Sega's Nomad system, released in 1995, was a Genesis fan's dream come true. Much like NEC's Turbo Express that came before it, the Nomad was essentially a portable Sega Genesis unit, complete with a full color display and running on battery power. The Nomad was able to play almost every available Genesis cartridge with ease and players could even hook it up to a TV set and play it on the big screen, just like the Genesis itself. Although it was an excellent idea, the system's arrival seemed to be too late and gamers' interests had focused to next-generation 32-bit consoles like the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation; the system never sold all that well and was barely noticed.
The Nomad was a great idea, as the ability to play Genesis games while traveling or while away from home was definitely appealing. The full-color screen was a bit larger than the one for the Game Boy, and it had a D-Pad and six buttons built right onto the console. The Nomad allowed for full use of stereo sound, and had hookups for both RF modulation or RCA connections. While the screen was in full color, it wasn't the best screen around, as a fair amount of screen blur sometimes hampered gameplay. Gamers also needed to hold the Nomad at just the right angle in order to reduce screen reflectivity, which also was slightly annoying. The Nomad was unable to handle the Sega CD or Sega 32X add-ons, either.
One glaring Nomad weakness was its short battery life, much like the Turbo Express. The batteries would last for 3-5 hours, sometimes a shade longer; this did not allow for long play sessions, and if you're playing a shooter or action game with battery backup or passwords, you sometimes weren't able to finish one play session. Thankfully, AC power supplies were also available, but this obviously detracted from the system's portability. The size of the buttons was another flaw with this system. The buttons weren't that large and were packed pretty tightly together. If you had large thumbs, it was very easy to hit the wrong button by accident. The D-Pad had that trademark Sega looseness to it, so it wasn't quite as responsive as other controllers.
The good news was that the Nomad system played Genesis games without a hitch. Nothing was really lost, except in the size of the screen, which was obviously smaller in size. It was indeed satisfying to take any of your Genesis library with you while traveling. Although the flawed controller setup took some getting used to, when it handled well, it was great. The Nomad was a great idea for long drives or camping trips. The ability to hook it up to a monitor or TV set was also a plus, as the unit had an extra controller port for two player action. It really was a portable Genesis in all respects, from the graphics down to the sound generation.
So, why did Nomad fail? Aside from the poor battery life, the biggest reasons are poor timing, strong competition, and a rather high price tag. During the time that the Nomad was released, the next-generation console wars were beginning to take shape between Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, and 16-bit was becoming somewhat old hat. Many gamers had already set their sights on one of these two systems, and not a lot of money was left over for the Nomad, and it wasn't really a priority purchase for Genesis owners. Another factor that put the Nomad at a disadvantage was the continued popularity of Nintendo's Game Boy unit, which continued to sell strongly. Sega's other portable unit, the Game Gear, had fallen to the Game Boy as well, even though it was technologically superior. Combine these two factors with the $150 price tag, and there were few sales to be had. The Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles were selling for less than $100, and the extra $50 was simply not justified for simple portability. Sega was also suffering from negativity from gamers who were upset over lack of support for their 32X Genesis add-on. Putting this all together spelled doom for the Nomad, quite possibly before it was ever released to retail.
If the Nomad system had come out a bit sooner, this review might have had a happier ending; however, the Sega Nomad is widely perceived as another Sega failure by many industry pundits, due mainly to its poor sales performance. This should not take away from the overall quality of the unit itself, which executed better than expected, despite the short battery life. The Nomad was simply victimized by bad timing, complicated by other mitigating factors; nonetheless, it still makes for a good pickup today if you can find one. It plays Genesis games almost as well as on the actual Genesis unit itself, and it's as great for trips as it was five years ago... just make sure you bring extra batteries.
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