Nerdy Monday 17: The Dendy.

…Or as it’s pronounced in its native tongue: the “Jen-Gee”.  Of course though, that’s in Russian, and most people aren’t even familiar with their weird alphabet, let alone why they pronounce things the way they do.

The Dendy.  This little jewel, I stumbled across recently surfing through the endless pictures I look at on the internet every day.  Don’t know what it is?  Let’s get started there, then…

A Little History

Here’s a history lesson within a history lesson:  It’s a little known fact that Nintendo Co., Ltd. was founded in 1889.  That’s not a typo, Nintendo is 122 years old.  They first started out making playing cards, as well as trying out a small taxi cab operation and a small chain of some of those “hooker-houses”.  Also known as a love hotel.

But that’s beside the point.  Before Nintendo became the majority shareholders of the Seattle Mariners (which is also a fact), they hit the scene in the 1980’s with their NES system.  Everyone is familiar with that, let’s move on.  Wait, the 1980’s.. something is making me thing that was an important time in world events.  Oh that’s right, during that entire decade, Russia was still under the rule of the former Soviet Union.

You remember what I was saying about their alphabet, or how hard it would be to understand someone from Russia?  Multiply that by about 348.2, then square that number, add 1, then double it.  That’s almost half as  hard as it would have been for Nintendo [or any other major company for that matter] to get a trademark, copyright, patent, license or otherwise legal and binding contract to be able to do business under the dark, depressing umbrella of the U.S.S.R.

Basically what it all boils down to is that a couple of wealthy Russians started a company in 1992 based on one souvenir they bought from a trip to Japan (probably).  They had to have been at least a little wealthy to be able to cross the border during that time, because as we all know, misery loves company, and Russia back then was a prime example.  I have nothing against Russia, I’m just saying.

The Dendy was released in Russia and China (also under a Soviet government) in 1992.  It was basically a clone of the NES/Famicom system.  And since Nintendo was unable to have any sort of legal way to stop them (again, because of the Soviet government) it was perfectly legal.

In the Dendy’s defense though, it was pretty well put together, even though it was and still is considered a “legal knockoff”.

On it’s release date it was introduced at a whopping 39,000 rubles!  Don’t worry though, that was only about $94 dollars.  Two years later, in 1994 after the company (Steepler) lost some partners, gained new ones, and made some joint ventures, they had already sold over 1,000,000 units.  The price then dropped to around $30-$35 American dollars a piece, and Steepler would continue to sell 100,000-125,000 units a month.  That’s about a $5,000,000 paycheck each month.  Dog-gone government loopholes!

Just to give you a visual, here’s the Nintendo console, called the Famicom (short for “Family Computer”) that was released in Japan:

It did the same thing as the NES did, except you couldn’t unplug the controllers from the console.  Weird, I know.  Compared to this, the NES console may have been “big and clunky” but at least we could swap controllers.  Take THAT, Japan!  Oh, and thanks for this…

The North American NES.

Now take a look at the Dendy:

If you made it legal, and spent a little more money on raw materials, and some paint, or something… and you’d have a Famicom.

I honestly wouldn’t have even known about this console if I hadn’t have stumbled across this website. If you scroll down, one of the pictures has original cases and cartridges of Dendy games, just left there.  As I said before, I have nothing against Russia, or it’s people.  In fact, I think it’s a gorgeous country with a rich tapestry of different people, and an immense past.  I would really like to spend some time there and visit all of those abandoned towns, military bases, etc.  But I digress…

Ninety-nine percent (if not more) of the game cartridges you could get for the Dendy were Chinese bootlegs.  They looked a little something like this:

The atrwork on the front is pretty misleading...

It’s true.  The artwork was great.  The games however, were a different story.  Forgive me if I’m playing ignorant here, but I could only read so many (read: 3) game reviews in broken English before I got a headache and yearned for some potato vodka to take the edge off… or make this whole article a little more interesting or something.

After my headache went away, I let all the Russian-English untangle itself in my mind and came up with my summary of the games:

A lot of them were multiple games in one.  I read about 9-in-1, 16-in-1, 25-in-1, and 31-in-1 game cartridges that were the most widespread in Russia when the Dendy was in its hay day.  But keep in mind, this was about 5 years before CDs became cheap, not to mention about 5-6 years before CDs began being used for video games.  And that was only in North America!  CDs probably didn’t get across the former Soviet border for another 10 years on top of that.  So if you take a cartridge designed to put ONE simple game on it and expand it all the way to THIRTY ONE games, what do you think will happen?  That’s right, the quality will drop like an anvil.  That’s basically the long and short of the games.  They were knockoffs, and crappier than anything we had experienced.  Come to think of it, the Dendy was more like a poor mans Atari 2600 than a NES system.

Eventually though…

The Steepler company had some legal issues and signed a contract forbidding them to clone/copy/distribute anything from Sega, who was now on the scene.  Steepler then signed another contract late-1995/early-1996 that would allow their national distribution centers (I mean, their FOUR locations all over Russia’s ginormous land mass) to be licensed to sell the Super Nintendo system there.

All that being said, the company folded shortly thereafter (in 1996) because they now had to go legit.  Steepler couldn’t sell the game cartridges, now officially licensed by Nintendo, profitably.  Realizing he had raked in his last million, Steepler probably loaded up his big rig full of cash, and cried about that contract all the way to his new personal island.

That being said:

I want a Dendy for my collection.  I’ve looked everywhere for one, and can’t find it.  Also, I feel inspired to start up a business.  The Steepler guys had a good idea, and even though some people think they kind of “cheated” a bit, everything they did was perfectly legal at the time.  They came along with perfect timing and filled an empty niche in the market.. any idiot who has taken Business 100 knows that’s all you need to get ahead in the business world.

Hope you all learned a little something!

The Jester.


*All images are property of their respective owners and may be subject to copyright laws.  All images obtained through Google Image Search.*


5 Responses to “Nerdy Monday 17: The Dendy.”

  1. Nice article, but filled with factual errors. In 1992 there was no Soviet Union anymore, and the government already converted to a modern market thriven economy then. Which was the actual reason why entrepeneurs were able to set up import businesses from China; before the ‘revolution’ in 1991 this was still somewhat illegal. What did happen from the end of the 1980s on though was that individuals and small ‘grey’ companies imported computers from Europe, and reverse-engineered and copied them in small quantities. This especially happened with the zx spectrum, of which the Pentagon clone is still quite popular. (but tens of other zx spectrum clones existed as well)

    Also do not think because China is ‘communist’ , just because they were organised the same way as the USSR: in fact the USSR and China were competing with eachother on military and economical level since the 1970s, and even fought proxy wars against eachother. (in Angola for instance, where China was allied with the USA in the civil war against the government which was backed by Moscow)

  2. i have actualy played on a dendy when i visited russia back in 98, anyway like isaid it was ghetto as fuck. the one i played was monochrome and the graphics were terible.
    im sure yoy could probably fond one on ebay.

  3. kenzo169 Says:

    if you still look for a dendy feel free to contact me, i recently bought 5 brandnew dendy consoles (still in the oringal package)

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