While many retro handhelds on the market seem to be simple, straightforward cash-ins, Evercade is determined to use its platform to showcase games and catalogs that don’t often have an opportunity to be seen. It’s devoted cartridges to the new-retro Mega Cat Studios and the rights-salvaging Piko Interactive. It put together an Oliver Twins compilation and is working with a group of indie creators on their own cart next year. With the two newest Evercade releases, the oft-forgotten Atari Lynx handheld is getting its long-awaited spotlight.
The Atari Lynx is an aging, huge system. It simply doesn’t have the long-term reliability of something like Nintendo’s Game Boy. Even if you have one, another way to play the system’s games is nice! But even most retro game enthusiasts don’t have a Lynx. It’s revered but not often familiar. It’s quirky but not often played. Finding one is hard enough, and there’s no easy way to legitimately play a Lynx game like it is with the many digital re-releases and Virtual Consoles of its more popular peers.
The Evercade Atari Lynx offerings are split into two collections. Perhaps strangely, Collection 2 is the eight-pack of the most iconic games on the system. Games like Blue Lightning and Electrocop, developed by original system creators Epyx, defined the launch of the handheld. They’re usually the first most players bring up as holding the most nostalgia. Blue Lightning in particular is regularly cited as the Lynx’s visual showpiece. It’s a technical feat for the era, with its large, detailed planes and colorful scaled world.
Collection 1, on the other hand, packs a full 17 games from both Atari proper and Songbird Productions. Songbird has, frankly, almost singlehandedly kept the Lynx alive for the past two decades. It’s done this by both enhancing old games like Crystal Mines II with a bunch of new levels, and publishing original titles like Loopz.
This pack includes a nice mix! It’s nice to see early classics like puzzler Ishido: The Way of Stones and PC-style adventure Dracula: The Undead. Still, it’s the Songbird exclusives that are the real draw. Like Evercade’s Mega Cat Studios release, this is a cheaper way to get a whole batch of these games than to get just one of them for the original hardware. Some of Songbird’s offerings are experimental homebrew, like Megapak Vol. 1, but you’ll still find a few that take full advantage of the Lynx’s capabilities with a more modern game design sensibility.
As a summary of the library, the Evercade Atari Lynx Collections do a decent job! A few notable licensed games like Batman Returns are missing from the mix, but if these 25 games are all you ever play from the system, you’ll have hit most of the key releases. The library in general isn’t the most revolutionary, and there’s a console-wide slower pace to even its action releases. It’s a vibe that resonates more with those who grew up with the computer games of the era more than Japan-developed console releases. Given that, it’s no surprise that these collections appear on a console based in Europe, where those sorts of games were the most dominant.
The Atari Lynx was a peculiar bit of hardware. Its technical capabilities far outstripped its eventual competitors, the Game Boy and Game Gear. Still, its low-resolution screen gives its games a distinct feel. These don’t look like Game Boy games, in the way the Neo Geo Pocket or WonderSwan library often did. (The Game Gear’s closer, but still no.) They also don’t look like home console games! In a way, it feels like modern projects like Pico-8 are chasing the sort of low-res look that the Lynx managed 30 years ago.
This makes the Evercade Atari Lynx Collection carts less than ideal to show off the fidelity of the screen but actually well-suited for the aspect ratio. While games for systems like the Game Boy Advance are on the horizon for the Evercade, these Lynx packages are the first to take advantage of the display size. Together with the D-pad feel, the Evercade Lynx experience comes impressively close to replicating the distinctive, before-its-time original.
There’s also a cool, unexpected bonus! All games come packing the screen-flipping option of the original hardware. Since the Lynx was designed before controllers were standardized, many lefty players still held joysticks to steer with their dominant hand. The Lynx was designed with face buttons on both the top and bottom and the D-pad in the center. It’s a symmetrical design you could hold upside-down, packed with a screen flip button. Despite not being totally designed for it, the Evercade hardware performs surprisingly well upside-down! You do have to hold it a bit further up in your hands than normal for your thumbs to align with the buttons, but there’s still enough system to hold. Even if you’re a righty, you can have fun trying this out! And maybe break your brain a little.
Since our launch coverage, the team has worked on multiple Evercade firmware updates. These have addressed bugs and added new features like button mapping. Systems like this can sometimes get sent out the door and forgotten. It’s nice to see that the Evercade crew’s promise of an active, supported system has been kept. (At least so far!) We’re excited to see how far this can go as the company’s efforts continue.
The two Evercade Lynx releases, Atari Lynx Collection 1 and Atari Lynx Collection 2, are available now for $19.99 each. They join cartridges like Technos Collection 1 and two Namco Museum compilations in the Evercade lineup. More games, like Indie Heroes Collection 1 and a Worms bundle, are slated for 2021.