In a new video discussing the history of Sega, the company's Hiroyuki Miyazaki showed off a prototype of its Genesis Nomad handheld. Released in North America in 1995, the Genesis Nomad was a 16-bit portable console that was able to play Genesis console (called the Mega Drive outside the U.S.) games.
The Genesis Nomad was similar to today's Nintendo Switch in that it could be used on-the-go or be plugged into a TV for playback on the big screen.
As you can see, the design of the production version was little changed from the prototype displayed above:
The hardest buttons to button — It's interesting that Sega replaced the circular buttons from the prototype with those oval ones in the above, final version — you'd think that the circle shape would be more ergonomic than these narrow buttons that could lead to mis-presses. But then again, odd shapes were a trend back then.
In the video, Miyazaki explains that Sega used the names of planets as codenames for new hardware projects, following their order in the solar system — the codename for the Genesis was "Mercury" followed by "Venus" for the Genesis Nomad. Thankfully for Sega, it got out of the console game — there's no telling what it would have done once it ran out of planets to use.
Why it failed — The Genesis Nomad should have been a success since it was basically a Genesis that you could take anywhere, and plug into a TV to use as a console no less. But it was released late in the lifespan of the Genesis and was quietly discontinued following poor sales.
The (mostly) handheld console used six AA batteries and ate through them quickly. And since it used the same cartridges from the standard Genesis, it wasn't actually super portable. Those two factors made it a hard sell considering it was comparably priced to the standard Genesis.
The PlayStation was also released around the same time as the Genesis Nomad and heralded a new generation of gaming with its focus on 3D content and compact discs. Because the Nomad didn't support add-ons, you couldn't use the 32X that would provide more graphics and processing oomph, nor could the Nomad play Sega CD games.
Sega discontinued the Genesis in 1999 to focus on the Saturn, which found more success in Japan than even the PlayStation had — consequently, the Genesis Nomad also got the axe.
Still, if it weren't for all the aforementioned flaws, the Nomad could have been a great portable way to play all the games that worked on the Genesis.
Sega ultimately dropped out of the hardware business entirely when it ended production of the Dreamcast in 2001. After losing millions of dollars on consecutive hardware failures, it decided to instead offer games from its popular franchises on more successful consoles from competitors, leaving us to speculate about what might have been.