega Jet was connected into armrest monitors. Despite the limited use of the Mega Jet, it did see a consumer release in 1994 into Japanese department stores, but did not see success.
Planning to release a new handheld console as a successor to the Game Gear, Sega originally intended to produce a system with a touchscreen interface, two years before the Game.com handheld by Tiger Electronics. However, such technology was very expensive at the time, and the handheld itself was estimated to have a high cost. Sega chose to suspend the idea and instead release the Genesis Nomad, a handheld version of the Genesis. The codename used during development was "Project Venus." Sega's decision to base the Genesis Nomad around the hardware of the Sega Genesis was to capitalize on the home console's popularity in North America. Because the Genesis Nomad was capable of connecting to a television for play, it was the only handheld console capable of doing so at the time.
The Nomad was released in October 1995 in North America only. The release was five years into the market span of the Genesis, with an existing library of more than 500 Genesis games. While Sega Technical Institute's The Ooze was originally planned to be a launch title for the handheld, it was not included. 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. Sega was supporting five different consoles: Saturn, Genesis, Game Gear, Pico, and the Master System, as well as the Sega CD and 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, resulting in the end of support for the Genesis and Genesis-based products. Additionally, the Game Boy, Nintendo's handheld console which had been dominant in the market, became even more dominant with the release of Pokémon Red and Blue. This meant the Nomad was not successful. By 1999, the Nomad was being sold at less than a third of its original price.
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; the only variation is that it is completely self-sufficient. However, due to the smaller screen size it suffers from screen blurring, particularly during fast scrolling. The Nomad has a 3.25 inch backlit color screen and an A/V output that allows the Nomad to be played on a television screen. Design elements of the handheld were made similar to the Game Gear, but included six buttons for full compatibility with later Genesis releases. Also included were a red power switch, headphone jack, volume dial, and separate controller input for multiplayer games. The controller port functions as player 2, so single-player games cannot be played with a Genesis controller. The Nomad could be powered by an AC adapter, a battery recharger known as the Genesis Nomad PowerBack, or six AA batteries, which provide a battery life of two to three hours. The Nomad consumed more power (DC 9V, 3.5W) than Sega's earlier portable gaming console, the Game Gear (DC 9V, 3W). The Nomad also lacks a "Reset" button, which makes it impossible to complete certain games, such as the X-Men video game, which require pressing the button to finish certain objectives.
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 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.
The Nomad does not have its own game library, but instead plays Genesis games. At the time of its launch, the Nomad had over 500 games available for play. However, no pack-in title was included. The Nomad can boot unlicensed, homebrew, and bootleg games made for the Genesis. 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 lack of compatibility with any of the Genesis' add-ons, it is unable to play any games for the Sega Master System, Sega CD, or Sega 32X. The Nomad employs two different regional lockout methods, physical and software, but methods have been found to bypass these.
Reception and legacy
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. 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." Stuart Hunt of Retro Gamer, however, praised the Nomad, saying in a retrospective that Nomad was "the first true 16-bit handheld" and declared it the best variant of the Genesis. In the same article, he notes the collectability 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 U.S." Chris Plante of The Verge drew parallels between the Nomad and the Nintendo Switch, released years later.
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- Plante, Chris (May 29, 2017). "Sega Nomad was the Nintendo Switch of 1995 — and now a modder has given it USB power". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved August 16, 2018.