Atari Lynx Part 1 – Checkered Flag

Who remembers the Atari Lynx? Ok, I see a few hands in the air. Now, who owned an Atari Lynx? Hmmm, why is my hand the only one in the air?

For those who don’t recall the short-lived Lynx, it was released in 1989 as the world’s first handheld gaming system to include a full colour LCD screen. It blew away the Nintendo Gameboy in terms of visuals, making it look a decade out of date. A cool trick to the Lynx was it had redundant ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons on one side and the ability to flip the screen. This allowed left handed players to use the D-pad with their right hand if they felt more comfortable that way.

But despite being a superior system, the Gameboy still crushed it in sales. And in 1991 the similar Sega Game Gear arrived, putting the final nail in the Lynx’s coffin. By 1993, support for the Lynx was abandoned by Atari and it would disappear completely by 1995. But for a short period of time, the Lynx was cool.

My Lynx

As my birthday approached in the summer of 1991, I desperately wanted a handheld gaming system. Being a ‘Sega guy’, the new Game Gear was my weapon of choice. Deemed too elaborate of a birthday gift by my parents, I had aceepted the fact I was not getting one.

Unbeknownst to me, my mom begrudgingly headed to Compucentre to do a bit more research. While there, a well-meaning employee had convinced her the just released Atari Lynx II was a better system. Not only was it cheaper to buy, it had a longer battery life and arguably better ergonomics. I can’t blame that employee honestly, as they were right. It just received zero support.

So, there I was, unwrapping my gifts. I grabbed a package that looked about the shape of a Game Gear and felt about the right weight. Could it be? Was I actually going to get one? I opened the box and saw the Atari Lynx instead. I wouldn’t say my immediate reaction was disappointment, it was more confusion. What the heck is this?

Checkered Flag

I unboxed the game and quickly released it was like a Game Gear but made by Atari. I didn’t realize Atari was still making systems at the time, but obviously knew the name. I was happy either way as I now had my own, colour, handheld gaming system. Plus, it included a game – Checkered Flag.

Checkered Flag was a typical behind-the-car, scrolling scenery racing game of the time. It was a mix of Out Run and Grand Prix Circuit in terms of looks and gameplay, but with superior graphics. In fact, the graphics on the Lynx rivaled any console system at the time.

I remember it being a hard game to master. The AI drivers were fast and messing up in a corner could ruin an entire race. The game was basic on the surface but had some advanced features like the mini map above showing where every opponent was on track and the dual rearview mirrors that seamlessly showed what was behind the player’s car. It was possible to play an entire championship season as well.

The best feature had to be the ability to play with up to six players. My friend up the street also happened to have a Lynx and this game. By tethering our Atari’s together with a specific cable, we could race each other using our own Lynx systems. This was mind blowing at the time. There was no internet yet or online gaming. I didn’t know about LAN gaming, so the idea of playing a multiplayer gaming console using our own screens was amazing.  

Later in the week I will get into part two of my Atari Lynx experience, including the games A.P.B. and RoadBlasters.

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