Arcade Games in Your Hands – Part I – Atari Lynx
Ever since Space Invaders first came out for the Atari 2600, popular arcade games have found their way to virtually every game console on the market. As such it creates an interesting look at the transition from arcade to console. It is without question that the arcade versions of the games themselves are superior – whether graphically or audibly or even with the way it controls. Naturally modern systems are able to recreate classic games without any trouble but we still enjoy the games on the original hardware anyways.
As it is special week marking the anniversary of Atari as well as arcades, I want to take a look at arcade classics brought to the handheld scene, specifically we’ll start with the Atari Lynx, undoubtedly the most powerful handheld of the 80’s and 90’s. Atari sought to bring the arcade experience to the palm of your hand and with the Lynx’ great hardware, it did it almost without a flaw. The Lynx was the first color 16-bit handheld which offered great graphics, sound, ambidextrous control and good networking options (generally referred to as ComLynx or ComLynxing). Let’s take a look at some of the arcade titles ported over to it.
Keep in mind I’m not looking to review the games overall, just look at how well they were ported over. Arcade screenshots courtesy of KLOV; Atari Lynx screenshots courtesy of AtariAge. PLEASE NOTE: Screenshots from these sources are generally taken from emulators as capturing good screenshots otherwise is somewhat difficult. As such the actual games up close and in motion look much better than the screenshots shown and they are only used as a general representaion (Lynx games generally appear less pixellated in real life than they do in the following shots). Arcade shots are on the right and Lynx shots on the left. Also stay tuned in the future for a look at arcade titles on other handheld systems including the Game Boy and Game Gear. Just hit the link below to begin!
(Click on the thumbnails for a larger view)
A.P.B – Atari Game’s police ride game made a good transition to the Lynx although the graphics were fairly weak when you consider of what the Lynx can do when pushed. Still it’s fairly faithful to the arcade, mimicking the gameplay as exactly as was possible and thus equals a lot of fun. The transition from steering wheel to D-pad also worked out well and the learning curve is short as it should be.
Super Asteroids/Missle Command – This came as a two-in-one combo game for the Lynx and featured updated graphics for each classic Atari title yet preserved the basic gameplay for both games although Asteroids is a bit strange with it’s automatic shields and rocks that don’t break apart into smaller pieces. This makes it too easy although Super Missile Command is great with it’s updates in graphics as well as the addition of power-ups. Most consider the cart worth it for Super Missile Command alone.
Battlezone (2000)- It was interesting what Atari did on this – made it look as close to the arcade as possible despite the fact that the Lynx’s LCD screen could not mimick the exact effects found on a vector monitor. What they were able to do works out well and to enhance the game beyond the original included are two extra modes: Plus mode and the amazing 2000 mode. Strangely they changed how the shots look and despite the lack of dual joysticks it controls well. This was called BattleZone 2000 and also supported something the arcade didn’t have – networking up to 8 players for some deathmatch fun. The hidden 2000 mode actually used filled 3D polygons and was a huge game, although it was a bit different from the original arcade classic.
Block Out – Block Out was a rather unusual game – it was Tetris but as seen from the top down. This obviously made it a bit harder to play than normal Tetris but was a fun twist on the original concept. Strangely the Lynx never did get Tetris but instead got Block Out, which came out in arcades back in 1989. The Lynx version contains everything you would expect from the arcade version, including the difficulty curve in playing and cool graphics (minus a couple of details you got in the high-res arcade as well as the shading) .
Double Dragon – The Lynx’s rendition of Double Dragon is a pretty faithful home translation that lacks in a few areas. Thanks to the ComLynx you could play with two players but while the graphics were like the arcade in most areas it lacked a few animations and Abobo being replaced with Bobo. The fact that the graphics were a little big for the small screen didn’t help much either. The sound was lacking compared to the arcade and the control a tad stiff but despite these flaws this was the best handheld version of the game made.
Gauntlet: The Third Encounter – yes there was no Gauntlet III in arcades but this title plays a lot like the arcades and it was an official sequel to them on top of that – one big change from the arcades are the many different characters to choose from including an android, the Valkyrie, a Gunfighter, a nerd, a Pirate, a Punk Rocker, a Samurai and a Wizard! Quite the interesting combination. You held the Lynx at 180 degrees, just like KLAX and in addtion to a little window that shows you what you see in front of you, you also have an objective to complete in the game. Connect up to 4 players for perfect Gauntlet action.
Hard Drivin’ – Hard Drivin’ is known as one of the first 3D games (it wasn’t the first, that honor belongs to Atari’s I, Robot) and it required a lot of complicated hardware to get it to work right. Amazingly, the Lynx can pull this off 3D filled polygons and all, albeit at a lower resolution and lower frame rate. The graphics are where it ends for the Lynx version of the hit arcade title. This is generally considered one of the worst Lynx games due to it’s poor implementation in controls and AI and the Hard part of the title almost becomes impossible. It’s fine for demo material of showing that the Lynx can do 3D but not much else.
Hydra – Hydra was an interesting arcade game – kind of like Roadblasters on water. The Lynx handles it pretty well thanks to it’s scaling abilities although it does get a bit blocky compared to the arcade. Either way it’s a great way to experience the arcade game as it is arcade perfect otherwise. As such it is a challenging game but that doesn’t mean impossible.
Joust – Joust was brought to every Atari platform (minus the Jaguar although a 3D Joust was in the works for that console) and the nice thing about the Lynx version was that you could finally take the game with you wherever you went. The game plays the same as in the arcade and while the graphics won’t contain the same polish as the original due to the smaller screen size and lower resolution it’s a worthy enough effort that maintains the essence of the original. It also would allow for two players to connect their Lynxes together for some multiplayer fun.
KLAX – This is one of the few titles that makes you hold the Lynx vertically instead of horizontally. While that feels a little weird at first, it turns out to be perfect for the style of gameplay that KLAX offers and it is a truly enjoyable game. As the Lynx never got an official version of Tetris, this was the perfect shoe-in and some say it’s the best game on the console. It perfectly recreates the arcades graphics as far as could be done on a small screen and it also contains crystal clear voice straight from the arcade.
Ms. Pac-Man – Ms. Pac-Man is always great fun no matter what system it is on and the Lynx version doesn’t disappoint. It won’t win awards for graphics nor sound but it contains the same tried and true gameplay that made Ms. Pac-Man famous. It also lets you choose from regular or special widescreen mazes which is a nice touch.
Ninja Gaiden – This was so faithful that it even had the super violent buzzsaw death counter that ruffled some feathers back in the day and that was cut out of other versions. Like the arcade title in every way with the only difference being a lower screen resolution and it’s 1 player only.
Pac-Land – This was certainly a strange chapter in the Pac-Man series, transforming it into a scrolling platform game based on the short-lived cartoon show. The Lynx version of Pac-Land was pretty faithful to the arcade in every way although this didn’t improve the game itself which was an OK game but too far off from what most Pac-Man fans expected.
Paperboy – one of the most faithful arcade adaptations on the Lynx. All of the gameplay is intact, the graphics are perfect and the sound really good. The only thing the Lynx version lacked was the handle bars.
PitFighter – You either like PitFighter or you don’t. The Lynx version lacked the color of the original but still managed to make it look decent with digitized characters and great scaling but it carried the same gameplay flaws the arcade had. Most handheld fighters are pretty lame as it is and PitFighter on the Lynx didn’t change anything about that but it did allow you to play with two fighters at once using the comlynx.
Qix – This 1982 classic was faithfully recreated for the Lynx and plays well, only suffering from a lower screen resolution but it remains perfectly playable.
Raiden – Released by Telegames in 1997, Raiden does lack a few features found in the arcade and lacks the higher resolution graphics but keeps the essential vertical shmup gameplay intact. It also has you use the Lynx at 180 degree angle to get the more effective vertical screen that fits this game well.
Rampage – the monster driven, building bashing mayhem from the arcade translated extremely well to the Lynx with arcade-perfect gameplay, awesome graphics and 4 player networking. This means they added a new character to the mix, Larry the Lab Rat. Fortunately they did not try to fit the entire city onto the small screen and instead you see the action close up compared to the arcade and the screen will scroll along with your character.
Rampart – Despite the lack of a trackball as well as three player support (it does support two) Rampart on the Lynx is one of the coolest titles in the library. The game plays just like the arcade and the transition to a d-pad doesn’t ruin the experience as the cursor is calibrated just right to what the game needs. Granted it is slower than a trackball but you can still have a lot of fun with this game. Add to that amazing graphics with fluid animation and great color as well as clear voice samples this game couldn’t have been done better on a handheld of the time.
Roadblasters – Some see RoadBlasters as a real sequel to Spy Hunter (more so than Spy Hunter II) and it’s obvious why as the two games are similar in several ways. The Lynx version is quite impressive as it plays well with fluid animation and control and dazzling graphics. The sound wasn’t anything to get excited about, it did have voice samples but they are not always 100% clear like with KLAX.
Robotron 2084 -How well can Robotron translate to a handheld that doesn’t offer a dual joystick option? Not too bad actually. While it may not be as easy to aim shots as in the arcade, it actually is quite doable and thus the game is not a loss. The difficulty is a tad higher due to this but otherwise everything else from the arcade including graphics, sound and the way it plays is all there.
Rygar – This side-scrolling adventure game really took off on the Lynx and was used many times in Lynx advertisements. It was near arcade perfect lacking in only a few gameplay features such as not being able to throw your shield in a protective arc and only being able to throw it upwards once you get the Star artifact as well as only featuring 23 levels instead of 27 but for the most part fans of the arcade game will feel right at home with similar graphics and sounds from the coin-op.
S.T.U.N. Runner – If you had seen the arcade game back in 1989 the last thing you would have thought is that this may end up on one of the game consoles from the time, much less a handheld. Amazingly the Lynx pulled this game off and pulled it off well. It does lack the physics of using turns to gain extra speed but it otherwise is a testament to the power of the Lynx – amazing graphics that blaze along at hyperspeeds, great sound including clear voice and the same essential gameplay found in the arcade.
Steel Talons – Once again the Lynx took what would be unthinkable and did it with Steel Talons. The arcade version was another step in the direction of taking games into the 3D realm, as it did with games like Hard Drivin’ and the Lynx does the same. The framerate isn’t as fluid as the coin-op version but the game is playable and fun. It does include voice samples although they are not very clear most of the time. There are a few things missing in the Lynx version, including two player co-op and a few minor features in the levels.
Toki – You may not remember Toki – it was one title that came out during the days when you could make a 2D side-scrolling game and people loved it but there were so many of these kinds of games that it was easy for the game to become lost in the flurry of titles. There is only one difference I can tell from the Lynx version and the arcade – the arcade is able to have higher resolution graphics thanks to the screen it can use. Otherwise everything is intact and this makes Toki not only an amazing looking game on the Lynx, from the detail in the levels and object to the color but it plays like a charm. It does tend to become difficult towards the middle but it’s nothing a little practice can’t take care of.
Tournament Cyberball 2072 – This game made waves in the arcades thanks to it’s unique take on football by using robots as well as it’s exceptionally cool cabinet that featured two screens, one for each opposing team of two players. While the Lynx version lets you link up to four units, it doesn’t carry the same charm as the coin-op and this may have to do with the small graphics on a handheld screen – it simply isn’t the kind of game that translated well into portability. It controls OK and attempts to mimick the look and sound of the coin-op but it doesn’t hold up well.
Xenophobe – Obviously since the Lynx has a small screen it wouldn’t have made sense to split the screen up into three parts so you get the view all to yourself unlike other versions of the game. This makes it nice actually and you can actually comlynx up to 4 people. The game plays similar to the arcade although there are a few differences such as a character selection screen with several different characters to play that were not in the arcade and some changes to cut-scenes as well as a few of the rooms you visit.
XYBOTS – Before games like Wolfenstien 3D and Doom, there was Xybots in the arcade. The 3rd person tunnel crawling shooter was pretty revolutionary for the time and while it didn’t support the same full-motion turning effects as the aforementioned games it still was impressive and paved the way for them. The Lynx version is pretty accurate and is a lot of fun to play. It only lacks the turning animation the arcade had, otherwise everything is there and you get the whole screen to yourself unlike the arcade. It also is Comlynxable for two players making it an excellent game for you and a friend to have!
Prototypes – Arcade game ports that were in the works for the Lynx but never made it out:
720, Berzerk, Cabal, Centipede, Defender, Escape From the Planet of the Robot Monsters, Mat Mania, Moon Patrol, Relief Pitcher, Road Riot 4WD, Rolling Thunder, Super Sprint, Vindicators