Designed by Epyx, then distributed by Atari, the Lynx was indisputably the most powerful handheld available in the 1980s.

Puzzle (aka Digital Crack)


Once upon a time, in the beginning of the portable system wars, Atari dared challenge Nintendo. The system was in color, it had a larger, backlit screen, and it could "flip" to accomodate southpaws. Its main flaws, however, were that it ate batteries like pretzels, and it was too heavy. What killed it was its lack of third-party software and general incompetence on the part of Atari, as well as a dearth of RPGs and fighting games. A loyal community still exists, and many good games were made; just not as many as could have been. One of those games was Klax.

The game involved holding the Lynx sideways (feel free to groan in 3... 2... 1...) as the tiles came down a ramp. You had to move a catcher to grab the tiles and drop them into a 5x5 chamber. To clear them out, you had to get a "Klax" by aligning three or more tiles of the same color horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Each wave got progressive harder as the goals got more difficult and the tiles faster. Some levels involve getting a certain number of Klaxes, a certain number of points, surviving a certain amount of tiles, etc. If you fill up the area, or drop a certain number of tiles, it's all over.

The graphics are great considering that Klax was pretty much a launch title for the star-crossed unit. The gameplay works better than you'd think, and there's actual spoken dialogue. It sort of serves as an early tech demo of the system, which could do stuff that hadn't been done at that point (the Genesis and SNES were only then coming out, I believe). It's easily one of the reasons to get a Lynx, along with such things as a portable Rygar and Ninja Gaiden III. Since I come from a family of unrepentant Tetriholics, I give this game an easy 10. Get into this game, and you may agree...

Super Fighter Team/Penguinet


Here's the good news... Zaku is the best shooter on the Atari Lynx.  Here's the bad news... it's not in esteemed company.  Nearly every one of the small handful of shoot 'em ups on the system missed the bullseye because they turned their backs on the target.  The games were designed by American programmers who didn't have a clue what made the genre work, and it shows in the dull, repetitive stage layouts of Gates of Zendocon and the ghastly visuals in Zarlor Mercenary.  The Lynx hardware didn't do these sorry shmups any favors, as its coarse resolution left the player precious little room to dodge incoming bullets.  The best Lynx owners could hope for was Telegames' conversion of Raiden, and that came years after the system was discontinued by Atari!

Fortunately for those gamers who still carry a torch for the once-cutting edge handheld, homebrew designer Osman Celimli has raised the bar for Lynx shooters considerably with Zaku.  The game takes most of its inspiration from the Turbografx-16 release Air Zonk, but heavily seasons the recipe with surreal, nerd-centric humor.  On your way to recovering five stolen floppy discs, you'll clash with forgotten video game mascots, white-collar fish with fin-mounted lasers, and a flying toaster that looks like it escaped from a Junior/Senior music video.  Even the title character reflects the game's merger of East and West; a scrawny mix of Sonic the Hedgehog and the tightly-wound chihuahua from Ren and Stimpy.

Much like Air Zonk (and much unlike other shooters on the Lynx), Zaku makes the most of its console with bright, rich colors, as much detail as that tiny screen can hold, and impressive special effects.  Parallax scrolling lends depth to the playfields, fiery explosions consume fallen foes, and the system's hardware scaling gets a constant workout, with Zaku unleashing massive charge shots and rocketing off into the horizon after some boss battles.  The game plants a flag on the peak of Lynx graphics, bested only by Atari's fantastic arcade translations.  On the other hand, the sound makes more modest demands of the system's hardware, with primitive two channel music that's routinely drowned out by the high-pitched chirp of gunfire and explosions that will dazzle your eyes more than your ears.

That brings us to the gameplay, which is solid.  Unfortunately, the shooter is a genre that demands more than mere competence, and there are several issues which betray Zaku's Western roots and shoestring budget.  The level designs tend to be repetitive and the enemy patterns simplistic, a far cry from the technical mastery of even early Japanese shooters like Gradius.  The more inspired moments are reserved for the bosses, but they absorb damage like a sponge, making the battles frustratingly long and redundant.  Sure, they're usually pretty amusing, but those sight gags won't seem nearly as clever after you've pumped lead into them for a minute and a half.

The power-up system hurts the game's appeal as well.  Actually, that's the problem... there are no power-ups.  You can launch charge shots that cut cleanly through minor enemies and do slightly more damage than usual to the large ones, but Zaku's base weapon will never be more than a peashooter, and you can't team up with partners to double your firepower.  Some of Air Zonk's best moments came from merging with friends and transforming into zany hybrids!  Without that feature or a similarly brilliant one to take its place, Zaku feels unambitious, like the student who could have strived for high marks but settled for a B instead.

So that's exactly what Zaku will get.  It's unquestionably the best game of its kind on the shooter-starved Lynx library, but it's still a little disappointing that Osman didn't go for the gold and make Zaku one of the best Lynx games, period.  Then again, even silver is precious in a world of aluminum foil...


tech specs








cart, 2MB max


4 channel






16 of 4096


128 max



best games

Desert Strike

worst games

Dirty Larry
Gordo 106
Ms. Pac-Man
Zarlor Mercenary