The story of the Atari Lynx handheld console is another one for the “Squandered Chances by Atari” file. You find a lot of these in the later years of the company. 30 years on, let’s take a look at this ill-fated marvel.
Heading into the final stretch of the 80’s, product sales are failing to meet the projections of computer game company Epyx. The C64 is dropping off the scope as a gaming platform, and a hardware project is draining resources, called Handy. It is designed by Dave Needle and R.J. Mical, of the Amiga computer development team at Commodore. Handy is to be the world’s first colour hand-held game device but is proving to be an elongated drag on Epyx, with two years and a reported $8 million sunk into its development.
Another problem for Epyx is that its games are some of the most pirated computer titles around, with practically everyone with a C64 playing Summer Games and Impossible Mission but few actually paying for the privilege. The Handy project is eventually sold to Atari, via a deal that makes the video game and computer company a part owner of Epyx. Announcing the colour handheld system as the PCES or Portable Color Entertainment System at the Summer CES in 1989, Atari eventually renames the system as the Lynx. Meanwhile, Epyx reorganizes, dropping the distribution part of the company to focus on game development for consoles. They also lay off 85% of their workforce, along with the departure of Mical, Needle and company head David Morse.
Atari/Tengen arcade port of Rampart, one of the better games for the Lynx
The new name of Atari’s handheld device highlights the fact that up to eight of the devices can be linked together via a cable, for head-to-head play. It also sports a 3 1/2-inch colour LCD screen with a resolution of 160×102 pixels, capable of displaying 16 colours at a time out of a palette of 4,096. A powerful screen indeed, but also responsible for the reputation of the Lynx as a notorious battery-killer. Inside the case also resides a 16mHz 65C02 processor.
Lynx sees a limited rollout, first hitting the New York City area on September 1, 1989. In the early part of 1990, the system begins selling in five more markets: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. It is available nationally through 1990. While technically superior to the recently released Nintendo Gameboy portable game system, the $149.95 Lynx and its games lineup ultimately fail to compete against Nintendo’s juggernaut.
Another “What Might Have Been” for the books.
For more information on the history of vaunted computer game maker Epyx, consult your local Dot Eaters entry here.