Atari Lynx 16-Bit Portable Color Video Game System
The Atari Lynx is the world’s first full-color portable video game system introduced in October, 1989. It featured a 16-Bit graphics engine, 8-player connectivity, and a blistering 4,096 color palate. (Game Gear had 32. Game Boy didn’t have any.) It’s also the first game system that supported expanding and shrinking of sprites. The Atari Lynx was so far ahead of its time, it took 12 years before anyone bettered it. The Lynx initially came packaged with California Games, Comlynx cable, and a nicely-crafted protective pouch to shield Lynx from the elements. California Games featured four different games in one card – BMX, Footbag, Skateboarding, and Surfing. Atari introduced a newly redesigned Lynx in 1991 that was smaller, sleeker, and retailed for $99.
The Beautiful Pixelated Robot World of Atari Lynx
Electrocop, Gates of Zendocon, RoadBlasters, S.T.U.N. Runner, Chip’s Challenge, California Games, Zaku, and Blue Lightning all make up Atari Lynx’s unique world of sparkling pixels.
Adventure in motion.
Atari Lynx was the first to let us take high-quality full-color gaming anywhere, anyplace, anytime. To the beach, on the bus, in the car on summer vacation. Lynx was revolutionary. Full-color 16-Bit graphics that we were just starting to enjoy in our living rooms saturated the screen wherever we went. Accessories like the Lynx Pouch, Carrying Case, Comlynx Cable, and Sun Visor outfitted you for any circumstance. Atari Lynx made this possible, and shattered the ridiculous confines of monochrome screens and dot matrix graphics.
Games to go.
The Lynx plays wafer-thin Video Game Cards, roughly twice as thick and half the length of a credit card. Their uniqueness contributes to the Lynx’s distinctive personality – not to mention up to 2MB of Rom storage via bank-switching. Game Cards in 128k, 256k, and 512k configurations were commonly produced.
Great titles too.
Sports, action, puzzles, and arcade classics stand out as some of the best. Titles from Epyx really shine on the Lynx, such as California Games, Blue Lightning, Electrocop, Chip’s Challenge, and Gates of Zendocon. The Lynx has other stellar titles too, like Paperboy, Rampart, Ms. Pac-Man, Ninja Gaiden & Ninja Gaiden III, RoadBlasters, S.T.U.N. Runner, Batman Returns, Dracula, Rampart, Gauntlet, Raiden, and more. New releases like Hotdog and Zaku add to the excitement. The Atari Lynx may have had a small game library, but it was full of fantastic titles.
Comlynx up to 18 players.
Multiplayer, vastly multiplied. In creating a pro game system for the future, Atari wanted to provide an enormous amount of multiplayer agility – without being limited to just 2 or even 4 players. Comlynx is a versatile I/O technology that allows you to connect your Lynx up to 18 players. On some games, all players can be on screen at once. Imagine Comlynxing up with 18 players and exploring the same underground world independently — journeying to remote areas or running back to help rescue a teammate. This was something that no other video game system did at the time.
It beat the $#!% out of Lame Boy.
Black and white is washed out. Game Boy may have had Mario and Pokémon, but it didn’t have color. (Well, at least not for another decade after Lynx did.) Color is cooler, especially in 16-vibrant-bits. Crystal blue waves that drench you in a crisp digital splash. Cars that blast bits into smithereens. Lynx had 4,096 blazing colors. Game Gear only had 32. Game Boy didn’t have any. Even today there’s never a shortage of gamers making excuses for why playing in black and white is somehow okay. They’ll cite Game Boy sales figures, talk about how great Tetris was, meh meh meh. Dim monochrome screens, no backlight, no power. How pathetic. Pick the right games and even by today’s standards Atari Lynx is still a uniquely awesome gaming experience. Not bad for a toy from 1989.
Atari Lynx Tech Specs
In the Box
Check out the Lynx Lounge, now on YouTube.
So what happened?
“I’ve been very proud of the Lynx. Always have, always will. It’s a matter of pride that no one created anything better for 12 years. All the Lynx needed was low cost, and a huge library of software. But I place the blame for both of these in Atari’s lap.”
– Dave Needle, Atari Lynx co-designer
With a little effort the Atari Lynx could have been marketed like Neo-Geo – an upscale alternative to the commonplace video games that everyone else had at the time. The Lynx thrived for years beyond its retail life, in spite of Atari’s anemic support. Lynx was originally developed at Epyx, drawn on a napkin while sitting in a cafe in August, 1986 by Dave Needle and R.J. Mical, two tech pioneers who were integral to the development of the Amiga. Atari would eventually purchase all rights to the Lynx from Epyx, although some insist this was a matter of extortion as Atari refused to pay the bill, sending Epyx into a financial death spiral.
The Lynx did relatively well during its first few years, especially given what it went up against. While the Lynx was technologically lightyears beyond the Game Boy, its $189 price tag was $100 higher than Game Boy, making the Atari Lynx a noticeably more expensive choice. Atari was also facing a tough battle against Nintendo’s massive market dominance, the popularity of Tetris, and Nintendo’s incredibly successful games that featured characters like Mario.
Atari’s lack of a popular home console, mascot, and advertising didn’t help win the insurmountable fight against Nintendo. In 1991 Atari introduced a newly redesigned Lynx that was smaller, sleeker, and retailed for just $99. But by the end of 1993, new games were just barely trickling out, and Atari shifted their attention to Jaguar.
“Lynx and Game Boy made for an interesting study in contrasts. While the two devices worked toward common ends — playing games on the go — they arrived at that destination with two very different philosophies. Game Boy was an exercise in minimalism and compromise, stripping down every feature to its most basic level. Lynx was about absolute indulgence, not just in its size but its power and options as well.”
– Jeremy Parish, USgamer
Atari Lynx faced a number of challenges: Nintendo Game Boy was half the price of Atari Lynx, it had superior battery life, it came with Tetris, you could play Mario on it, it had a consistent release of new games every month, and it piggybacked on Nintendo’s incredible popularity. The Lynx had some great games and was an amazing technological feat for its time, it offered a wonderful alternative to those who actually enjoyed color in their video games, but Atari never did much to counter the affects of Nintendo’s massive market dominance.
Kids of the ’90s were bombarded with ads from Nintendo and Sega, but rarely Atari. Without fresh advertising and good word-of-mouth on the playground, all most kids of the day knew of Atari was what they had seen their older siblings play – mostly Atari 2600 games, which by then were stale beans. What good is the Lynx’s technological superiority if nobody hears about it?
Though it never beat Game Boy in sales, the Atari Lynx was a technological marvel and held up very well over the years and it would be more than a decade before Nintendo would release a handheld that could surpass what the Lynx could do.
“Still, Sega gave Nintendo a run for its money in the console space [Sega Genesis] with a Lynx-like focus on tech and arcade-style experiences; why couldn’t Lynx have done the same in the handheld arena?”
– Jeremy Parish, USgamer