Atari Lynx was released around the same time as Nintendo's Game Boy. The system was technically superior, boasting a full-color display unheard of for portables at the time. Despite this advantage Atari had an uphill battle against the Game Boy juggernaut. Nintendo's system which was fortified with smash hits like Super Mario Bros., Pokemon, and Tetris. As if that wasn't enough, in 1991 Sega entered the fray with its own color system, the Game Gear. Despite much adversity, the Lynx battled valiently in the portable system wars for many years.
Large and somewhat unweildy, the original Lynx pushed the limits of what could reasonably be considered a portable system. In July 1991 Atari replaced it with the Lynx II, sporting a more streamlined design similar to Sega's Game Gear. Those perhaps overengineered in some regards, the heavyweight design of the Lynx gave it a durable quality that made the Game Gear feel cheap by comparison.
The Lynx has a relatively small library but you'll find a number of quirky offerings you can't find on any other system. Standout titles like S.T.U.N. Runner and Warbirds do a fine job of showing off the system's impressive scaling capabilities.
Considering its six-year run, the Lynx was one of the few successes to emerge from Atari in its waning years. I obtained my refurbished Lynx II during the late 90's, albeit with one bad pixel. Today there are mods available to dramatically improve the display and even output to television.
Design: C. The original Lynx was a beast, but the Lynx II has a form factor comparable the Game Gear. Both systems feature sturdy construction. The Lynx seems to have an inordinate number of buttons, including separate on and off buttons and three "option" buttons. One functions require you to press combinations of these, which is confusing.
The system has two sets of easy-to-press action buttons allowing the screen to be "flipped" to accommodate left-handed players. The Lynx II is comfortable to grasp thanks to a pair of rubber grips on the back. Running across the top of the unit are dials for volume and brightness, a headphone jack, and a comlink for linking systems.
Graphics: B. With a resolution of 160x102 the Lynx graphics look a little chunky. Sprites tend to be impressively large however and some of the the scaling effects are amazing. Although the color palette size is technically only 16, it's possible to display far more on the screen by changing palettes between scanlines. Viewing the screen from certain angles makes the games look washed out, but probably to a lesser degree than the Game Gear.
Size: C-. The Lynx is significantly thicker than the Game Gear and heavier - not qualities you necessarily look for in a portable.
Controls: C-. The buttons and directional pad feel a little too tight, causing fatigue during extended play. The options buttons are difficult to use effectively during a game.
Audio: B. I noticed Lynx games tend to have more complex audio than the Game Gear, even handling voices with ease.
Battery Life: B-. Six AA batteries would last 4-6 hours, about an hour more than the Game Gear.
Media: A. Just the right size, the flat, curved carts are easy to insert and remove.
Packaging: C. The games come packaged in cheap white and gray boxes. Some of the instructions were printed on the back of folded posters, and they are a real pain in the ass to read.
Games: C. The Lynx didn't boast as many big-name licenses as the Game Gear, but notable exceptions include Batman, Ms. Pac-Man, and Ninja Gaiden. Unfortunately Atari never have a proper mascot, and some of its more original titles like Kung Food and Scrapyard Dog come across as a little cheesy.
Collectability: B. The Lynx is an interesting console to collect for. Unlike other systems that are heavy on ports, the Lynx has a wide variety of original offerings (for better or worse). Like the Game Gear however, working hardware is becoming increasing expensive to aquire. Fortunately Evercade has begun to release Lynx game collections, allowing you to enjoy the games on the big screen for a nominal price.
Innovations: first portable with color screen, 180-degree flip feature for lefties, system-link multiplayer.
Pros and Cons:
+ Color graphics
+ Back-lit screen
+ Unique game selection
+ Comfortable for lefties
- Washed-out screen when viewed from angle
- Modest library
- Clunky design