Sega Nomad (1995 – 1999): The Rise and Fall of Genesis Nomad

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The mid-'90s to early 2000s was a busy period for Silicon Valley and the entire tech world. This was the time when many information and telecommunication systems were coming to light. It was the time when the personal computer was finally made available to the common folks. The gaming industry was not left behind in this tech evolution period.

Do you remember the Sega Nomad? Or did you refer to it as the Genesis Nomad handheld console? During this period, this piece of tech was the in thing. It was the Nintendo of the mid-‘90s. It was a must-have device for the kids back in the ‘90s. Today I take a look back at this retro game.

It has been a while since I played with one. Not just the Sega Nomad, but just getting hold of handheld gaming consoles recently has been hard. The internet came and changed everything. It changed the way we game, the way we choose our gaming items. The virtual gaming world has made a handheld devices to be obsolete. But their memories will live forever.

I have been going through the adverts of the Sega Nomad on YouTube recently and boy, it still gives me goosebumps when I see them. It literally takes me back to the mid-‘90s. They re-ignite the good old days we had back then. When gaming was, well, just gaming. No fancy animation, no clever transitions, and spectacular costumes that we see on games today.

We used to enjoy playing handheld games during weekends at home. And sometimes I would sneak the console to school and utilize the free time at school by catching up with a game or two. While this still remains the norm of kids today, the gaming culture seems to have taken a big shift since the introduction of social media and the internet at large.

New Sega Nomad With USB

While the technology of the time was a little plain. Sega did many updates on their initial system. They added things like the USB. This was a big step back then for Sega Nomad since the USB revolution was just taking shape in the computing world.
This move made Sega to start competing favorably with the biggest brands in the handheld console world like the Nintendo Switch. Actually, Sega Nomad was the Nintendo Switch of the mid-90s. The hardware was fundamentally bold, a huge handheld that played Sega’s home console, the Sega Genesis cartridges. And because to its AV output, the Sega Nomad could readily connect to a television.

The Nomad, on the other hand, never found an audience, unlike the Switch. Blame it on the battery life: a trio of AAAs guaranteed no more than three hours of playtime. After 22years, Modder Catch 22 on the NeoGAF has fixed the problem.

Catch 22 incorporated USB charging to the Sega Nomad, allowing it to take the juice from the various power sources that could also be used for smartphones. This simple tweak significantly improved the portability of the device. I remember seeing one of these at Toys R Us back then.

Sega’s Genesis Nomad was always a compromise at the time since it ran 16-bit console games. But the battery life was really annoying at the time. It required AA batteries simply to obtain three hours of playtime. The question many asked was how great it would have been if it could come equipped with modern technology to play without having to replace the batteries on a regular basis.

The Sega Holic (Catch22) was the solution for this. This homebrew version could allow you to charge just like your phone or laptop. This meant that unlike many handheld consoles at the time, you could play with this one for a very long time.

Background History of the Sega Nomad Handheld Console
The Sega Nomad, sometimes known ad the Genesis Nomad, is a handheld game device produced by Sega that was introduced in North America in 1995. The Sega Genesis Nomad is a portable version of the Sega Genesis home video game machine also called Mega Drive in other parts of the world.

Nomad was Sega’s final handheld platform, based on Mega Jet, a compact version of the home console designed for use on Japanese airlines flights. It could also be connected to a TV through a video connector.

The Nomad has a brief existence because it was released in the Genesis period. It is only available in North American and utilizes regional lockout. Because of Sega’s focus on the Saturn, the Nomad received little support, and it was incompatible with various Genesis peripherals, including the Power Base Converter, the Sega CD, and the 32x. Unfortunately, the Nomad sold approximately one million copies and is considered a commercial failure.

Evolution of the Sega Nomad

Sega’s entrance into the 16-bit era of video game systems was the Sega Genesis. Sega released the Mega Jet in Japan, a portable version of the Mega Drive designed for use on Japan Airline flights. Because the Mega Jet requires a connection to a TV screen and power supply, it can only be used outside of airline trips in cars that have TV set and cigarette lighter receptacle.
The Mega Jet weas linked into armrest monitor on flights. It was released in limited quantities in Japanese department stores in 1994, but it was not a commercial success back then. Sega had planned to manufacture a touch-screen enabled handheld console to replace the Game Gear two years before Tiger Electronics’ portable.

Due to the high cost of touchscreen technology at the time, Sega instead developed the Genesis Nomad, a handheld version of the Genesis. The codename for the development was “Project Venus”. Sega wanted to capitalize on the Genesis's popularity in the United States. The Genesis Nomad was the only handheld console that could connect to a TV at the time.

The Nomad was released in North America only in October 1995. The release occurred five years into Genesis’s commercial lifespan with a library of over 500 Genesis titles already in place. The Ooze, originally planned as a launch game by Sega Technical Institute, but not included. Former Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller stated that the Nomad was not meant to replace the Game Gear, and Sega of Japan had little intentions for the new handheld.

Sega supported five different platforms, including the Saturn, Genesis, Game Gear, Pico, and Master System, as well as the Sega CD and 32X add-ons. In Japan, the Mega Drive was never profitable, and Saturn was more successful than Sony’s PlayStation, therefore, Sega Enterprises CEO Hayao Nakayama decided to focus on Saturn, thereby lending support for the Genesis and Genesis-based goods.

Furthermore, the Game Boy, Nintendo’s market-dominant portable platform, became even more dominant with the release of Pokémon Red and Blue. This meant that the Nomad was a failure. The Nomad was being sold for less than a third of its initial value in 1999.

Sega Nomad Technical Specifications

During the 1990s, Sega’s hardware section went completely insane. After the Genesis / Mega Driver’s breakthrough in North America and Europe, the corporation released a string of commercial flops in an attempt to shore up its 16-bit business in the face of tough competition from rival Nintendo.
The first effort was the Mega CD, which was perhaps ahead of its time and received some critical acclaim despite its limitations. As the 32-bit era loomed, Sega would fund the stillborn 32X, a plug-in adaptor designed to allow Genesis owners to upgrade their aging systems while maintaining equivalence with the upcoming Saturn and PlayStation.

Consumers ignored the console, and it was sold for a fraction of its initial retail price within a year. But all the same, Sega had a nice hardware setup with admirable technical specifications. These include:

The Nomad’s main CPU, like the Genesis and Mega Jet, is a Motorola 68000. With equivalent memory, graphics, and sound capabilities to the full-size console, the Nomad is practically identical; the main difference is that it is tally self-contained. However, because of the reduced screen size, it suffers from screen blurring, especially while scrolling quickly.

The Nomad contains a 3.25-inch diagonal backlit color LC display as well as an A/V output that allows it to be played on the TV screen. The handheld’s design aspects were inspired by the Game Gear, but it added six buttons to ensure complete compatibility with later Genesis releases.
A red power switch, a headphone jack, a volume slider, and a second control input for multiplayer games were also included. Because the controller port serves as player 2, Genesis controllers cannot be used to play single-player games.

The Nomad was powered by an AC adapter, a battery recharger called Genesis Nomad PowerBack, or six AA batteries, which provide a two to three-hour battery life. The power consumption of the Nomad (DC 9V, 3.5W) was lighter than of Sega’s previous portable game system, the Game Gear.

The Sega Activator, Team Play Adaptor, Mega Mouse, as well as the Sega Channel and XBAND network add-ons, are all completely compatible with the Nomad. The Nomad, on the other hand, is incompatible with the Power Base Converter, Sega CD, or 32X. This implies that the Nomad can only play Genesis games, but the regular Genesis can play Master System, Sega CD, and 32X games with the appropriate add-ons.

Sega Nomad’s Games

The Nomad lacks its own game library and instead relies on Genesis games. At the same time as its release, the Nomad had 500 games to choose from. However, there was no game that was sold in the pack with the console.

Sega Nomad can play unlicensed, homebrew, and bootleg Genesis games. Some older third-party games are incompatible with the Nomad but can be successfully played with the help of a Game Genie. Similarly, due to its incompatibility with any of the Genesis’ add-ons, it is unable to play any Sega Master System, Sega CD, or Sega 32X games.

The Nomad has two separate regional lockout techniques, physical and software, however methods to circumvent them have been discovered.

The Era of Sega Nomad

When game players reviewed the Nomad shortly after its release, they thought the price was “a little pricey”, but it was the greatest portable device on the market at the time, and recommended it over the standard Genesis because it could play all the same games in the portable version.

The Sega Nomad scored good ratings in the reviews that were done in 1997. They complimented its support for the complete Genesis collection, but questioned it high battery consumption and pointed out that despite a recent price cut, it was still prohibitively pricey for potential buyers.

While they generally praised the screen display, some noted that its small size makes certain games hard to play. Sushi-X declared the Nomad to be the greatest portable gaming system on the market at the time, but his three co-reviewers voiced reservations, saying it has advantages but may not be worthy purchase.
Blake snow of Game Pro ranked the Sega Nomad sixth on his list of worst handhelds gaming consoles of all time citing the Nomad’s bad market timing, insufficient advertising, and short battery life. Scott Alan Marriott of Allgame attributed the Sega Nomad’s lack of sales to factors other than time, noting that the failure of Sega Nomad was a mix of poor timing, company mistrust and the fact that the console was expensive.

Owners of Genesis were too hesitant to invest in another 16-bit system. Retro gamers on the other hand loved the Sega Nomad handheld console because it is retrospective.

The Fall of Sega Nomad Handheld Gaming Console

The wrong timing for the release of the handheld console and the poor marketing was the major cause for the downfall of the Sega Nomad. Such moves probability undermined some of Sega’s goodwill with players at the outset of the decade, contributing to the company’s poor commercial success in the 32-bit era.

However, neither the mega CD nor the 32X quality was the company’s most catastrophic blunder during this chaotic period; that honor must undoubtedly belong to the Sega Genesis Nomad, a system that tanked so badly at retail that many were even aware it existed at the time.

Despite the poor sales record – like the 32X, it was discounted almost immediately after it hit shop shelves – it was a very coveted system for vintage collectors, and one of the greatest ways to explore Sega’s rich 16-bit back catalog.

Final Thought

I also understand that Sega Nomad was not as appealing as the Nintendo Switch and its other competitors. If it was given a little more time, I think the development team would have come up with a better 32-bit version. And even with the current technological advancement a 64-bit or virtual console would have been a possibility.

What do you remember about the Sega Nomad?

Did you get a chance to play it back then?

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