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“[The Sega Nomad is] heaven's last, best gift, my ever new delight.” --Milton

I previously declared that the Sega Nomad is the best handheld for playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I believe that my exact words were “Sega Nomad: The Best!”. While I stand by my assertion that Nomad offers the purest Sonic experience, I feel a need to fess up that my level of truthiness may have been colored by my enthusiasm for the most ‘genuine’ Sonic experience. In defense, I ask, what exactly does “Sega Nomad: The Best!” even mean?

In 1989 Sega released the 16 bit Sega Genesis in North America. This was in an era when the 8 bit Nintendo was arguably the most powerful console in existence. Sega Genesis was able to compete with the NES due to its superior processing power and blow the TurboGrafx out of the water with a clearly superior library of games. The much more awesome SNES would not be released for 2 years, in 1991. By that time Sega was so entrenched in the TV rooms of American consumers that it managed to stay in the console game for over a decade despite hardware blunder after hardware blunder (I’m in the market for a Treamcast if you have one to part with). In 1990 Sega was at the top of their game. Had the Nomad been released in 1990 the world may have been a very different place.

In 1995 the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL franchise to win five Super Bowls, the Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of double homicide, and Sony released the 32 bit Playstation. Imagine a world where none of these things had happened because Sega had released the Nomad a few years earlier. Instead Sega did wait for 1995 to release the Sega Nomad and U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the National Highway Designation Act, which ended the federal 55 mph speed limit. Unfortunately this was at the end of the Genesis’ life and the by then the Nomad, much like the wandering Nomadis of Arabia, had no home. Can the Nomad be fairly called “The Best!”? Let’s investigate.

For this review I played a bit of Columns, Star Control, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Flashback.

Columns for the Nomad looks quite good on the Nomad’s 3.25 inch color LCD screen. Columns is a classic match 3 puzzle game in the vein of Tetris and is played with falling sets of crystals that fall on a flat 2D plane. There is a bit of ghosting when the crystals fall at high speed but otherwise there are no problems playing. Performance of the game is, as all games on the Nomad are, Genesis perfect. Columns had classic game-play when it was released. It is a timeless casual game that was released before the idea of a casual gamer was even thought of. I could play the game for hours on end so I intentionally stop myself after a couple minutes and put in Star Control.

Star Control is an awesome game which states that it is “THE FIRST 12 MEGABIT GAME!” right on the box. That’s like twice as many megabits as a 6 megabit game! Star Control offers arguably the deepest strategic game-play on the Genesis along with some excellent space combat. The combat takes place on a large flat plane with two spacecraft going head to head. It’s a bit like Asteroids but much more deep. This is a place were Nomad stumbles. Though the 320 × 224 resolution looks pretty sharp for most games (an NDS screen had a resolution of 256 x 192 at a slightly smaller 3 inches) it does not suffice when the sprites for some of the ships are small even on a full sized television. Star Control is rendered practically unplayable on the Nomad. I must admit, I intentionally chose Star Control to bring up one of the weaknesses of the Nomad. A portion of the games for Genesis were designed with a larger display in mind. Fortunately the Nomad has an AV out and these games can be enjoyed on an external display without a hitch.

The fact that the Nomad has nearly all the functionality of a full sized Genesis is one of its saving graces. The user can use a DC adaptor instead of six AA batteries which last only a few hours. The unit has a controller 2 input so that a second player can play, presumably while using the AV out cable. The addition of a first player controller input would have made the unit nearly perfect since the Nomad is freaking huge. It’s a bit smaller then the paperback edition of the 4th Harry Potter Book. It feels about twice as big as an original Xbox controller. It probably is difficult for small children to use and though portable is not something I’d ever want to carry around with me on a regular basis.

This leads up to Sonic on the Nomad. Sonic on the Genesis is the definitive edition. The sprites are large enough on the Nomad but there is a problem that plagues many older handheld systems and is almost a game breaker with Sonic on the Nomad. Ghosting is quite pronounced when playing Sonic on the Nomad. The backgrounds seem to have the rather popular motion blur effect that is used in many racing games these days. This is not by design. Some enemies will blur enough that they become quite difficult to see at all. The bright colors, fun game-play, and responsive controls save the game.

Lastly I played a small amount of Flashback. Flashback looks beautiful on the Nomad. The game is not only fun but is pretty much a tech demo on how to create a beautiful game on the Genesis. It and its spiritual prequel Out of this World used rotoscoped characters to create fluid and cinematic animation and cut-scenes. The game is rather punishingly difficult but is perfect for the Nomad. The small screen makes the graphics look even better then they do on a larger display. The controls which I have not even mentioned until now, duplicate the feel of the Genesis 6 button controller. The issue of ghosting is minimal due to the pacing of the game, the use of static backgrounds, and the speed at which the characters move. All in all Flashback is perfect on the Nomad.

The Nomad is not a very practical portable but is a great classic gaming console and a fun piece of gaming history.


Screen: 5/10 Brightness control present and works, decent resolution but hurt by ghosting.

Sound: 8/10 Has one speaker that sounds pretty good as well as a headphone jack. Classic 16 bit sound.

Controls: 9/10 Almost identical to the Genesis controller. Would earn an additional point if the unit was smaller and offered a first player controller port.

Availability: 5-7/10 Easy enough to find used but generally pretty beat up. Replacement screens may still be bought online.

Price: 8/10 Still can be found used online for ~$50.

Library: 10/10 Plays all Genesis games.

Overall: 7/10 Bulky with a less than perfect screen and poor portability the Nomad is a cool piece of history that doubles as a Genesis. Really only for the collector but still a decent piece of hardware if you don’t plan on using it as a portable gaming platform.


  1. Fair review. I agree with your scoring overall, though I might have given the screen a 6/10 just for being better than the Master System (or the Game Axe, for that matter). It's true that many faster games can be a challenge on the ol' Nomad, but I'll keep mine forever just for The Revenge of Shinobi, Castlevania Bloodlines, The Immortal, Alien3, Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Street Fighter II (with six buttons in two rows of three, the way God meant them to be!!)... You just can't keep every console plugged into the TV, but the Nomad lets me enjoy Genesis games anywhere in the house quickly and easily... Can't wait for my FC Mobile NES version (ya, I've got one in the mail, too ;) to arrive so I can enjoy the same accessibility with my NES carts.

  2. I was a bit torn about the score for the screen. I try to review for the modern user. When compared to the PSP or Onestation the screen is aweful and with the faster games can be genuinely difficult to play. I've been thinking about including scores in more reviews which might give them more meaning.

    Those are some awesome games. Castlevania Bloodlines is one of the best "classic" Castlvania games available.

    I'll be writing a review for the FC Mobile US once it arrives. I am expecting this to be the coolest handheld ever. I'm always interested to see what other people think so if you want to weigh in...

  3. Was a pretty good red. And yes too right about the screen. At the time it may hve been alright, but in comprison to any modern console it's poor.