So I’m a little late in writing a Sega Genesis Nomad Review, since it released more than 25 years ago. But it’s still worth talking about today! I’ve recently been going through a surge of Sega Genesis nostalgia, and it all started with finding a great deal on the mythical Nomad. I really can’t believe that Sega created a handheld device that could play essentially the entire Genesis cartridge library back in the mid 90s. And it even connects to the TV! How does it play in our modern gaming era, and how does it stack up against the likes of the Nintendo Switch? Let’s do a Sega Genesis Nomad Review in 2021!
I’m going to break my thoughts down into a few key categories, and when applicable, compare the Nomad to the Switch. That may not seem fair, but with the Switch being so popular (just look at the crazy sales figures!) it’s an easy reference point. I personally game on my Switch all the time-it’s one of my favorite ways to play games with my kids or relax before bed. I almost always play in handheld mode, the enjoyment of which is what interested me in the Nomad in the first place! So let’s check this thing out!
Aesthetics and Design
I’m just going to come straight out and say it: I think the Sega Genesis Nomad is an awesome-looking piece of hardware! I know the Switch is far more “sleek and modern”, but the Nomad has such charm! It’s simultaneously so very 90s (the “NOMAD” logo…what a think of beauty!) but still visually striking and appealing.
And the box, my friends. The box! I’m a sucker for great box art, especially from this era. And the Nomad doesn’t disappoint. When I get our new basement game room set up, you better believe I’m proudly displaying this thing!
Buttons and comfort
Taking my Nomad out the (glorious) box, I was surprised at how light it was. It feels a bit “bulky” in terms of width but isn’t heavy at all, and is very comfortable to hold!
The D-pad is surprisingly excellent! It’s very responsive in all directions, feels great to use, and I’d dare say substantially better than the one found on the standard Genesis controllers. I found it easy to pull off moves in Mortal Kombat II, and I’m terrible at fighting games! The main button placement feels natural, and it’s nice they included X, Y, and Z of the famous (and excellent) 6-button controller. The buttons feel nice when pressed, work well, and seem to hold up over time!
How does the screen stack up?
In terms of both size and resolution, the Nomad screen doesn’t hold a candle to the Switch, but it’s a lot better than I thought it would be! For 1995 tech, the colors, quality, and brightness (you can play in the dark!) is really quite impressive. I was pretty blown away to see my favorite childhood games like Sonic look just as I remembered them, but in handheld form! There is definitely some blurring when sprites are in motion, but that’s to be expected given its age. And it was never a problem during gameplay! Thus far I’ve completed Sonic 2, Quackshot, Buster’s Hidden Treasure, and Hyperstone Heist solely on my Sega Genesis Nomad. I was living my best life the entire time!
There’s also a brightness slider on the bottom that gives you quite a spectrum to choose from. Between varying game graphics and different lighting around my house, I ended up adjusting brightness pretty often! It’s a nice extra feature to have that wasn’t present on the Game Boy (we all remember gaming while tethered under a lamp). Even the Game Boy Advance screen was dim to the point of frustration until the SP model released!
This backlit beauty of a screen on the Nomad does come at a cost. You’ll need a whooping six AA batteries to bring this bad boy to life, and you’ll only get 2-3 hours of play depending on brightness. That’s even worse than the notorious Game Gear, my friends. I know the Nomad is supposed to be a handheld, but if you’re powering it with batteries, get ready to spend some cash! Luckily, AC power supplies are easy to find-that’s how I’ve been gaming on my Nomad. Obviously it’s a little more cumbersome to play close to an outlet, but the OEM power cord is long enough that can sit in bed or on a couch and comfortably play. Plus, there’s extension cords!
If you really want extended “true handheld” play there’s a few options in terms of mods, including installing a rechargeable battery pack! I’ve yet to mod or change anything on my Nomad, but this would probably be top of the list for me. Obviously, the Switch demolishes the Nomad in this category with much longer, built-in battery life (especially the newer models and Switch Lite). Can’t win ’em all!
You’ll need some headphones
Like many Genesis fans, I’m a huge fan of soundtracks from the excellent game library. So how does sound quality fare on the Sega Genesis Nomad? Well, without headphones, it’s a bit rough. The little speaker is serviceable but not great-your favorite rockin’ tracks will sound sort of muffled coming through it. Plug in headphones, though, and you’re good to go! I’ve been cranking the volume while playing Sonic 2 late into the night before falling to sleep, and between the nice screen brightness and headphone sound quality, it’s the authentic Sonic 2 experience.
You’ll get far superior sound from the Switch speakers, but you probably could’ve deduced that for yourself!
There’s an AV-out jack on the top of the Nomad. What that means is you can connect this beast to your TV and essentially have a functioning “regular” Genesis! I picked up a sweet HD Retrovision Genesis cable for this, and the picture seriously looks stunning on my TV. There’s a reason the handheld is called the Sega Genesis Nomad-it really has the full power of the Genesis in handheld form. You’ve gotta see it to believe it! And hey, HD Retrovision cables are cheaper than a Switch dock. Genesis does what Nintendon’t! (kind of)
The only drawback to TV play is that the Nomad must serve as the first player controller, unless you mod it. You can connect a player 2 controller to the bottom of the system, which is very cool, and works in both handheld and TV mode. If you want to do so, I’d strongly recommend the 8bitdo M30 2.4 G Genesis controller. It’s wireless and has virtually no lag, even when needing pinpoint precision for tricky Sonic jumps. Though this setup probably isn’t something you’d often do, it’s still pretty cool to play a two-player Genesis cart from a handheld like this!
And this is just the beginning…
There are a plethora of modifications you can make to your Sega Genesis Nomad. A permanent battery pack. Better screens. Better audio chips. Using an actual controller for single player during TV play! This is all far beyond my technical prowess, but plenty of resources can be found online. It gets pretty pricey, pretty fast, but check out this guide on how to “build the Ultimate Sega Nomad” if you want to see the potential glory!
Should you buy a Sega Genesis Nomad in 2021?
Without mods, the Nintendo Switch is clearly the far-superior hardware here. But I was pretty delighted to find that the Nomad puts up a decent fight for being 25 years old, and can play your entire Genesis library!
Nomad prices are pretty high, though, so it’s tough to recommend unless you’re quite the Sega enthusiast. If you fall into the camp of being a Sega Genesis superfan and collector, and can find a reasonable deal on a fairly minty one, then I’d say go for it! (check out my tips for buying retro games on eBay if you need some help). Similar to the recent Mario Bros. Game & Watch, the Sega Genesis Nomad is not only a neat piece of history and collector’s item, but also comfortably functional and a blast to play. I’m still astonished at how well it holds up in 2021!
Have you ever played the Sega Genesis Nomad? If so, how’d you like it? Do you love obscure handhelds from gaming history as much as I do? Let me know in the comments below!