Friday, September 22, 2006

The Atari Lynx

You know, one of these days, someone is going to have to dust off the old Handy emulator and make a better Atari Lynx emulator. It's 2006, people; we need a better mousetrap.

The Atari Lynx was one of those obscure game consoles that was fiercely defended by its loyal fans. Folks like me, I suppose. But I think we're entitled to our insistent loyalty; living through the days of Lynx was like being caught in a bad marriage. Hopeful optimism and bliss at the beginning; quarreling and bitterness and broken dreams by the end.

It's a lot easier for you now, in the 21st Century, when you can just fire up Handy or dust off your old Lynx and go through the entire system library at your leisure. It was something else entirely when you were waiting, for months at a stretch, for anything, anything new to come out.

I bought a Lynx in 1989 when it was brand-new, thanks to the heavenly praise of Electronic Gaming Monthly's four-page spread in their third issue. Just when Nintendo was about to release its Game Boy handheld; EGM dropped the bomb with the Epyx-designed portable, with its imposing design, its amazing visual effects, and, most of all, COLOR. The games were in color. Almost immediately, EGM declared the Lynx the Coolest Thing Ever. And, hey, look at that, it really was. I may have been the only soul in northern Minnesota who was in on this little secret, but I didn't care. Let the poor suckers twiddle their thumbs with Gameboy. I've got Blue Lightning and Electrocop and Gauntlet.

It was the best damn game machine on the block, bar none, and it was hell watching Atari systematically burn all their bridges, and ruin any hopes for some form of a comeback. Wiser souls would have taken the hint and moved on to a better hobby. Like sniffing paint fumes or shooting ducks. Hey, it's like I said: Northern Minnesota.

Basically, the Lynx library can be divided nicely into the following categories: the early Epyx games, the arcade translations, the olde-tyme classic arcade games, and that special fourth category, lovingly enshrined Complete Total Shit. Those four categories also perfectly describe the Lynx's short lifespan; great hopeful promise at the start, and then steadily disappointing you in greater numbers every season.

It's one thing to protest against the multitude of bad Gameboy titles when you had Slime World in your hands; but Slime World was the absolute peak, and there was nowhere left to go but down. When the hits finally burned out, you were left burned, too. Looking back, it's easy to see how the Tramiel family succeeded in pissing off every experienced designer and artist who ever crossed their path, leaving us stuck with the worst collection of shit to ever grace the videogame world. Dreck like Switchblade 2, Viking Child, Basketbrawl, Baseball Heroes, Batman Begins, Hard Drivin', Super Off-Road, Fat Bobby, Gordo 106, Kung Food, Bubble Trouble, Power Factor, Pit Fighter, Scrapyard Dog, World Class Soccer, NFL Football, Hockey, Jimmy Connor's Tennis.

I could never understand why, and how, the Tramiels could derail such a perfect opportunity. It seems every decision they ever made since they bought Atari in 1984 was the wrong one. They had a spectacular gift for divining the future, and taking the wrong path. Lynx was their one great hope of regaining that long, lost glory; those mythical days when millions of kids would waste endless hours on an Atari Video Computer System. But Stella was gone; she got off that train a million miles ago.

Holding a Lynx in my hands for the first time, being wowed by the color screen and California Games, I never thought it would have ended like this. It's a bit of a metaphor for life, and the unforeseen twists and turns you should have seen coming, but didn't. Many lives are wrecked by poor choices, poor lifestyles. We're all aware of it, and we're egotistical enough to project those feelings onto everything we touch. Perhaps that's why we speak of old, treasured games consoles in such terms. The tools are all reflections of their makers. It's a little bit like playing God.

Thank goodness for the immortality of the internet. You and I can transcend space and time, and with a click of a mouse button, fire up the Handy emulator and bring Lynx back to life, back in its prime. In a sense, we're reviving our own lost adolescence, too. There is no past. There is no future. There is only Road Blasters, and Ninja Gaiden, and Gauntlet, and Electrocop, and California Games and Blue Lightning and Slime World. Am I getting through to you, Mister Beale?

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