• Tag Archives atari
  • Atari Lynx

    “Lynx Eats Boy’s Lunch.”


    In my opinion, the Atari Lynx is one of the most underrated systems around. It was the first color portable video games system and was released in September 1989 only 2 months after the Game Boy and before both the Sega Game Gear and TurboExpress. It was superior to the Game Gear in a number of ways and while it does not quite have the graphical horsepower of the TurboExpress, it was significantly cheaper ($179 vs. $249).

    The Atari Lynx was initially developed by Epyx and two former Amiga designers. Epyx sought out partners including Nintendo and Sega because of financial difficulties. Atari was the one who bought in and Epyx later went bankrupt making this an Atari only project at that point. Ironically, Atari had to buy Amiga computers from its rival Commodore for software development.

    The Atari Lynx included the following hardware:

    • Mikey (16-bit custom CMOS chip @ 16 MHz)
    • WDC 8-bit 65SC02 processor @ 4MHz
    • 4 channel sound with an 8-bit DAC
    • 160×102 color backlit LCD
    • 16 simultaneous colors out of a palette of 4,096
    • Graphics: Suzy (16-bit custom CMOS chip @ 16 MHz w/ math coprocessor)
    • RAM: 64 KB 120ns DRAM

    The Lynx was quite an impressive system for its time. It sold reasonably well though it never matched the success of the Game Boy. There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost the Game Boy was significantly cheaper at $89.95. It also had far more games being released at a faster pace. While the Atari Lynx had some quality titles, it never came close to the quantity of them that the Game Boy did. Lack of third party support was a huge part of that. How much of that was Atari’s fault and how much was due to Nintendo’s draconian licensing scheme is hard to say but no doubt both contributed. It also didn’t hurt that Nintendo had the ongoing massive success of the NES as a marketing advantage.

    The Lynx II, an improved, slightly smaller, lighter and cost reduced version of the Lynx was released in 1991. It was available in retail channels all the way until 1995 or so and a few games were being released that late by Atari as well including Battlezone 2000. In part this was to piggyback on the marketing and sale of Atari’s Jaguar console. However, Atari stopped game development for the Lynx in 1996.

    This was not the end of the Lynx’s life though. Telegames continued to release games for the Atari Lynx at a slow pace throughout the 1990s, including the likes of Raiden. In addition, towards the end of the decade, Hasboro, then owner of Atari, released rights to develop for the system to the public domain. There have been a number of homebrew titles since. The most recent commercial game I could find was a game called Zaku released in 2009 though there are a number of later non-commercial releases as well.

    The Lynx featured a number of unique and pioneering features including being the first handheld electronic game with a color LCD and offering left and right-handed play (just turn it upside down). The Lynx was also the first video game system to have hardware support for zooming and distorting sprites (much like and in some ways superior to the later Mode 7 of the Super Nintendo). While Atari Lynx releases are relatively few (73 official titles through 1995), on average they were of pretty high quality including an 8-player game, Todd’s Adventure in Slime World.

    There has also been at least a couple of impressive hardware modifications made available relatively recently. One is a much improved RGB replacement screen (image above) and the other is a VGA-out option. More information on both of those can be seen here: http://retrorgb.com/lynx.html

    Check out the Wikipedia entry for more info on the Lynx (and from which some of this info came).

  • Pinball Jam (Atari Lynx)

    Pinball Jam, Atari Lynx.


    Pinball Jam is an Atari Lynx exclusive that provides digital simulations of two pinball tables: “Elvira and the Party Monsters” by Midway from 1989 and “Police Force” by Williams also from 1989. The Lynx game was released in 1992.

    Pinball Jam got fairly average reviews so I think it really comes down to rather or not you like this kind of game. Like many games for Atari systems (particularly those done by Atari) at the time (starting with the Atari 7800), it feels a little rushed. The graphics are a bit choppy and it just seems like it could have really been a lot better with a little more polish. Having said that, it is still a decent game. In fact, I would argue there was no other pinball game as good for a mobile platform at that time. Of course, if your minimum standard is Alien Crush on the TurboGrafx-16 then you may be disappointed.

    The first table is really the one that makes this game worth having. Who doesn’t like an Elvira themed game? In addition to the superior theme, it also has better sound effects and music including the digitized voice of Elvira herself.

    The second table is slightly simpler. One of the criticisms of this game is that the tables are really too complex for the resolution of the Lynx. I mentioned Alien Crush above and while that game had spectacular graphics, the table layouts were really relatively simple. I think the Lynx could have done a pretty good rendition of that game. Anwyay, despite the slightly simpler layout of “Police Force”, it’s a more boring theme in my opinion. The music and sound effects just aren’t as interesting either. It’s not bad but it isn’t as good as Elvira.

    One other complaint I have with this game is the decision they made to scroll the table vs. just switching to another area of the table when the ball went there. While the scrolling is a good demonstration of the abilities of the Lynx, I think it would have been a little easier on the eyes to do it another way.

    Despite the negatives, this is a fun pinball game and while it may not be worth buying a Lynx for, it is definitely worth owning if you have a Lynx. Unfortunately, other than emulation, there is no other way to play this game. Interestingly, the Elvira table is currently available via The Pinball Arcade, a downloadable pinball game with a large number of tables available for many platforms. However, as far as I know there is no other digital version of Police Force.

  • Hydra (Atari Lynx)

    Hydra, Atari Lynx.


    Hydra was originally an arcade game developed by Atari. It was also ported to the Atari Lynx which is the only home port of this game for a video game system. There were also a few home computer ports (Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST among others) but the Lynx was the only video game system, handheld or otherwise, that Hydra was developed for.

    The premise of Hydra is that you are trying to prevent thieves from stealing parts to a secret weapon hidden in artifiacts in museums and other places. All of this is just an excuse to race a boat around and blow stuff up of course. Those who have played Roadblasters will find this game quite familiar. This is really just an updated version of Roadblasters on the water. Personally, I loved Roadblasters.

    The Atari Lynx version of the game got somewhat mixed reviews. However, chances are that if you like Roadblasters then you will like this game as well. In addition, it’s the only way to play on a handheld and the easiest to find a legitimate copy of unless you want to track down one of the computer versions or an arcade machine. Of course, there is always the emulation route it which case you may as well play the arcade version.

    The arcade original was released in 1990 and the Lynx port followed in 1992. Other than the home computer versions mentioned above, there are no other ports or remakes. Atari has published numerous game compilations over the years but none have included Hydra as far as I know.