The Atari Lynx may not have been the best selling handheld console during its time but it is arguably the best-looking one in history. This has nothing to do with the fact that the Lynx was the first full-color portable console, but has everything to do with its sleek retro-futuristic design that proves to be timeless (in this writer's humble opinion). The Lynx is also the home of games that, somewhat surprisingly, stood the test of time. We put this down to the Lynx's hardware being incredible upon its release and for a few years later.
A fair reminder, the Atari Lynx games are much better to play with friends (today or during its time). Hence the handheld's name being a homophone of "links" due to its multiplayer support. And since it's been a long time since the peak of the platform, we are judging the games based on their single-player merits. It is hard to find someone who still has the same affiliation with a bygone era like you, in order to gauge the value of the Lynx classics taking into account their multiplayer components. Below are the best Atari Lynx games by genre.
Action - Ninja Gaiden
Ninja Gaiden was dubbed the first major game Atari licensed for the Lynx. It was the game that would push the technical specs of the handheld. It was also the game that was incandescently polished for a handheld. This side-scrolling ninja action game retains all its arcade design and it showed. The Ninja Gaiden games are known to be unforgiving in terms of difficulty, and this handheld incarnation has that characteristic in spades. Although admittedly, the Atari Lynx version of Ninja Gaiden is the "easiest", it is still a difficult game to complete.
Ninja Gaiden's difficulty did not spring from pesky controls or unfair level design. It has tight controls and well-executed core gameplay, which is not a surprise since this a port of the arcade game. The sound effects, specifically the bashing sound, adds atmosphere to the game. The animation and the graphics are superb even though they are admittedly scaled down to function in the power-limited platform.
Ninja Gaiden is one of the most beloved franchises for hardcore gamers. The series is incredibly entertaining for those who want their game to be challenging and rewarding. Tecmo has fumbled this franchise so many times already by limiting the game to console hardware when it was clear that the game will be in better condition if it is made available to as many platforms as possible. Hopefully, the Ninja Gaiden comes back or at least gets re-released. Ninja Gaiden game needs the hardware to have smooth gameplay, which the Atari Lynx had achieved by toning down the graphics and sound. This was an acceptable compromise since you have one of the best games of that generation in a portable format.
This is why it is strange for people to unfairly compare the Atari Lynx port with the NES port. The NES is not a portable console and can have all the power it has to boost this game's presentation. The NES and the Atari Lynx ports are also different games. One of its obvious difference is the final stage. The NES version has this amped-up difficult section of blocks that crumble before the final boss encounter. In the Lynx version, the blocks don't crumble when players stand on them, making it easier to evade the swooping flyers. These crumbling blocks are also found in one of the previous levels, which does not appear in the Lynx version.
Sports - Awesome Golf
Awesome Golf is one of the early games released on the Atari Lynx, but it was one of the most enduring. It had some of the best graphics, sound design, and an incredible presentation. While golf is an acquired taste, at least to those who are into video games, Awesome Golf is actually a great recruitment tool for gamers to turn into golf players. It would be very hard to have a Venn diagram where gamers and golfers to be in the same area, especially in 1991. Awesome Golf is both an incredible video game and golf digital representation.
There are three courses, with hazards, for your 9-hole or 18-hole game. You can also employ 14 clubs and can be broken down into the following: 1 putter, two wedges, three wooden clubs, and eight iron clubs. The game also does not take itself too seriously, realistic graphics notwithstanding. The game is laced with light humor. The animation is high quality, the backgrounds are detailed, the game runs fine and smooth.
In short: it was indeed awesome.
Flight Simulation - Blue Lightning
One of the things that made Atari Lynx great is how it catered to a wide range of people of different interests. A full-blown flight simulator arrived in the handheld early into its life in the form of Blue Lightning. Blue Lightning was mind-blowing given it was a launch title -- graphics, sound, controls, and cutscenes. If the Lynx had the mass acceptance of the GameBoy, imagine what could have been made for the system in its entire lifetime?
Going back to Blue Lighting, it was a showcase of the raw graphical ability that the Atari Lynx's powerful hardware had. Just like Awesome Golf, you do not need to be a flight simulator fan, you just had to buy the game because it is that good. Many would have dismissed Blue Lightning as Sega's After Burner copycat, but the Lynx was a $179.99 portable console, and After Burner is a game on an arcade machine that is, aside from costing a fortune, not exactly portable.
The Atari Lynx was overtly capable of displaying a 3D scrolling pixel-playfield. Playing Blue Lightning on the Lynx was magical. There was nothing in the market that could approximate a flight simulator in a portable. Blue Lightning is admittedly arcadey, however, you can have a nice flight by navigating above rivers and desert terrain -- you can enjoy both the action and the scenery. Of course, nowadays, Blue Lightning is nothing compared to any subsequent flight simulator released after it. Yet at the time, Blue Lightning was 'that' game and it is a shame that it never did have a place in any mainstream Greatest Of All Time lists.
Adventure - Dracula: The Undead
Dracula: The Undead was the first point-and-click adventure for the handheld. Most, if not all, the adventure games popular at that time were goofy and light-hearted, Dracula: The Undead is, obviously, a horror adventure game. This was not a game for kids instead this is catered towards adults (a running theme as you can observe with this list of Atari Lynx's best games). Based on the literary classic, 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', Dracula: The Undead threw out the window all the Lynx's technical prowess. It was an adventure game, and it made a choice of employing sepia as its color motif. It perfectly fits the atmosphere of the game and it should not discredit the developers for taking that art direction.
The soundtrack is as eerie as its drab colors. The puzzles too are horrifying because they are difficult. This may not be Ninja Gaiden but this is a difficult game in its own right. The solutions to every puzzle are not obvious. Yet, these solutions are not illogical. It was fair. Also, the lack of a saving option made the game more difficult than it should be. Was this by design? Probably, as this extends the game time of playing the game. You are forced to re-do everything if you ever fail. And, since this is a vampire game, you are bound to die even at the introductory phase.
Beat 'em Up - Batman Returns
Batman Returns is another difficult game. This is a game based on the best Batman film second only to 'The Dark Knight', 'Batman Returns'. What made Batman Returns on Lynx such a difficult game was not that you are fighting against the control scheme or it is hard to look at the tiny screen. The difficulty is that the enemies seem to move in random and there is no pattern to look after. Include that with a very limited life system, then you are going to suffer.
Visual-wise, the game keeps the dark and gritty look of the movie but the soundtrack is too goofy which makes it a jarring experience. The animations are fluid both with ranged and melee attacks. Although, you really can't control your projectile's direction that much. Admittedly, the game feels bloated since there are only four levels. Yet, it is near impossible to finish the game in one sitting because there are no continues, no passwords for levels, and there is only one life bar. Batman Returns is that game that you have to learn. People find this game unfair, but there is no Batman game that is this good until the Arkham series from Rocksteady decades later.
Puzzle - Klax
Klax is the Lynx's answer to Tetris. While Tetris is the absolute G.O.A.T. in video games, Klax can hold its own place in the puzzler world. Klax lets players control a paddle to move side-to-side at the bottom of a conveyer belt, while square tiles tumble into it. The goal is to catch each tile and drop them to Klaxes. It starts with lining up three or more tiles of the same color so that they form a horizontal, diagonal, or vertical line. Later on, there will be more tasks. It is a disservice to reduce the gameplay into mere words since Klax is an absolute riot to play. The graphics are nice with their charming animation and colorful blocks. The music is also spectacular. This Klax port was faithful to the arcade game at its core.
Shooter - Xenophobe
Xenophobe took advantage of that time's obsession with the 'Alien' films as it does not pretend to be anything but a knock-off of the franchise. Being a port of the arcade game, the gameplay remains remarkably intact considering the portable nature of the Lynx. There are nine characters to choose from in the single-player mode. Only four can be played in a single session before they all die, you can even see your comrades' carcass if you travel to where they died.
Xenophobe is that rare game that did not take advantage of the superior specs of the Lynx. The graphics and sound are mediocre. Yet, it is a thoroughly wonderful game. The Lynx port has expanded from the Arcade version. This is also a rare characteristic since arcade games tend to simmer down when it gets ported to a handheld version of the game or home console. The Lynx version of Xenophobe had its stations bigger for players to explore. There are new artifacts such as vitamins and jetpacks. The enemies, however, retain their characteristics.
Xenophobe is incredibly addictive with lots of levels to play, albeit some of these levels were haphazardly designed. We have mentioned in our introduction that we value the single-player aspect of this list of games all of the time. Xenophobe is the exception since you can play the bad guy (or alien) and you can only do that in multiplayer. This gameplay reversal is rare at its time, and surprisingly, even today.
Maze - Ms. Pac-man
It is weird calling Ms. Pac-man a "maze" game since it is an "arcade" game in the modern sense. However, since we are traveling back in time, we must use the word that described Ms. Pacman during its heydays to avoid confusion. The Lynx version of Ms. Pacman includes two sets of mazes. There is the original arcade mazes and the Lynx-only wider mazes. The only difference between the two sets of maze is that the wider mazes have this lightning bolt powerup that occasionally appears allowing the player to blitz all over the place for 15 seconds.
Ms. Pacman was harshly criticized for not departing far from the original's formula, that it was too simple, too repetitive. Well, that was maybe the reviewers were not just skilled to find success playing this game. The Pac-man gameplay, as we have seen today, endured the test of time unlike certain games and even genres. Like the wheel, Ms. Pacman should not be reinvented.
Platformer - Toki
This is going to be controversial. The late 80s to early 90s were all about platform games so it is really hard to pick one title on the Lynx to represent the platformers. Some would say, 'Rygar'. Many would point out 'Shadows of the Beast' as it had a PlayStation 4 remake just a few years ago, so it must be so good to warrant a remake. For this list, we present you, Toki, a shooter slash platformer slash side-scroller that is not particularly original but also incredibly unique.
Toki's premise is bizarre--you were turned into an ape by a wizard who kidnapped your girlfriend. Toki on the Lynx was a port, but it was the most faithful port ever made in video games. This is rather impressive given that the Lynx is portable. The colors are amazing, the graphics are vibrant just like its arcade form. With its faithfulness to its original form, the game on the Lynx is also brutally hard. But at this point in time, that should not bother you anymore. What should bother you is that this game had weird parts that contribute to an awesome whole. This might not be the cup of tea of the majority of people, but so did the Atari Lynx itself.
SHMUP - Robotron 2084
Robotron 2084 made the wrong prediction. The setting of this game is apocalypse 2084, but it was really 2020. Kidding aside, Robotron is simplistic in terms of graphics and presentation. Music and sound design are average. Many would have preferred more from it considering that the Lynx is much more capable than what this game demanded. Nevertheless, it plays great. It is the conversion of a shooter that was old at the time it got ported to the Lynx. It only proves that it was still the better game as Robotron 2084 still comes up in games discussion even prior to its stint in the Atari Lynx.
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