Throwback Thursday – The Atari Lynx was a Handheld Before It’s Time

The Atari Lynx was the world’s first color hand-held video game system that quietly revolutionized the way handheld gaming was done.

The Atari Lynx was the world’s first color hand-held video game system that quietly revolutionized the way handheld gaming was done.

Atari Lynx – The world’s first color hand-held video game system.

In 1989 Atari, Corp finally managed to do one of the first intelligent moves. It purchased a portable video game system from a financially strapped game company called Epyx. Epyx which had primarily focused in the past on making video games for several computer and video game platforms had formed a new hardware division and with a team of Ex-Amiga engineers went to work on creating an all new powerful and feature rich portable video game system. What they had created was the Portable Color Entertainment System which became known as the Atari LYNX.

The Lynx was impressive, a 16Mhz 6502 system with built hardware scrolling and zooming, excellent sound and more importantly an easy to program networking language called com-lynx for up to 8 Lynxs to be networked together for multi-user players. It had been mentioned and hoped that the Atari Jaguar 64 would use the Atari Lynx as a high-end interactive video game controller with such high hopes as being the motion tracker for Alien Vs. Predator or even a Tricorder for a hoped for Star Trek game. Unfortunately this never came to happen. Telegames has just recently released 2 new games for the Lynx and several other developers are working on Lynx games for the Lynx is far from dead, in many ways people sometimes feel the Lynx has more life left to it then the Atari Jaguar 64.


The Atari Lynx has several innovative features including its being the first color handheld, with a backlit display, a switchable right-handed/left-handed (upside down) configuration, and the ability to network with up to 17 other units via its “ComLynx” system (though most games would network eight or fewer players). ComLynx was originally developed to run over infrared links (and was codenamed RedEye). This was changed to a cable-based networking system before the final release.

The Lynx was also the first gaming console with hardware support for zooming/distortion of sprites, allowing fast pseudo-3D games with unrivaled quality at the time and a capacity for drawing filled polygons with limited CPU intervention. Blue Lightning, an After Burner clone, was especially notable and featured in TV advertising for the console.

The games were originally meant to be loaded from tape, but were later changed to load from ROM. The game data still needed to be copied from ROM to RAM before it could be used, so less memory was available and the games loaded relatively slowly.

Check out this pretty interesting Q & A on everything Lynx

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