The Atari Lynx is a classic handheld gaming system first released by Atari in 1989. With its advanced color LCD screen and powerful processor, the Lynx was far ahead of its time. It also had a number of innovative features like being able to connect up to 17 units together for multiplayer gaming. However, due to strong competition from Nintendo’s Game Boy, the Lynx never achieved mainstream success.
Today, the Atari Lynx remains a cult favorite among retro gaming enthusiasts. Its impressive capabilities, short production run, and historic significance make it a must-have for serious collectors. For those interested in purchasing an Atari Lynx, there are some key factors to consider.
Table of Contents
- The Lynx was Atari’s innovative color handheld released in 1989, but failed to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy.
- It has a cult following today for its advanced graphics and features like multiplayer connectivity.
- Important factors when buying a Lynx include condition, model, games and accessories.
- Be prepared to pay a premium for rare items like the Lynx II and games still sealed in box.
- Restoring, modding and homebrew game development keep the Lynx scene active today.
- Joining Lynx owner forums and groups can provide community, tips and access to homebrew games.
The Atari Lynx stands as an important piece of video game history. As the world’s first color handheld, it showed a glimpse of the future of portable gaming. Yet like many of Atari’s products in the late 80s and early 90s, it failed to find a mainstream audience.
Nintendo’s greyscale Game Boy was cheaper and had the advantage of more recognizable games like Tetris and Super Mario Land. This guide will give a rundown of the Lynx’s history and key specs. For collectors and retro gaming fans, we’ll provide tips on what to look for when buying a used system. We’ll also discuss ways to get the most out of your Lynx through restoration, modifications and joining the Lynx homebrew development community.
A Technical Marvel for Its Time
When it launched in 1989, the Lynx was leaps beyond rival portable gaming systems. The LCD screen supported up to 16 colors, far more than the Game Boy’s monochrome display. At 3.5 inches diagonal, the screen was also significantly larger than competing handhelds.
The graphics capabilities outmatched home consoles of the time. The Lynx could display up to 80 sprites simultaneously with background tile support. By comparison, the Nintendo Entertainment System could only handle 64 sprites at once. Atari marketed the Lynx as being able to deliver arcade-quality graphics on the go.
Beyond visuals, the Lynx was a powerhouse system for a handheld of that era. It featured a 16-bit CPU and could support up to 6 channels of sound. The headphone jack gave excellent stereo audio that was above what most home platforms offered.
Some innovative features made the Lynx stand out as well. The system could connect up to 17 units together using its ComLynx system. Up to 16 players could then play simultaneous multiplayer games with multiple Lynx systems linked. Additionally, two players could use the same Lynx system for multiplayer gaming.
Later revisions of the Lynx improved upon the original hardware. The Lynx II slimmed down the form factor, added an internal power off switch and optional backlight.
Brief Commercial History
The Lynx launched in September 1989, several months before the Nintendo’s Game Boy arrived in North America. Atari positioned the Lynx as a true portable arcade machine with the tagline “the first color portable system”.
However, despite its forward-thinking technology, the Lynx failed to gain much market share. Retailing originally for $179.99, it was over twice the price of the $89.99 Game Boy. The Game Boy’screen may have been simple black & white graphics, but its battery life was substantially longer. Importantly, Nintendo also had exclusive hits like Tetris that made Game Boy a must-have system.
In 1991, Atari relaunched the Lynx with a new smaller model and marketing campaign hoping to compete with Nintendo’s dominance. The Lynx II sought to fix some of the shortcomings of the original hardware. This new iteration had a sleeker profile, rubber hand grips and optional backlight for improved playability.
Atari tried bundling in the smash hit Klax game and lowering the price. However, competing with Nintendo’s brand power and vast game library proved too much. By the mid 90s, Atari shifted focus away from hardware production and the Lynx was discontinued.
In total, Atari sold around 3 million Lynx systems over its lifespan. In comparison, Nintendo moved over 40 million Game Boys from the original DMG-01 model alone. This vast difference in popularity means Lynx systems and games have become sought after collector’s items.
What to Look For When Buying a Lynx
For retro gaming enthusiasts and hardware collectors, the Atari Lynx remains an appealing system to own. But finding one in great condition takes some searching. Here are the key things to look for when buying a used Atari Lynx system:
Condition: Since the Lynx was only produced from 1989 to 1994, many systems have wear and tear. Scratches on the plastic casing, streaks on the screen and staining are common. Try to assess if any damage is purely cosmetic or can actually impact playability. Replacement parts are still made by resellers to refurbish Lynx systems.
Model: There were two models of the Lynx released. The original heavier and larger Lynx I came out in 1989. The slimmer, more ergonomic Lynx II was released in 1991. Lynx II systems tend to be more sought after and have better battery life. But verifying you have an actual Lynx II and not a reshelled model takes close inspection.
Games: The Lynx library contained under 100 officially released games. Simple two player games like Klax and Rampage sold well. More complex titles like Shadow of the Beast have become highly valued. Buying a Lynx bundle with a few quality games already is ideal.
Accessories: Like most game systems, there are a variety of peripherals and extras for the Atari Lynx. This includes different cartridge carousels, traveling cases, screen magnifiers and the rare Lynx Power Backpack. Find listings that include original accessories to sweeten the deal.
Homebrew Games: Beyond commercial releases, there is a dedicated homebrew community that has developed new games for the Lynx. Some of these can only be obtained through collecting groups. Homebrew games and reproduction carts expand the system’s limited library.
Reproduction Parts: Original Lynx cartridges, cords, LCD screens, cases etc can still be found through various sites. But aftermarket reproduction parts are common. Make sure you know if any parts on a system are new reproduction or legit vintage Atari.
Be Prepared to Pay a Premium on Rarities
Certain Lynx items that were produced in lower quantities have become highly coveted collector’s pieces. Since supply of boxed games and mint condition hardware is drying up, sellers can often set premium prices. Here are some of the most valuable Lynx items:
- Lynx II system – Expect to pay $300 and up for a boxed Lynx II in excellent condition. The smaller form factor, backlight option and rubber grip make it more playable.
- Games sealed in box – Of course the holy grail for collectors are games still factory shrink-wrapped. Even common games like Klax and Qix can command $200+ sealed. Rarer titles like Scrapyard Dog sealed have sold for nearly $1000.
- Lynx Powerback – This massive external rechargeable battery pack that slipped onto the back of the system allows for many hours of extended gameplay. Since production was limited, a Powerback in box can cost over $350.
- Low production games – Some late release Lynx games sold poorly and had small production runs. Titles likes Ultimate Chess Challenge, Dracula the Undead, and Raiden are scarce and expensive. Expect to pay $200+ for boxed copies.
For casual retro fans, paying hundreds for a single game may not make sense. But serious Lynx collectors regard certain high-value items as anchor pieces in an overall collection.
Maintaining and Repairing a Lynx
Part of properly collecting classic gaming hardware involves being able to maintain, clean and repair systems. With the Lynx being over 30 years old, many working units have worn buttons, sticky pads and scratched plastic. Here are some tips on keeping your system looking and playing like new:
- Open up and clean out – Over decades of use, dust build up is common inside. Take apart the system every few years and use compressed air to clear out any debris. Inspect the cartridge slot for corrosion as well.
- Check electrical contacts – From the cartridge slot to the headphone jack, the Lynx has many connection points. Scrub them gently with isopropyl alcohol to ensure clean electrical contacts.
- Replace rubber pads – The original plastic membranes on the d-pad and buttons stiffen and crack over time. Install replacement silicone button pads to get that soft tactile feel again.
- Re-shell if needed – If the outer plastic is too far gone, it may be time for a new shell case. Aftermarket cases come in different colors but lack the Atari logo embossing.
- Get accessories – A screen magnifier helps reduce eyestrain on that tiny display. And a cartridge carousel lets you neatly store a game collection. Generic versions can be cheaply acquired.
- Read up and watch tutorials – There are dozens of handy teardown guides and YouTube restoration videos to help out. Take it slow and be cautious when doing your own work on rare old systems.
Expand the Lynx Experience through Homebrew
Beyond just playing original Lynx releases, one of the best parts of collecting the system is tapping into the active homebrew development community. Programmers have created hundreds of new games that can be loaded onto reproduction cartridges. This allows collectors to enjoy new Lynx titles over 30 years after its retail demise.
Some of the more popular homebrew games include:
- Alley Cat – Action platformer based on the 1984 computer game. Has great pixel art, chip tunes and fun gameplay.
- Lynxoid – Addictive arkanoid/breakout clone with smooth controls and colorful graphics. A perfect pick up and play title.
- Chip’s Challenge – Faithful adaptation of the classic tile-based puzzle game. Great brain teaser that works well on the Lynx.
- Galactic Revenge – A Lynx shmup with responsive controls and intense shoot ’em up action. Has epic chip tune music too.
- Evikong – Clever hack of the arcade classic Donkey Kong using the Evil Knievel license. Challenging levels and spot on controls.
The only downside is you’ll need to get reproduction cartridges made to play homebrew games on real hardware. But collectors find it worth the effort and cost to be able to try so many great new games on original Lynx systems. It helps keep the platform alive and vibrant.
Joining Lynx Collector Communities
There are still thriving communities of Atari Lynx fans, collectors, and homebrew developers out there. Meeting other Lynx enthusiasts is a great way to share tips, find games for your collection, and get homebrew releases. Here are some active online Lynx communities worth checking out:
AtariAge Forums – AtariAge has message boards dedicated just to the Lynx that stay busy with discussion. Members often sell/trade rare games and homebrew releases just within the community.
Lynx Fan Page on Facebook – With over 4,000 members, this FB group is very active. Members share homebrew development progress, their Lynx collection photos, repair tips and more.
Atari Lynx Homebrew BBS – Online message board with download links to nearly every known homebrew ROM image. Must request access but then can browse hundreds of homemade games.
Lynx Clan – Long running website about all things Lynx homebrew. Has development wiki, reviews and links to order reproduction carts of new games.
Atari Gaming Headquarters Discord – Popular gaming discord server with a channel just for Atari handheld talk. Chat in real-time with Lynx experts and collectors.
The Lynx community is quite welcoming and always eager to bring new fans into the fold. Chances are you’ll uncover new games, repair techniques and fascinating system history from Lynx fan forums.
For many retro gamers, the Atari Lynx stands as an elusive white whale of a system. It demonstrated the untapped potential of handheld gaming years before technology would catch up. While it never managed to compete with Nintendo during its brief early 90s lifespan, the Lynx built a reputation on its advanced capabilities.
Today, collectors value the Lynx for its historical significance, cult following and short production run. Key items like the Lynx II, sealed games and accessories command high prices on the secondary market. Prices will likely continue rising as supply dwindles and demand from retro enthusiasts stays strong.
Beyond just collecting, there are thriving communities of fans that keep the Lynx scene active through homebrew development. Thanks to these programmers, new titles continue to be made that can be played on original hardware. Restoring old units and modding helps keep once forgotten systems alive and usable too.
For gaming history buffs, the Lynx deserves a spot in any noteworthy collection of vintage systems. Just be ready to invest some money and effort to track down and maintain this iconic piece of portable gaming’s origins.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can you tell the difference between a Lynx I and Lynx II system?
A: The Lynx II is smaller and lighter with a more rounded shape versus the bulkier original Lynx I. The II also has a comfy rubber grip and an internal power switch. Beware reshelled models though.
Q: What are some of the rarest Lynx games collectors look for?
A: Low production late releases like Dracula the Undead, Raiden and Ultimate Chess Challenge are very rare. Early classics like Shadow of the Beast and Xybots are also expensive. But the truly rare grail is any game still factory sealed.
Q: Is the Lynx still playable on modern TVs?
A: Yes, with some caveats. You’ll need to run the Lynx video output through an upscaler since it’s low resolution. You also lose the stereo sound through A/V cables. Playing via emulation lets you run enhanced resolutions.
Q: How long does the Lynx battery last?
A: Around 4-6 hours on 6 AA batteries. The Lynx II improved battery life slightly over the Lynx I. Using the rare Powerback battery attachment can extend portable play up to 12 hours.
Q: What are some recommended accessories for the Lynx?
A: A cartridge carrying case lets you store a collection neatly. Screen magnifiers help enlarge the small display. Rechargeable AA batteries and quality charger minimize costs. And silicone button pads improve the feel of worn out controls.