Sega Genesis Nomad Review

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad and Nintendo Switch both playing Sonic 2
Am I the only one that thinks it’s cool to see these handhelds together?

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.

Sega Genesis Nomad with Sonic 1, plus box

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad back of box
Who can resist the call to “enhance your adventure”??

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad front with Sonic 1 playing

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!

Sonic 3 & Knuckles carts played in Sega Genesis Nomad
I actually like the “feel” of the buttons on the Nomad more than the joy-cons on the Switch!

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad playing Turtles Hyperstone Heist, with 8bitdo controller

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad bottom
The brightness slider (right) is surprisingly useful to play in different conditions, like out on my deck!

Powering up!

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad battery pack + 6 AA batteries
Welcome to The Next Level. Of battery use.

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.

Sonic 2 on the Nomad with brightness turned up
It’s a tough call between Chemical Plant and Green Hill Zone for most nostalgic Sonic music!

You’ll get far superior sound from the Switch speakers, but you probably could’ve deduced that for yourself!

TV Play

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)

Playing Streets of Rage 2 on TV via Sega Genesis Nomad
Streets of Rage 2 looks pretty nice!

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!

8bitdo original Genesis wireless controller and box
You won’t regret picking one of these up.

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!

Sega Genesis Nomad and box, playing Quackshot

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!

4 thoughts on “Sega Genesis Nomad Review”

  1. Sorry for not using my actual name, I just don’t feel comfortable using it. But I’m a retro idiot! And the best part, I’m 14! I had a little kinda off-brand genesis when I was about 11, and it broke, :'( , but that was when I realized that Sega was WAY better than Nintendo. Especially when I researched it. I have an emulator that lets me play Sonic Games, I prefer Sonic 3/ Knuckles (I do keep them separate, except when it comes to story.) Basically the Nomad was a very early version of the switch/Wii U. Sega really did what Nintendon’t. I would probably take a Genesis over a Snes to be honest. Or a Nomadic over a Game boy. It may have been expensive, but it was cheaper in the long run. Play it handheld,( I probably would get rechargeable batteries) Or if a friend wants to play, connect a controller and it to the tv. And no reason to buy separate games. Who wants to already beat a boss on Shining Force on their Genesis, but then have to beat it again in front of their friends to show they did? And it was color, AND 16-bit!! If it weren’t for bad financial planning, Mario would live in Sonic’s shadow.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      No worries, my friend! That’s great to hear you’re into the retro scene. I couldn’t agree more that the Nomad was awesome and way ahead of its time-I still can’t believe this thing Sega created in 1995 just blew me away in 2021! There was some absolutely brilliant tech and new IPs made by Sega in the early 90s-they always tried to push the boundary and make something new and edgy, and were often very successful doing so. I only wish we could’ve seen a future where Sega made better decisions in back half of the decade (i.e. no 32X, more cooperation between SoA and SoJ, a better coordinated Saturn launch and more continuation of Genesis IPs, releasing a 32-bit Sonic, etc.).

      If you’re a big Sega fan, I’m guessing you’ve already read “Console Wars” by Blake Harris, but if you haven’t, I strongly recommend both the book and documentary!

  2. I cried tears of joy reading this post. Not really, but seeing the Nomad and Switch together was fun. And the TMNT:HH picture made me say “YES” out loud in public (I’m at the mechanic right now).

    If you’re old enough you either remember the Nomad as this neat, slightly out of financial reach gadget near the end of the Genesis’s life or yet another Sega hardware cash grab. I thought it was the latter. When compared to the CDX or JVC Xeye, having a portable genesis solely for cartridges was admirable and exciting. Nobody had the guts to do what Sega was doing in the late 80’s to late 90’s, and the Nomad is one of the best examples.

    It’s impossible to know, but if the Nomad were the only Genesis offspring (no segacd, 32x, cdx), would Sega have made it longer as a hardware developer? Maybe. The GameBoy was well into its 6th year or so of games (eg: Pokémon) and the GameBoy was maybe half the price of the nomad at this time. But having a handheld that played your best system’s library in 1995 was a miracle. Also noteworthy is the Virtual Boy was $180ish in ‘95 and the Nomad was $150? So Sega still had a better value with better tech (and more colors!!!!) Give me a Nomad over the VB any day.

    Looking forward to another blog post solely dedicated to how “rad” the Nomad box is.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      I love everything about this comment :). So glad you enjoyed the post! I’ve seriously been playing on the Nomad almost daily since I got it! We only have one TV hooked up in our rental, so if the girls are watching a show after dinner I’ll game on the Nomad on the couch next to them. It’s really been a delight.

      That’s a very interesting “what if” question too. The Genesis was still going very strong in 1995 when the Saturn released, so in the absence of the silliness that was the 32X, I also wonder if it could’ve been more successful and made some headway against the Game Boy. Agreed that it was utterly brilliant for 1995, and blew the VB out of the water! (though I do have a soft spot for failed hardware and will do a VB Retrospective at some point).

      Gotta get started on the Nomad box post too 🙂

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