Decades After I Last Turned It On, My Atari Lynx Still Works

Decades After I Last Turned It On, My Atari Lynx Still Works

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


  • The lynx was one of my childhood fantasies, but they were expensive and hard to find. I eventually got a gamegear but the lynx feels like the one that got away.

    • GameGear represent! I still have that great adapter that let you play MSII games on it and the adapter for the car cigarette lighter.

      Damn, maybe I should pull it out and see if I can dust it off for the kids for a few long car trips …

  • I had a Lynx, and I had quite a few games for it too. I kinda wish I’d held onto it but I gave it to my cousin when I was a teenager and never really saw it again.

  • Fun fact: Comlynx supported a network of up to 16 Lynxes at once. No games supported this, sadly, but it was cool.

    Also! If anyone is serious about getting back into the Lynx, you can upgrade the screen with a modern LCD fairly easily for a vastly improved image. There’s even websites that sell this specific upgrade as a kit.

      • I’ve upgraded both my Lynxes and the LCD looks frigging amazing. Makes it a totally new machine.

        Anyone wants the upgrade done, drop me a line, I ordered a spare screen in case one was faulty, but they were all fine so I no longer need it.

  • That’s an original Lynx too, not the second version. They’re worth a few dollars on eBay. Summer Games was pretty good. The surfing! But Chips Challenge was pretty good too.

    • I had the original, but it died at some point so I got the second gen one. I always remember liking the original shape better though.

      I’ve still got the second one actually. 🙂

  • I wanted a Gameboy for Christmas, and did one of those sneaky things kids do where you rip a tiny bit of a package to see what’s inside, and lo and behold I saw a D-Pad.

    I was over the moon and so excited about getting my new Gameboy, and when Christmas arrived I tore into that package like my life depended on it, and pulled out… an Atari Lynx. I’m pretty sure I cried, I was so disappointed.

    Still, I grew to absolutely love it. Shadow of the Beast, Toki and Stun Runner were my go-to games. I managed to convince a friend to get one as well so I didn’t feel so alone! He got a few things like Basketbrawl and Bill and Ted, the latter of which was quite good. I remember people being envious of the backlit, colour screen and wondering what this fancy piece of technology was, and I started to feel pretty awesome about having this thing that nobody else had.

    My brother shattered the screen unfortunately by accidentally dropping a weight on it, but an age later when I finally became an adult and found one at a toy fair for a few bucks I snapped it up without a second thought. It wasn’t the system I wanted but it ended up holding a pretty special place in my heart in the end and probably helped to shape my love of games in general.

  • Playing 4 player gauntlet via the system-link cable was fantastic on the Lynx.
    And the air combat game as well, was it Warbirds? That was so much fun via link-up.
    Lemmings is also great, even Hard Drivin and Stun Runner looked amazing, Paperboy, California Games, Xenomorph were also great, and Batman had to be the hardest frigging game of all time.

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