Monday, December 30, 2013

Lament of the Lynx

Ask a gamer what the best console is and you'll get a lot of different answers.  Ask them which console in the history of video games was the most deserving of more recognition than what it got and you will most likely here them speak of the Sega Dreamcast.  It is a sentiment that I can agree to on the one condition that we are excluding portable gaming devices from the conversation.  Otherwise I'd have to pick the the Atari Lynx as the greatest sufferer of gaming injustice.

I should mention that I never actually owned one of the things, but my brother had a revised version of the device.  It was an impressive piece of kit, with significantly better specs than any of its direct competitors.  The Nintendo Gameboy had a small display only capable of shades of grey.  The Sega Gamegear had a color screen, but it was only about two thirds the size of the Lynx's LCD.  Despite having a back light, the Lynx also boasted five to six hours of battery life compared to the Gamegear's three to four.  Another advantage the Lynx held was the ability to flip the orientation allowing the player to swap which side the D-pad and buttons were on, a great feature for people who aren't ambidextrous.

Sadly, there were a few drawbacks as well.  For one, the Lynx was a bit on the bulky side.  It was also more expensive than the competition.  Neither of these things were huge problems, rather, what really killed the Lynx was a lack of games.  Much like the Sega Dreamcast which came later, Atari's handheld couldn't get enough developers on board to build up a decent library.  It's a shame because the games that did come out for the Lynx were generally pretty good.  Faithful ports of arcade classics like Xybots, Xenophobia and Joust were made for it along with an excellent little WW1 flight-sim called Warbirds.  Tod's Adventures in Slime World was probably the single most outstanding game in the collection, and featured gameplay similar to Super Metroid (only it predated the SNES game by two years).

In stores the Lynx came packaged with California Games, and while I didn't care much for the skateboarding or hacky sack mini-games, surfing and especially BMX were a lot of fun to play.  I can remember my brother and I (along with several friends) trying to beat each other's high scores resulting in some rather insane tricks being pulled.  You might think it's impossible to do a 720 degree flip on a bicycle, but I managed to do in California Games...once.  A lot of the games also had a multiplayer component, but unfortunately my brother and I never got to really try that part out much because nobody else seemed to own a Lynx.

Overall the selection of games for the Lynx was well rounded especially when you look at the list of games that were in development, but never saw the light of day due to the discontinuation of the hardware.  The only thing really lacking was a strategy game.  Then again that particular genre was rare on anything other than a PC at the time.  Regardless, my brother's Lynx saw so much use over the years the LCD eventually burned out and one of the buttons stopped responding.  Rest in piece Atari Lynx.  You are, and will continue to be, miss.

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