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Sony's PlayStation Portable and Atari's Lynx

The PSP and the History of Handheld Video Gaming, Part 5


Atari Lynx and PSP, front view

Atari Lynx and PSP, front view

As part of the latest generation of handheld gaming devices, the PSP might seem to be miles ahead of its predecessors, yet it has a lot in common with earlier handhelds. If you missed the earlier parts of this series, you might want to go back and read them now. Part One provides an outline of the series and an overview of PSP evolution. Part Two looks at Milton Bradley's Microvision, the first handheld with interchangeable cartridges. Part Three covers the underrated and rare Game Pocket Computer by Epoch of Japan, Part Four looks at Nintendo's iconic Game Boy, Part Six covers NEC's TurboExpress, Part Seven is about Sega's Game Gear, Part 8 covers Watara's Supervision and the Mega Duck/Cougar Boy, while Part 9 is all about Sega's Nomad.


The handheld that came to be called the Lynx started out as the Handy Game. It was developed by Epyx starting in 1986, but the company was facing financial difficulties by the time the device was shown at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 1989. Epyx partnered with Atari and the device was reworked slightly and released as the Atari Lynx. Despite being more advanced than its competition, Nintendo's Game Boy, the Lynx didn't sell especially well, due to its high price and lack of games.

Advanced Screen

Like the PSP, the Lynx's screen was advanced for its time. It was a color backlit LCD screen, the first to appear in a gaming device. Unfortunately, the features that gave the Lynx its great screen also increased its production costs and decreased its battery life, both of which contributed to the machine's poor sales compared to the Game Boy, which had a smaller, non-backlit, monochrome screen, but very good battery life.


Nintendo's Game Boy could be connected to a second Game Boy via a link cable, and the Lynx used a similar method, but could connect up to 17 separate Lynx consoles for multiplayer gaming. Interestingly, though the final device shipped with a "ComLynx" cable, it had originally been designed with ComLynx as an infra-red (IR) system referred to as "RedRye." This would have given it much more in common with the PSP, as the original PSP model (PSP-1000) had an IR receiver that was removed when the console was updated to the "slim" model (PSP-2000).


One thing that is immediately apparent when looking at the PSP and the Lynx side-by-side, especially keeping in mind how the PSP compared to even earlier handheld game systems, is how similar their form factor is. Certainly, the Lynx is far larger, but both systems feature a horizontal, rectangular, color LCD screen centrally located in a horizontally-oriented device, with a d-pad on the left side of the screen and buttons on the right side. The Lynx was also originally designed with a thumbstick in addition to the d-pad, which would have made it even more similar to the PSP. The main difference is that the Lynx was set up in such a way that it could be flipped over to reverse the controls for a left-handed player. To this day, it's the only handheld ever to have had this feature.

Looking at the Lynx and the PSP and keeping in mind the features the Lynx was supposed to have that were removed, it's almost like the PSP's designers took the Lynx as a starting point for the PSP. Make the Lynx smaller and sleeker and give it the features available for portable devices today, and you'd have something very much like the PSP. Even the slow loading times of the Lynx's games, and its small game library on release--not to mention its competition with an ultra-popular Nintendo device--are points in common with the PSP.


"Atari Lynx." Online at Wikipedia.

"Atari Lynx Frequently-Asked Questions." Online at FAQs.org.

"Atari Lynx Rarity Guide." Online at Atari Age.

"Comparison of handheld game consoles." Online at Wikipedia.

Demarla, Rusel and Johnny L. Wilson. High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games. 2nd Ed. McGraw-Hill, 2003.

"Handheld game console." Online at Wikipedia.

Kent, Steve L. The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon and Beyond. Prima, 2001.

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