Is That a Gaming Console in Your Pocket? Or are You Just Happy to See Me?

By Ben

 

 

I love my Genesis. In fact, aside from still owning one – as all retro gamers should – I continue to purchase accessories and games from garage sales and thrift store shelves, even if I already have them – again, as any retro gamer should. I grew up with the Genesis primarily. I still remember my father’s friend playing Sonic on his archaic, back lit, 70” big screen TV. When he handed me the controller, at all of 5 years old, it was game over. Or game on as it may be. So when Sega introduced a handheld that was what amounted to a portable Genesis…well, I nearly exploded with excitement.

 

Ep 5: Home is Where the Cartridge Is.

 

 

Let’s take a quick trip back in time to 1995. 9 year old me is checking out the Star Wars action figures and Jurassic Park sets at my local KB Toys – look it up if you never had the pleasure of visiting the now defunct retail outlet – wondering how many my mother could be conned into purchasing for me (sorry, Mom). As I cautiously bring my selection I look over the counter at the glass cases that contain the big prizes. Video games are expensive, they have always been and my parents were much more likely to only purchase games during major holidays, not when I got straight A’s on my report cards…or begged. So I always just looked and pined for the day when I didn’t have to worry if my mom said “no” to the latest Sonic or Zelda games. This day however turned into a day that I will never forget. This was the first time I saw the Sega Nomad.

If you aren’t familiar with the Sega Nomad, don’t worry. The system had a 2 year run and never really amounted to much sales-wise. It was big, clunky, drank power by the gallon, and cost and arm and a leg. What made this handheld so amazing and so tantalizing to a young gamer was the games it played. This handheld system played friggin’ Genesis games!

Released in 1995 at a whopping $180, the Nomad wasn’t Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s powerhouse, the Game Boy. This was Sega trying its damnedest to destroy Nintendo on even the home market. One could conceivably think that if the Nomad had been successful, any subsequent handhelds would have carried over the trend of cross platform playability, thereby allowing Sega to control home markets and handhelds with the same exact library. Take your Sonic 3 with you on the bus to school? Oh, hell yeah! Sadly, even with the absolute best graphical capability and being able to take advantage of the Genesis’s library the Nomad was on its last legs the moment it was released.

Now, you would think that a handheld system that could play home system games would be a brilliant idea, and in concept it certainly is. The problem is that with that kind of graphical power, in a handheld device, power consumption is MASSIVE. The system required 6 AA batteries and still gave the user only 2 hours of gameplay with rechargeable batteries being flat out recommended against by Sega – they claimed an issue regarding voltage, Ni-Cds don’t have the 1.5V needed. Oh, you could buy a rechargeable battery pack, but that takes your already near $200 investment and added $80 more to it. This combined with its issues adapting the Genesis add-ons like the 32X made for a tough sell.

Still with a library of games nearly 600 long, the Nomad managed to squeeze out roughly 1 million units sold across its life. When you consider its ability to display those games on a handheld screen, it really is an amazingly powerful system that had a ton of potential to it. However, in the portable gaming world, battery life is a huge concern. Battery eaters almost always have a hard time keeping up.

One thing that can be said is that the Nomad gave another glimpse into the future of gaming. Consider what the Wii U control pad allows the user to do. Take that game being played on the screen and shrink it to a portable device to take it with you when you head to the kitchen. Or the PS Vita and its literal cross platform abilities. These abilities have come before; hell the Nomad was even close to having touch screen capability like the DS and 3DS. And this is what makes these ancient handheld systems worth remembering. Their innovations, though failed at the time, paved the way for future systems to take advantage of better technology to mirror those fantastic concepts of the past.

Not every console is a winner. The Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket, our Nomad here, they may not have been the sales kings of their days, but they all helped to shape our modern handheld gaming landscape. We may not always remember them, and as new generations of gamers are born, a lot of them will be forgotten entirely, but for us old timers, they are precious memories. Thankfully the handheld market continues. With greater technology, amazing games, and even 3D capability, the newest generations of handhelds offer fantastic gaming experiences and innovations that would make their forbearers proud.

Hmm….3D capability…I wonder…

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