Let Us Console You: Atari Lynx

Okay, so Atari as a people were a bunch of idiots, but let's face it, what they contributed to video games was huge. One of their many bad decisions even contributed to the North American video game crash of 1983. If that had never happened we probably would have never had Nintendo or Sega, so good for them.

The first model of the Lynx - photo courtesy of Xabi Vazquez

However, the Atari Lynx didn't seem like a bad idea at the time. It all looked good on paper. This handheld gaming system developed along side another company called Epyx was absolutely perfect to go up head-to-head with the best-selling Game Boy from Nintendo. It had everything that the Game Boy didn't have; it was the first handheld system in the world to feature a colour LCD (the Game Boy only featured monochrome graphics at the time in 1989, and the Game Boy Color wasn't released until almost 10 years later) and was also the first gaming console that supported the zooming of sprites, allowing for 3D effects using 2D sprites. Another really innovative (and in fact, pretty awesome) feature is that the console supports not just right handed, but left handed players as well. With the click of two buttons, the picture on the screen could be flipped upside down to allow left handed players (or even players who found it more comfortable) to use the A and B buttons with their left hand, and the D-Pad with their right hand. This is perfect for any boy who meets one of those crazy left handed girls who may be intrigued by the idea of playing with his Atari Lynx. Everyone is happy! Anyway, this feature had never been done before or since the Lynx, and it should be done again, as it is just simple convenience! The last major advantage about the Lynx is that it featured some really great and accurate conversions of arcade games that were popular at the time. Believe it or not, it was actually quite hard to bring the arcade home back when the hardware was still primitive.

So now we have talked about all the great stuff the Lynx boasts, let's talk about some of its disadvantages, and ultimately why it failed against the Game Boy. Okay, for starters, I remember back towards the end of the 90s, I had a Game Boy Color while my friend had an original Game Boy. I thought it was insane that the original Game Boy took 4 AA batteries (this provided roughly 15 hours of play) while my Game Boy Color only took 2 (this provided a whopping 30 hours of play), to me, 4 AA batteries seemed like way too many. If I had had a friend who had a Lynx back then (but then again, who did?) my head probably would have exploded. The Atari Lynx required SIX AA batteries. Okay, well that sounds ridiculous, but what sucks even more, is that this provides the Lynx with only four to five hours of gameplay... now that sucks.
Another dumb thing about the Lynx was that it was marketed as a 'portable console'. This thing could barely fit in the pocket of your jeans and I wear the skinny variety, so I'd have no chance trying to shove one of these into one my pockets. I'm pretty sure you could knock someone out if you hit them over the head with a Lynx, it is that bulky. The reason why it was made so bulky in the first place was because Atari's market research told them that consumers would pay more for a bulkier device. Another problem with the design was that it was incredibly difficult to change game cartridges.

Atari Lynx size comparison with a Game Boy Micro

The last thing that let the Lynx down was its lack of third-party support. Believe it or not, this is what sent many other consoles to the graveyard and to most people, the games on the Lynx didn't stand out as much as the ones on the Game Boy.

There was a second model of the Lynx released in 1991 which improved the console considerably, in regards to size, as well as adding a few new features, such as rubber hand grips and a clearer backlit colour screen with a power save option, but by this time the Game Boy was too big and was frankly not worth messing with, and with the release of Sega's Game Gear (which actually faired well against the Game Boy) it was time for Atari to throw in the towel and focus on its new home console, the Jaguar, which likewise bit the dust and marked the end of Atari's career as a game console developer. Good riddance.

The second model of the Lynx - photo courtesy of Xabi Vazquez

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