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VIDEO GAMES : Nomad: A Good Thing in a Small Package : New system from Sega offers portability and power at a reasonable price.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Buying video games this Christmas will be no easy task. Saturn or PlayStation? Virtual Boy or 3DO? Old 16-bit cartridges or CD-ROMs? It’s hard to decide. And just try explaining it all to your folks.

Sega made it even tougher with the introduction in October of the Nomad. Regular readers of this space know that Nomad is Game Gear’s heir to the portable gaming world, a 16-bit unit not much bigger than a pencil box that plays Genesis cartridges.

My critical opinion: Yowza! Nomad rocks. At about $170, it won’t put you in the poorhouse like some other next-gen systems. And with a library of more than 500 Genesis titles to choose from, it’s got by far the largest game base.

Even my mother-in-law, who still thinks Pong is cool, was dazzled by Nomad’s high-powered display. My gaming friends all put it at the top of their must-have lists. Only my wife remains unimpressed--not because she didn’t think it was technically impressive, but because she’s sick of video games altogether.

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She finally drew the line.

No more video games in the bedroom.

Oh well.

The unit itself--powered either by six AA batteries or optional adapters--is a little thicker than Game Gear, which gives it a nice beefy feel. The screen displays 64 colors with a resolution of 240 x 220, enough to give even the most lavish games a good showing.

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I played several new titles on Nomad--including Mortal Kombat III and Vectorman--as well as some old favorites, and was impressed with how well sophisticated game play and graphics translate to the liquid crystal screen.

Controls are of the Sega six-button variety, with two rows of three to the right of the screen. Sound is a little weak from the external speaker but a pair of headphones fixes that problem nicely.

A few weeks ago, I said that Nomad threatened to knock out Game Gear. I still think people would be nuts to buy a Game Gear when they can have a Nomad instead. But I also think you’d be nuts to buy a good old Genesis unit when you can have a Nomad.

That’s because Nomad can plug into the television and perform just as well as the console unit. So not only do you get a pretty great portable unit, but you also get a console system that can fit in a fanny pack.

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Forget all the hype about 32-bit systems because 16-bit gaming won’t go anywhere for a while. Nomad proves the innovation left in 16-bit technology. It’s well worth the dough.

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Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games regularly. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.


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