Why the Atari Lynx FAILED so badly

The Atari Lynx was the first handheld to have a colour screen. But why did it fail?

by Daryl Baxter
Atari Lynx

At the end of the eighties, companies wanted to create a runaway-hit to games that were similar to Sony and the Walkman for music.

The Game Boy was the first of these efforts, releasing in the middle of 1989 and becoming such as success, that it lasted for nine years until the ‘Color’ variant released In 1998.

But even before SEGA came out with their Game Gear, Atari wanted in on the action, and while the design was innovative and was much more powerful than SEGA and Nintendo’s offerings, it was a failure.

Here’s why it was, and why there was even an Atari Lynx II that failed.

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A Lynx to the Past

Retailing for $179.99, it was almost the size of two-and-a-half Game Boy handhelds in landscape; dwarfing that reasoning of the Lynx being a ‘portable handheld console’.

But when you consider the specs; a 16-bit processor, a colour LCD screen capable of displaying over 4000 colours, for 1989 it was a future-proof product for its hardware, but not for the customers.

The Lynx was seen as an underdog compared to the Game Boy, especially when you factored in Nintendo’s handheld having Tetris bundled in with every Game Boy, alongside its superb battery life, cheaper price and design.

Over 75 titles were released for the Lynx, with notable games such as ‘Double Dragon’, ‘Ninja Gaiden’, ‘Pit-Fighter’, ‘Rampage’ and many more that were available, but it just wasn’t enough.

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A Lynx Between Worlds

Customers just weren’t biting; they wanted long battery life and a design that could keep them coming back for, especially with a long library of games, and the Lynx just wasn’t it.

A second-generation of the Lynx, the ‘Lynx II’ was released in July of 1991, just two years after the launch of the original, which featured a smaller, better design, better battery life and even the headphone jack now offering stereo-output.

But by then it was too late; they missed the mark on what made the Lynx good, and developers soon left it to create GameBoy and Game Gear games instead.

The main issue was that Atari just didn’t listen to what customers really wanted, and regardless of the Lynx having the ’Achilles Heel’ of a colour screen and a 16-bit processor, the games were mainly ports of what came out before, and many just couldn’t justify having a handheld that only offered that.

In 1995 the Lynx was discontinued, just when the Game Boy Pocket arrived, and Atari was focusing on their ‘Jaguar’ console, another failure that was also a product of its time.

But in any industry, competition is what drives innovation and better ideas, and unfortunately, the Lynx was a product of this.

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Daryl Baxter

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