Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Atari Lynx Takes on The Competition... But...

There's a particular type of videogame ad that turns up when hardware generations are turning over and manufacturers are jockeying for position.  These ads focus on geeky statistics and specifications, trying to prove to potential buyers that one system is superior to all others while the general consensus remains up in the air.  Ad messages of this sort tend to fade away after sales figures come in, software libraries mature and it becomes clear where the action really is.

Unfortunately, the Atari Lynx beat the Sega Game Gear to market by a year, and came out just a few months after the Nintendo Game Boy -- so this similar ad later in the handheld's life reeks of desperation:

It's just too obvious that the points of comparison have been, shall we say, carefully selected.  Atari compares the Lynx's 4096 colors to the Game Boy's 2 -- which isn't even accurate, as the Game Boy could muster 4 shades of green/gray -- and ignores the Game Gear's similar 4096-color capabilities.  The molded rubber hand grips is just filler, and right or left hand play seems like a minor feature at best, given the ambidextrous requirements of most videogame controllers.

Even the ballyhooed 5.0 rating from GamePro magazine is a questionable citation, as GamePro was not regarded as a bastion of journalistic integrity at the time, and the Lynx was relatively new and technically impressive when it was reviewed.  It was only as time went on that the technically limited GameBoy's superior software library made it the platform of choice.

And blowing up the Lynx's relatively low-resolution screen to full-page ad size wasn't a great choice either -- Warbirds was a decent biplane air combat game that looked impressive in motion, with smoothly scaling sprites that neither of its competitors could have managed, but presented as a static screenshot it's hard to see anything impressive about it.

In the end, it all came down to the games -- no platform is ultimately judged on hardware alone, there has to be something fun to do with it.  Nintendo had Mario and its happy stable of third parties supporting the GameBoy, Sega had a whole mess of Sonic and established Master System and Genesis titles to port over to the Game Gear.

Atari's Lynx was an impressive, well-engineered piece of hardware... BUT.


  1. It still makes me mad that the Lynx was not sucessfull whereas the Gameboy was.

    How can anyone say that the Lynx was not better then the gameboy. Sure the gameboy had more games, but that is just because the consumer overwhelmingly bought gameboys.

    The lynx was on of the last game systems made by Atari. It was not untill microsoft came up with the Xbox, that there was again a console made by an American company.

  2. It all came down to limited launch software and battery life, really -- the Lynx could do some amazing things, and its scaling hardware was way ahead of its time, but the Gameboy was easier and cheaper to find, buy, and keep running, which was indeed "better" in the eyes of most consumers. I'm glad the Lynx existed, though -- I feel the same way about the Jaguar, which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I knew it was fighting an uphill battle.