I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom yesterday and discovered my first handheld gaming system, the Atari Lynx. I plugged it in and, to my surprise, was immediately playing California Games again.
I selected California Games's BMX challenge but had forgotten how to backflip. Oh, yeah, press B. This morning I tried some surfing and my muscle memory for it came back immediately. Bear in mind that the Lynx came out in 1989 and I probably hadn't plugged the thing in since the early 90s.
Trash-talking ad for the Atari Lynx. I remember seeing this in comics or magazines back in the day. Happily, the website Retroist is among those that scanned a copy.Photo: Retroist
I was born in the late 70s and had home consoles since the early 80s, but I didn't play much handheld gaming. I have vague memories of having a Game & Watch or something like that, and I recall having a digital watch that had a downhill skiing game.
Before I bought a Game Boy Advance in 2001, however, the only dedicated portable system I had was the Atari Lynx a decade prior. I played it in my bedroom, blasting through a sidescrolling shooter called Gates of Zendocon and trying my best to hit the bird in California Games' hacky sack mode. I only had three games and I played them a lot.
I'm not very nostalgic for the games I played as a kid and haven't bothered to hold on to many of them. I long ago discarded or traded in most of my older games and forgot I'd held on to the Lynx. Rediscovering it, I was amused by several of its features:
- When not plugged in, the Lynx requires six double-A batteries
- It has an on button and an off button.
- It has something called a Comlynx port that was for plugging one Lynx into another.
- It has a "flip" option for people who wanted to play the game with the d-pad on the right. You had to hold down the system's pause button and "option 2" in order to activate it. You'd rotate the system and then use its second set of A and B buttons for action commands:
I don't have much love for this old thing. It served its purpose then, the purpose of being a way to get my gaming fix when I couldn't get to my Commodore 64 elsewhere in the house. I'll find a good spot to store it, maybe give it away to a museum if they want it. I don't want to let this bit of gaming history go to waste.
Some time after I got my Lynx, Atari released a slightly smaller version of the unit. It was a laughably big portable. They needed something smaller. After all, who'd ever lug around a portable gaming machine as big as that?
Switch rests on Lynx