Atari once ruled the gaming landscape. The problem is, they had no teeth in their tigers so to speak. Once it was proven in court companies like Activision could make games without working with Atari it opened the gates for the earliest third party developers to spring up. Many might think that it was this plethora of third parties releasing whatever they could put on a cart that led to the downfall of the early consoles. You would be wrong. Atari itself was able to weather the storm through corporate meandering and eventually we got the “Atari” that released the Atari Lynx, a portable that they didn’t even produce. All that doesn’t really matter because as gamers, it is the games that we want to focus on. The Atari Lynx had a few good ones, just other problems kept it back from penetrating the great wall that Nintendo’s Game Boy had built.
According to Wikipedia there are just over 70 games released commercially between 1989 and 1995 - just over half a decade life span. Atari did something that Sega seems to have forgotten how to do which, had it been marketed right, could have at least pushed them ahead of Sega’s portable offering that hit the following year.
Atari had a good mix of classic properties seeing new life such as Battlezone 2000, Joust, Ms. Pac-Man, Paperboy, Ishido and Shanghai (both quite old game ideas), and sports such as NFL Football, Malibu Bikini Volleyball, Jimmy Connors Tennis, California Games (this was really popular in the late 80’s), and Basketbrawl to name a few.
Atari also made sure to get newer properties for their hand held such as Ninja Gaiden (the closest port to the arcade game you are going to find from this generation), Double Dragon, Hard Drivin’, Pit-Fighter, Rampage, Toki, Super Off Road, and Xybots.
On paper, it appeared that the Atari Lynx was set to burn the Nintendo Game Boy’s castle to the ground.
Price is one concern as the Atari Lynx launched at $180 while the Nintendo Game Boy launched a few months earlier at about $90.
Then there is battery life with the Atari Lynx resting on about four to five hours on a full set of fresh batteries while the Nintendo Game Boy rocked 10+ hours of battery life.
Then there are the pack-ins that Atari went with. If I remember correctly, the original Atari Lynx came with California Games while the Nintendo Game Boy was packing the super nova of gaming at the time, Tetris.
I cannot fault Atari for going with California Games for the pack-in because out of the initial launch titles (all of which could have been contenders for pack-in status), California Games represented the best well known option.
For what the Atari Lynx was able to accomplish in portable gaming, it deserves a lot of respect. There are ports of great arcade games, original titles, and the occasional “WTF” game to round things out. The only category that the Lynx is short on was role-playing games with just a couple seeing release. Wyvern Tales is one such independent homebrew release aiming at this genre.
Finally we come to the independent homebrew community. The fans that have taken up the challenge of creating new games for their platform of choice. From Telegames to Songbird Productions (two higher profile publishers) to the guys in their homes hammering out new titles, the Atari Lynx is far from dead.
Couple the independent homebrew community with the discovery and release of many of the canceled commercial titles and we see a few new games regularly for the Atari Lynx platform.
Thank you Atari for doing the Lynx. For me, it will forever be the portable Ninja Gaiden machine for me.
Want your own Atari Lynx? Check eBay for the units and games. Want to check out new games? Check out AtariAge and our own coverage here. We even have a must have list available for new owners of the Atari Lynx.