Dendy Chronicles
March 23, 2013 8:21 PM   Subscribe

After the huge success of the NES, a whole host of bootleg consoles came out around the world. The Dendy console brought a new age of video gaming to the newly born Russian Federation. Kinaman presents a retrospective of the numerous pirate Mario games on the Dendy system in three parts: 1, 2, 3. (Russian with English subtitles)
posted by demiurge (26 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Yes! I had a Dendy when I was 10-11. It was one where you could unplug the controllers, rather than have them directly wired into the body. I had a bootleg Dendy version of the NES Jungle Book, which I still find challenging and sort of hypnotic. My Dendy version of Robocop was actually reskinned Shatterhand, an entirely unrelated game. It ended abruptly after the first boss.

But the best Dendy game, for my money, was the NES Power Blade 2, which is essentially Megaman with Ahnuld playing the part of the Blue Bomber himself. The music is strangely lonesome.

I also have fond memories of the Dendy Last Action Hero — the only way to play through the whole thing was to reset the continues count by unplugging the controller repeatedly (classmates with the non-removable controllers didn't have this option).

Best of all, when I was on GameFAQs a good long while ago, a British "game journalist" contacted me about material for his article on retro gaming in Eastern Europe. I answered a few questions for him, as did a few other people, only to find out with horror that the writer had decided to create a synthetic Russian character out of all of us. It has my name, but remembers things I could not possibly remember. It's one of the first few hits for my name on Google. Magical thing, game journalism.
posted by Nomyte at 8:47 PM on March 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

On the subject, I'm so thankful for Cah4e3 and his archiving work. He's archived tons of bootleg NES ROMs and made a version of FCEUltra capable of running them.
posted by BiggerJ at 8:49 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like this guy. Even though I don't speak a word of Russian, I see he's got presence and comic timing. I think I'll watch the rest of these.

As it was, I just watched the first. I'm guessing that the guys at whatever factory produced those cartridges just scrambled the ROMs in order to produce levels out of random game elements, thereby crapping out the requisite hundred new levels. I was somehow able to do this on SMB with an emulator a long time ago, and I don't even know what I'm doing with those things. Someone else can explain it.

Can anyone guess at the source for the tropical romance menu screen background with a chiptune of "Unchained Melody"? What on earth -- ? Bootleg cartridges don't make what they could steal instead, so I'm guessing that was the ending of some game or other, but I can hardly imagine.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:55 PM on March 23, 2013

Ладно, допустим я не понял юмора и от фонаря купил этот картридж, после чего принес домой, чтобы узнать, что это за игра. Это игра под названием «2».

Choking on tea with raspberry jam here.
posted by Nomyte at 9:19 PM on March 23, 2013

Somari looks awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:51 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the "epilogue" to this video by the same guy:
And so that's how it went, thanks to that little grey elephant in the 90s. But it wasn't just thanks to him. In the first place, there was our sucky economy, which collapsed along with the Soviet Union, and thanks to which the overwhelming majority of new Russia's citizens could only afford cheap Chinese consoles, and even those just barely. Demand was high, but the money wasn't there. When actual licensed SNES consoles showed up in 1995, costing as much as my parents made in two months, unsurprisingly, no one actually bought them, even despite lots of TV and print ads. People wanted to play games, and they did, totally ass-backwards, but at least cheaply. And what to say about other, later consoles, which the rest of the world got in the mid-90s, and which got to us about 6 years later, as did, for example, the Sony PlayStation, which didn't get big until the 2000s. But that's a completely different story anyway.

But I'm still thankful to that Dendy elephant. And I don't even care if I get fucked over for this, I'm still thankful. Even if that little grey fuck fed us total shit, at least he gave us an opportunity to play Nintendo's great games, forever beloved by everyone worldwide. We gamed in black and white, despite unbelievable glitches, with ripped-off graphics, constantly breaking gamepads and consoles, overheating adapters, non-functional system clocks, with unkillable Shredders, but without Select and Start buttons, but at least we gamed! That's the source of Dendy's power and also his curse. We were gamers despite this shitstorm. And no one can argue with that.
I guess gamer nerds can get nostalgic over pretty much anything.
posted by Nomyte at 12:47 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ладно, допустим я не понял юмора и от фонаря купил этот картридж, после чего принес домой, чтобы узнать, что это за игра. Это игра под названием «2».

Choking on tea with raspberry jam here.
posted by Nomyte at 2:19 PM on March 24 [+] [!]

But some of us can't Russian : (
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:32 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Google translate: "Okay, let's say I did not understand the humor and the lantern bought this cartridge, and then brought it home to find out what kind of game. This is a game called"

that doesn't really help much without context.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did some work at a company (a network of social sites) set up by one of the Dendy founders in London last year. They had a Dendy and another Russian console clone (a Super Zoga) on display in the foyer. They also had connection to a new company of some sort named Dendy Ventures.
posted by acb at 6:55 AM on March 24, 2013

He's talking about the difficulties of finding out whether or not you were actually playing SMB2:

"Ладно, допустим я не понял юмора и от фонаря купил этот картридж, после чего принес домой, чтобы узнать, что это за игра. Это игра под названием «2»."


"All right, let's suppose I didn't get the funny joke [i.e., buying an expensive game cartridge that's only labeled with the manufacturer's catalog number LB-35 and is therefore completely incognito] and, for no reason whatsoever, ended up buying the game and bringing it home to find out which game it is exactly. It is a game entitled 2."
posted by Nomyte at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Haven't had the chance to watch these yet, but just reading the history of the system makes me want to nominate this post for some kind of award. Athismo bless you demiuge.
posted by JHarris at 7:48 PM on March 24, 2013

Started going through these here --

His claim that there were eight Mario games for the Famicom/NES is woefully inaccurate. He doesn't count Donkey Kong, for instance, yet he does count Yoshi's Cookie. He also misses Golf, Pinball and Wrecking Crew, and that's just off the top of my head, I know there's several more where Mario at least plays a cameo role, such as Punch-Out!! and Tennis. So, his piling up twenty-or-so games on his desk isn't as impressive as he leads up to it.

On the "licensed" cart of Super Mario Bros., the game has been changed in at least one way beside the title screen: the word MARIO at the top of the screen has been replaced with SCORE.

The pirate 9999-in-one multicart at least shows a little creativity with its graphic selection menu, that advances a seaside scene through the day depending on how far into the game list you are.

I see World E-1 is our old pal from Super Mario Bros. Frustration, the DEADLY INFINITE VOID. Oh, how I missed him! Our host's gaping-mouthed reaction indicates he hadn't previously met our charming friend. BTW, if the music seems a bit slow, I think it's because he's playing the PAL version of the game, which is slightly slower. As for the "designer" of the levels, he's actually playing the result of the game's level unpacker operating on random data in the ROM.

Overall I like the guy. Although his schtick is very Angry Video Game Nerd, he's less shouty.
posted by JHarris at 12:44 AM on March 25, 2013

Let me elaborate on the random level data thing:

Games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda had to make due with very small ROMs. Not as small as Atari VCS games, but still. Zelda is 128KB in size, and SMB about 40K. The game worlds are of such large size relative to the ROM that some form of data compression is necessary to make it all fit.

Most data compression schemes we're familiar with today work on general data, but if you're compacting data for a specific purpose, you can tailor the scheme for that purpose and get much better rates. That's what these two games do, they construct each screen in memory on the fly out of parametrized data.

If you supply random data to a generic decompressor, you get garbage, nonsense data, or a crash. If you supply random data to a parameterized level constructor, however, you might end up with something that almost makes sense. That's what our Russian friend is encountering when he tries to play the "secret worlds" of Super Mario Bros.

Be sure to watch to the later videos. It picks up when we get to the hacked up pirate carts, where get to see things like Fred Flintstone but with the head of Mario.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 AM on March 25, 2013

The game covers are awesome. Mario 14 he's fighting a troll doll on the front. You see folks -- they just didn't care.
posted by JHarris at 4:41 AM on March 25, 2013

The AVGN-type schtick increases, and gets less funny, as the videos continue, but they're still informative. The third video recounts the sordid tale of "Super Mario Bros. 16," a badly hacked ROM of Joe & Mac to put Mario's head on the caveman protagonist, which was taken by a Russian TV show as the original, and the real Joe & Mac as the fake.
posted by JHarris at 11:46 AM on March 25, 2013

And so we get to Somari.

Reader, let me tell you something. Speaking as someone who's implementing a platforming engine, the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games are godly in their programming. Anything beyond simple tile-resolution solid platform jumping action is still difficult to this day. Jumping through platforms is harder. Slopes harder still. Loops, such as Sonic's, are damn difficult, and Somari has them all. It's a pirate game, yes, but as a surprisingly complete reimplementation of the Sonic the Hedgehog engine on NES hardware, my hat is off to the programmers. Well done indeed.
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just got to ep. 4, where our friend gets SMACKED IN THE FACE with Micronics' legendary crappy, extremely difficult Famicom port of Ghosts N' Goblins. His moaning is sweet to my ears.
posted by JHarris at 11:09 PM on March 25, 2013

Continuing to work through these. #5 is very interesting, about another NES unlicensed pirate game that does a fairly good job of porting a Genesis game. I think I like this guy more than the AVGN, once he discards the schtick he's informative and knowledgable, like the Dr. Sparkle (of Chrontendo) of Russia.

Shame I got to this thread late, after discussion had already died down. There's definitely interesting stuff here that the FPP overlooked.
posted by JHarris at 1:45 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

He also seems to know about mappers a bit.

If there's a continuum between TECHNICAL (like Chrontendo) and ENTERTAINMENT (like Angry Video Game Nerd) discussions on a subject, most times I lean towards the technical end, so long as I understand the discussion. I think I can put him slightly on the technical side of the balance.

Here I am. Aaaaall alone.
posted by JHarris at 2:27 PM on March 26, 2013

That was the quality that impressed me about the three bootleg Mario videos. Entertaining and Informative. Even more informative to me, since I had never heard of the Dendy console before.
posted by demiurge at 3:25 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eps 4 and 5 are real eye-openers about pirate gaming, considering the exposure of pirate hacks that are better than the licensed versions of those games. I might do a post about those eventually, gotta do research first. Thanks again for the tip, demiurge!
posted by JHarris at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

#7 begins nicely. There's something about seeing a cartridge with Chip & Dale on the cover but titled GRAND COMBAT that triggers my laugh circuits.
posted by JHarris at 12:43 AM on March 28, 2013

Thanks for plowing through these! I personally found his delivery extremely tiresome and couldn't make it through more than a couple of his videos before bailing. But it's good to know that he exists and is part of an entire Dendy scene.
posted by Nomyte at 4:46 PM on March 29, 2013

I can see how you'd think he was tiresome. He doesn't bug me as bad as the AVGN's schtick, although I haven't seen any of his videos for years now so maybe he's better these days. I think he has real potential if he gets his tone right.
posted by JHarris at 8:15 PM on March 29, 2013

I'm not familiar with AVGN's oeuvre. And, on reflection, I'm not sure I really want to be able to distinguish degrees of "irritating, shouty video blogger."

I assume you're watching the Russian guy mediated through broken English subtitles and I'm just watching him in Russian, so in a way we're watching two different things. I find his Russian bro speech mannerisms to be pretty annoying, but that's just me. There's enough pirate game trivia interlarding the dumb parts to make it worthwhile for some, but I'm definitely more of a Chrontendo watcher.
posted by Nomyte at 12:47 AM on March 30, 2013

I don't speak Russian and am going by the English subtitles yes. I agree overall that Chrontendo is better, and it's not just because Dr. Sparkle shouted out to me when I linked to Chrontendo here with the episode guide.
posted by JHarris at 12:55 AM on March 30, 2013

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