“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).