Graphics aren't everything... but they can certainly transform a simple game into something pretty spectacular. The Atari Lynx was so advanced for its time, and thankfully, many of the game designers who made games for the system were acutely aware of this. They knew how to sculpt something special, and so a number of games left indelible impressions on players purely because they looked so good.
Due to the high volume of top graphical games on the Lynx, there's no way I can limit the list here to just ten games; it's gotta be fifteen. And, I've decided that the games that make this top fifteen MUST hit an "A" grade in all three of the following visual areas; (1) Graphical representation (2) Animation, and (3) Special effects. Anything resembling a "B" grade or less in these areas will keep the game outside the top fifteen.
Note: the quality of the game does not count in deciding THIS top fifteen; only how good the game looks! 😅 So, for the first time, only appearances count!
Let’s see, then, who comes out on top - time for the countdown!
Of all the Lynx sporting titles that look good, and there are many, ‘European Soccer Challenge’ is the most consistently brilliant. The cutscenes alone are very nicely done, but the main action features a field that adjusts camera angle depending on where the player is situated. It’s a pretty stunning thing to see, especially when you consider that there are consoles of the same era that didn’t try very often to attempt this kind of visual adeptness. Other details also shine, from the player animation to simply the multi-textured oval lawn. It would be difficult to conceive of any future game design group creating a Lynx soccer game that looks this good. But hey, the challenge is out there!14 - ZAKU
The home brew Lynx game ‘Zaku’ is clearly a labour of love. What’s most impressive is that the game is reminiscent of the great Super Nintendo shooters of the 90’s, just ported to the handheld Lynx system. There’s something truly special about the cartoony look of the main character and the HUGE enemy sprites, which look like they would fit nicely in ‘Megaman X’ or other comic-inspired games found among different gaming consoles. Plenty of weaponry, plenty of variety, and loads of distinctive, colourful sprites to see (and shoot!). Plus, impressive parallax, background animation and scaling! It’s very rare and hard to find, but it’s certainly a nice addition to the Lynx library; and one of the most visually original titles to boot.13 - ALPINE GAMES
Previously, there were very few Lynx games that managed to convincingly display smooth, frontward-facing 3D action. 'Stun Runner' did a brilliant job, but 'Alpine Games' went one better. Just watch a video of the "Snowboarding" event on 'Alpine Games'; yes, that really is a Lynx. The graphics on most of the events here is of very high quality, and the animation is also well represented. We could talk about the stunning title screen and event selection screen. We could mention the nicely drawn and animated speed skating event. But truly it's the 3D events that steal the show here, so a McWill VGA mod would take the visuals here... well, to the next level!12 - CHECKERED FLAG
Can the Lynx do straight, no frills Grand Prix racing? Yes it can! To get a driving game right on a portable system is a wonderful thing, because so many of us like driving games. And thankfully, 'Checkered Flag' was not only a brilliant release, it looked fantastic too. Winding roads, trees and signage whipping past you, great visual customisations, and even celebratory cutscenes. Don’t miss also the terrific introduction sequence of the featured Grand Prix vehicles. Though ‘Roadblasters’ may be faster, and ‘Stun Runner’ may have more twists and turns, ‘Checkered Flag’ is easily the cleanest looking racer on the Lynx. Love that map overlay too.11 - ZARLOR MERCENARY
‘Zarlor Mercenary’ will put to bed any theory that the Lynx can’t deliver superior, top-down shooters with multiple enemies on screen at once. This game is an absolute cracker to play, but it also looks superb. The artwork throughout this game, particularly the in-game sprites and the backgrounds, is phenomenally presented and animated. Ships all have shadows beneath them, showing their height from the ground, and even the backgrounds are animated in the style each world (such as waving reeds in the swamp areas). There’s also the visually awesome weaponry and epic bosses - like ships that submerge themselves in water, or flake apart entirely. Nice!10 - DRACULA THE UNDEAD
If a game designer told you that they were going to make a game entirely with shades of blacks, browns and whites, you may think that was a crazy idea. Well, 'Dracula: The Undead' not only fulfilled that brief, it made it look stunning as well. Realistic character representations and scaling, smooth animation, and gorgeous set pieces abound. The scenes that involve you climbing castle walls are just awesome, and feel completely natural in a game that is really like an old school "LucasArts" adventure game. And wait until you see the conversations and the cutscenes in this game... they are as beautifully animated as any of the main game sequences. Masterful stuff.
‘Gates of Zendocon’ not only looks amazing for a space shooter, but it pulls some incredible special effects out of the bag for sci-fi gamers. Scenery that grows before your eyes. Gigantic alien cities that can be comprehensively destroyed. Aliens that split in two. Visually awesome UFO allies! I could go on. Because each level is a new galaxy, the designers went to town with the individuality of each location, with the result being a very unique combination of organic and machine driven worlds. It helps also that the sprites, backgrounds and the animation are of top-notch quality, and that the final boss is... well... as menacing looking as his insane laugh. A great little game.8 - S.T.U.N. RUNNER
'Stun Runner' on the Lynx was always going to face a challenge representing the arcade original of twisted pipe racing... but boy, it got close. Blindingly fast, smoothly animated and visually bright, 'Stun Runner' is one of the best racing games on the Lynx (possibly THE best). Most of the thrall comes from those graphics though. You can even race on see-through tracks, and if you grab a speed boost, your car becomes see-through as well. Screen-clearing bombs are a visual knockout, and even the end of race cutscenes look terrific. 'Stun Runner' earns its name rightfully and it's still amazing how well they ported this game to Atari's awesome handheld.7 - ELECTROCOP
'Electrocop' is a game that is conceptually unique on the Lynx, and one that arguably has some of the most impressive visual tricks. Not only do you see great graphics, smooth animation and terrific effects, but the game uses an astounding array of silhouettes to show enemy robots in the foreground. Yes, in the foreground! It's a visual trick that is rare even to see in games today. The various floors of the station you are exploring have some striking visual features, and it's hard not just to stare st them for a while and wonder how they imagined up this mini world of machinery and metal. Though the game itself doesn't reach the heights of the visuals, it's 100% Lynx eye candy!6 - WARBIRDS
Okay. If universal acclaim for this game is to be believed, then what we have here is possibly the most universally raved about graphical achievement on the Lynx, perhaps of all time. Only ‘Blue Lightning’ and ‘Electrocop’ gave early Lynx players a similar “wow” factor. But see this game for yourself. Whilst I would have preferred this game to be purely a flight sim (truly!) there is no doubt that the biplane combat here is a visual feast. Get lost in the clouds, watch the fields below, do a mock dive... ‘Warbirds’ is a remarkable achievement. Plus, add to the mix the sepia-style cutscenes that are included; they look like someone’s old photographs of a grandparent’s war days. It’s still mind-blowing to see this game in action, even now.5 - POWER FACTOR
'Power Factor' is a decent platformer, but there's something significantly more than decent about the graphics in this game. In terms of graphical quality, 'Power Factor' is right up there with 'Shadow of the Beast' when it comes to astounding visuals. But instead of the dour, shadowed wastelands of 'Shadow of the Beast', 'Power Factor' puts you within a cold metallic factory with electrified surroundings, fearsome robotic foes, large bosses and flaming cannons. The running animation of the main character is possibly the best of its kind seen on the Lynx. But it's the attention to detail in 'Power Factor', like the pipes and fire extinguishes on the background walls, that make it an incredible visual experience.4 - SHADOW OF THE BEAST
'Shadow of the Beast' is the epitome of Middle Ages platforming on the Lynx, from a visual standpoint. The graphics are astounding. Gigantic monster sprites, smooth as silk animation and some startling special effects (try using a teleporter!). Then you add to that the parallax scrolling of the epic backgrounds... I mean, all of those clouds move differently as you run past them, and there are even mountains that look carved out in the distance! There are literally no dud visuals anywhere in this game, and it makes the case for video games being a work of art. It's worth looking at the Amiga version of this game and comparing it to the Lynx version. Impressive, hey?
I remember when 'Starwing/Starfox' was blowing the world away on the Super Nintendo in the 90's, touting the SFX chip and polygonal brilliance. But before that, the Lynx had THIS incredible game: 'Blue Lightning'. The trilogy of graphically impressive games that were 'Blue Lightning', 'Warbirds' and 'Electrocop' simply showed the world that the Lynx was possibly the most graphically impressive handheld of its era. 'Blue Lightning' displayed stunning flying visuals, smooth scaling backgrounds and explosive aerial dogfighting that is still impressive today. Oh, and that intro sequence... brilliant. Few Lynx flying games can claim to look this technically impressive on the system. That’s still the case in 2018!2 - BATMAN RETURNS
Playing 'Batman Returns' is like being an active character within a DC Comics graphic novel. The semi-cartoony, semi-realistic look of this game is remarkable, and like nothing else seen on the Atari Lynx (except for perhaps the similarly-represented title 'Dirty Larry: Renegade Cop'). The backgrounds in this game are brilliant, menacing structures which (in some cases) are exactly like the Gotham City movie counterparts. And best of all, the conceptually dark hues of the film are retained here, particularly on Batman himself. The sprites in this game are large, full of colour, but most of all they are full of character. Suffice to say, you'll never look at clowns the same way again.1 - BATTLEWHEELS
The Lynx does the almost impossible. 'Battlewheels' feels like someone said "Hey, let's create 'Wolfenstein 3D' for the Atari Lynx but make people control cars instead”. When you see the incredible graphics in this game, you'll immediately see they pulled it off. Visuals and animation knock it out of the park here. Cars are big, fearsome, they scale, they explode... and the arena has huge buildings to navigate, whilst you see and hear the vehicular chaos all around you. That's when you check your mirrors, try to avoid paint on your windows, and even pursue the opponents on foot like a fully fledged FPS shooter. One of the last Atari Lynx official games was, truly, one of the most visually impressive of them all.
There you have it folks! There are plenty of honourable mentions that could have made this list, but which were almost there: such as 'Battlezone 2000' and 'California Games'. You may even think others might have made this list. One thing is for sure, we look forward to more aftermarket Lynx titles that can keep pushing the graphical envelope. The best is surely yet to come!
See you next time, Lynx fans!
This article was submitted by Jon Mc from JMac Productions