The history of SEGA Nomad

SEGA Nomad History

The SEGA Nomad, or Genesis Nomad was a North American release only that released back in 1995.

This handheld follow-up to the SEGA Game Gear plays SEGA Genesis cartridges, built on the Japanese SEGA Mega Jet, which was a handheld Mega Drive used on Japanese Airlines flights.

In developement it was codenamed Project Venus, featuring a built in 3.25″ colour screen, like the Game Gear it is a bulky handheld that ate batteries in around 2 to 3 hours.

This was the very reason the Game Gear failed against the Game Boy, as it’s monochrome screen without backlight meant 4 AA batteries lasted a lot longer.

The Launch of the SEGA Nomad

Sega launched the Nomad in October 1995 for $180, it also featured an A/V output that allowed gamers to connect to a big screen.

The neat trick in the A/V TV connection was the ability to connect a Sega Genesis pad to the Nomad, allowing multiplayer gaming with player one using the Nomad and player two using the pad.

A pretty cool way of making the Sega Nomad a fully functioning home/handheld console, long before the Nintendo Switch too!

The Problems

The Sega Nomad didn’t launch without it’s problems, neither the SEGA CD or 32X were compatible with the machine, nor was the Power Base Converter (for Sega Master System games).

Through modifications and third-party products, there were workarounds to the compatibility issues mentioned above, but not ideal. However in 2020, the SEGA Mega SD and mods do allow for SEGA CD games to be played on the Nomad, find out more about the Mega SD here.

Also, with the battery life being a very poor, Sega offered a battery pack, however it offered even less playtime and cost a whopping $79.

Sega struggled to sell the Nomad in North America, and even a $100 price-drop couldn’t sway punters to buy, also because the 16-bit era was coming to an end in 1995, with the imminent release of the Sega Saturn and then the Sony PlayStation.

SEGA Nomad Specs

Sega Nomad’s CPU is the popular Motorola 68000, the specs are pretty much identical to that of it’s home console counterpart, featuring a red power switch, headphone jack, volume control and separate controller input.

Full Specs:
Processor: Motorola 68000 16 bit processor running at 7.67 MHz
Co-processor (Sound Controller): Zilog Z80 8-bit at 3.58 MHz
Display Palette: 512 Colours
Onscreen colours: 64 colours
Maximum onscreen sprites: 80
Memory: 156KB total – 64 KB Main RAM, 64KB VRAM, 8KB Sound RAM. 20 Kb ROM
Resolution: 320 × 224
Display: Integrated STN LCD at 320 x 224
Sound: Yamaha YM2612 6 channel FM, additional 4 channel PSG. Stereo sound. Also TI SN76489]] PSG (Programmable Sound Generator)
Power Rating: 9V 850mA (same as Mega Drive model 2)
SEGA Nomad Console Box

The Lowdown

Reviewing the Nomad shortly after launch, Game Players considered the price “a bit steep”, but said it was the best portable system on the market, and recommended it over the stock Genesis since it could play all the same games in a portable format.

In a 1997 year-end review, a team of four Electronic Gaming Monthly editors gave the Nomad scores of 8.0, 6.5, 7.0, and 7.5.

They praised its support for the entire Genesis library, but criticized its hefty battery usage. Additionally they noted that despite a recent price drop, it was still expensive enough to discourage interested consumers.

While they generally complimented the screen display, they remarked that its small size makes it difficult to play certain games.

Sushi-X declared the Nomad the best portable gaming system then on the market. While his three co-reviewers had more misgivings, saying it has merits but might not be a worthwhile buy.

These days, the Sega Nomad is quite a sought after console with collectors paying big bucks for them.

Also screen modifications are now available and provide a much better playing experience and iron out those screen blurring issues.

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