by: Roger Barr
Whenever a man professes his
love for a lynx, people usually assume that he's one of those weirdos
that's into furries or something. Well, today I stand before you and I
am professing my adoration for a different kind of lynx - The Atari
Lynx! To this day, it still remains my favorite portable system, and
with good reason. So
let's take a stroll down memory lane by looking at the features and
history of the system along with my picks for the 10 best games.
The Lynx was Atari's one and
only handheld gaming system; originally known as "The Handy" and developed
by a company called Epyx (who was already well known for having
released a plethora of popular games), Atari bought the rights to the system and released it in
1989. Believe it or not, it was the first handheld console with a color
display. That right there would suggest that it would hold a higher place
in the handheld gaming archives, but half of the self-proclaimed gaming
aficionados I've spoke with over the years don't even seem to remember the Lynx!
One of the other things that
was really interesting about the system was how it was made to support
both lefties and righties. That's right, it was an ambidextrous
system. With the touch of a button, you could flip the screen upside-down
and play games as a lefty. In addition to that, some games (such as "KLAX")
actually had you turn the system 180 degrees on its side and play it on the screen
vertically. It was little features like this that really put the Lynx in a
class of its own.
Using the optional ComLynx,
you could hook up your system with some friends for multiplayer action
(4-player Gauntlet was a blast). You could actually hook up to 17 other
systems to each other, but in all honesty, you'd be lucky to find another
one or two people that owned the thing. This normally meant you had to
convince your friends to buy one. The system also had some very faithful
ports of everyone's favorite arcade hits.
So what happened? Why didn't
a system with so much going for it do well in sales?
For one thing, it was
initially priced at $189.95... quite a leap from the low price tag of
Nintendo's immensely popular Game Boy. It was also fairly large for
a handheld. This thing was practically the size of two Game Boys, but
honestly, I liked how it was that big (probably because I have huge
hands). You could still easily store it in a bag, and if push came to
shove, I'm sure waiving it in the air like a weapon would scare off most
would-be assailants. And honestly, after owning the original Lynx for a
while, you'd start to notice that it formed "battle
damage". The top layer of paint would often wear away in random
spots, making the Lynx look all the more edgy. Again, this was just
all part of the Lynx's charm.
Another issue was battery
consumption. This thing took 6 AA batteries, and with its
powerful CPU and other features, it could drain them all in under four
hours. Believe me, the most important accessory for the Lynx was the A/C
adapter. So in a nutshell, the Lynx was the SUV of portable gaming systems
- an oversized fuel-guzzling mofo.
Atari tried to save the
system by releasing the Lynx II, which was a little bit smaller,
had better battery life. It was a valiant effort, but the damage was already done. Even with
their published advantages
over the other systems of the time, by the
mid-90's you could barely find a Lynx for sale. Then again, if you did
find one for sale, chances are it was pretty damned cheap by that point. I
remember one shop unloading all of their Lynx games for a buck a piece.
Yes indeed, that was one hell of a good day for me.
A lot of people will tell
you that as far as first-generation portable color gaming consoles go, the
Game Boy Color or the Sega Game Gear are cream of the crop.
A few will even mention the grossly overpriced TurboExpress. And while each of those
portables had their own merit and managed to gain some nice chunks of the handheld
market, I really don't think any of them compared to the quality of the
Lynx. In fact, no portable system really compared to the Lynx until the Game Boy
Advance came along.
Alright, so now you know a
little bit about the history of the Atari Lynx. But what about the games
that were released for it? There were a little over 100 games created for
the Lynx, which is more than one would expect considering the poor sales
of the system. It wasn't easy, but I've narrowed down all the games and
made a "top 10" list of what I consider to be the best releases for the
Lynx. So without further delay, let's begin:
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Wow, Ms.
Pac-Man... haven't seen THAT one before on a console."
Well the fact is, a lot of the ports of "Ms. Pac-Man" over
the years have been far from the quality of the arcade
versions. The Atari Lynx version, however, does not let
disappoint. It's as close to the original arcade game as you
can get, and Ms. Pac-Man is always a must own for any portable
system if you ask me (even your only portable system is a cell phone). Furthermore,
the Lynx version had some nifty secrets in it such as a
speed boost and some extra lives. You simply can't go wrong
with quality portable Pac-action like this.
Portable gaming was all about the hardcore gamer's refusal
to actually go outside and engage in any kind of physical
activity. "California Games" on the Lynx is how gamers would
meet the outdoorsy types halfway. Sure, gamers would be
outdoors and participating in sports, but they'd be playing
these sports on their portable Lynx! I'm sure carrying that
heavy Atari Lynx around outdoors was considered to be
exercise by some sad individuals. Regardless, the
Lynx version of California Games is very faithful to the
original one we all grew up playing on the Commodore 64.
Furthermore, this is the game that was actually packaged
with the original Atari Lynx system. Nothing like playing
the hacky-sack (footbag) mini-game and trying to hit the seagulls
that fly by.
Let's face it, being out in the real world exposes you to
the many annoyances of society. Bad drivers, noise,
pollution, drunken pirates... you name it. Sometimes when
you're exposed to these things, it just makes the inner
beast within you want to come out and smash things up for a
while. That's pretty much where "Rampage" comes in. It's a
perfect port of the arcade classic, only they introduce a
fourth character so you can have a 4-person multiplayer
game! You've got Lizzie the Lizard, George the Gorilla,
Ralph the Wolfman, and now Larry the Lab Rat! Lizzie will
always be my favorite simple because she was the closest
thing to Godzilla, but I definitely dig Larry if for no
other reason than he's the only one of the four monsters
with a pot-belly. Sadly, his pot-belly is not used to smash
the buildings... even though it should be.
The Nintendo Game Boy had "Tetris", the Atari Lynx had "KLAX".
Now while KLAX didn't have the advantage of the awesome
in-game music of Tetris, it was still every bit as addictive
and challenging. So just what does "KLAX" mean? A KLAX was
how you earned points in the game. As the multi-colored
tiles came tumbling down you had to place them in vertical,
horizontal or diagonal patterns. If you got three or more
tiles of the same color in a row, that means you got a KLAX.
One of the coolest things about the game was that you
actually had to turn your Atari Lynx 180 degrees
play it! This gave the screen more vertical space, and
believe me, for a tricky game like KLAX you wanted that
extra space and then some! And finally, to add insult to
injury, whenever you lose a round the audience groans at
you. Yes, you have an audience watching you play this game.
I was torn between this one and "Checkered Flag" because
they're both racing games. But in the end, "RoadBlasters"
won the decision since it involves both racing AND shooting
things. That's a combination that both myself and Mad Max
will always be a fan of. The story behind the game is
simple: the surface of the planet has been devastated by
nuclear weapons, so it's up to you and your gun-mounted car
to stop all the evil members of the death squad. You get to
shoot their cars, including limos, with a variety of
explosive weapons such as the patented "U.Z. Cannon" and the
"Cruise Missile". Honestly, the only thing this racing game
was missing at the time was the 3D glasses option that "Rad
Racer" provided us with on the NES.
#5: Gauntlet: The Third Encounter
This was another game that you could play with the Lynx
turned 180 degrees sideways. At the time, I remember being
amazed that somebody finally put Gauntlet on a portable
system and it was a real solid version of the game. The
object of "Gauntlet: The Third Encounter" is pretty much
what you'd expect from any Gauntlet game: battle your way
through impossible odds in the form of spiders, ghosts,
slime and even land sharks all in the hopes of
rescuing the Star Gem from a deadly castle. And what
Gauntlet game would be complete without some great
characters to choose from: An Android, a Valkyrie, a
Gunfighter, a Nerd, a Pirate, a Punk Rocker, a Samurai and a
Wizard! When it comes right down to it, I've always believed
that Gauntlet is a multiplayer game at heart... I mean, who
wouldn't want to see a Nerd and a Pirate fighting
side-by-side? The Lynx does allow you to play the game with
up to 3 other people, and unless you're doing just that,
chances are you won't appreciate it as much.
#4: S.T.U.N. Runner
Oh "S.T.U.N. Runner"... how I wasted so many quarters on you
at the local Chucky Cheese joint when I was younger. This
was definitely one game that I never expected to see on a
console, let alone a portable one, at the time. The
impressive 3D graphics just didn't seem like something a
little portable Lynx system could handle. I was wrong. This
was a damned fine translation of the arcade classic, and it
played surprisingly smoothly. S.T.U.N. Runner is a racing
game with a futuristic twist. The object is to complete each
course before time runs out, or before your ship is
completely destroyed due to your ramming it into everything
in its path. You can do some impressive jumps and twirls
around the tunnels in this game. I'm sure any fan of the
F-Zero series would be able to appreciate this classic gem.
Oh and if you were wondering what the "S.T.U.N." stands for,
it means "Sub-Terranean Underground Network".
#3: Blue Lightning
Yes, California Games was the first game I ever played on
the Lynx since it came with the system, but it wasn't until
I played "Blue Lightning" that I was extremely impressed
with a Lynx game. Fighter jet games were nothing new at the
time with titles such as "Top Gun" and "Afterburner" making
their way onto home consoles, but I don't think they had
anything on Blue Lightning. This game really showed off the
Lynx's impressive hardware scaling capabilities with its
super-speedy 3D graphics. Hell, I'd do the barrel roll
move sometimes just to see the cool animated graphics. The
cool scenery, great graphics and nonstop action really made
this game one of the most well-known titles for the Lynx.
You're the best pilot in the Air Force, so get up in the
skies and prove it, Ice Man!
#2: Ninja Gaiden
There's no denying that the NES version of "Ninja Gaiden"
was one of the most entertaining and challenging games ever
released for the system, but the Atari Lynx version had a
lot going for it. For starters, it introduced a lot of
to the original arcade version of the game, which was quite
different from the one on the NES. Lots of psychos in hockey
masks and angry tree-swinging lumberjacks wanting to kill
our ninja hero. This was a damned nice translation of the
arcade version, unlike that piece o' shit that was made for
the Sega Genesis. It even has the infamous buzz-saw continue
game screen, where if you wait too long to continue, your
ninja gets killed. I swear it was hard deciding on whether
to continue or to laugh as the ninja grew increasingly
panicky as the saw blade drew closer to his abdomen. Good
#1: Todd's Adventures in Slime World
Aside from the
huge amounts of time that I spent playing this addictive
adventure game, I believe "Todd's Adventures in Slime World" was the first game to ever include a
hidden mini-game in which the object was to pop a
green zit faster than your opponents by mashing the buttons
quickly. That's about as good of a hidden bonus as I've ever
seen. But the main game itself, my god... how could a
brilliant piece of work like this go virtually unnoticed by
the masses for so long? I'm being dead serious here when I
say this is easily one of the greatest 2D scrollers of all
time. There's some ridiculously cool animated characters in
it, a unique ever-shifting rich slimy landscape bubbling
with danger for Todd to explore, and to top it all off, you
can play a co-op multiplayer game with your friends OR you
can hunt them down! Forget Contra. Forget Metroid. I'll
gladly take the nasty, sticky, ooze-o-rific gameplay of
Todd's Adventures in Slime World over those games any day! I
just can't say enough good things about this game, so I
guess that means you should play it, huh?
PLEASE NOTE: to play any
of these games, you'll need to download the "Handy" Atari
Lynx emulator. You can get the
Atari Lynx Handy emulator here.
So there you have it...
that's my take on the Lynx, its history and some of the best games that
were ever released for it. The majority of gamers may not care about, or
even remember the Atari Lynx, but it will always hold a special place in
my life as far as portable game consoles go. The fact that the Lynx wasn't
more successful proves that there's no justice in this world. Don't worry
Lynx, at least I'll always have your back...
I demand that you print out
this image and make stickers with it.
Have any questions or comments about this piece?
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