['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

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I was lucky enough the other day to come across a scanned collection of Video-Ace Dendy, the first magazine in Russia devoted wholly to video games. "Video-Ace" is the name of the Moscow-based publisher behind the mag, and "Dendy" is the brand name of (at the time) the most popular gray-market NES console in the nation.

The Dendy, a PAL-compatible clone of the Famicom, was released December 1992 across Russia by Steepler, an importing company the sourced the consoles from Chinese manufacturers. The system went on sale for 39,000 rubles (the equivalent of about $94 at the time) and was a very quick success -- by mid-1994 over a million Dendies were in Russian households and Steepler was selling at least 100,000 consoles per month. Part of this was because of Steepler's ad campaign, which included everything from TV ads (featuring the jingle "Dendy, Dendy, we all love Dendy! Dendy: Play it!") to that elephant mascot guy above, designed by animator Ivan Maximov.

This market naturally created a demand for new games and magazines, and Video-Ace Dendy debuted in July 1993 to meet that demand. The first 28-page issue lists a catalog of 59 games available for the Dendy at the time, 15 of which are "X-in-1" cartridges and all the others of similarly not-quite-legal status. Young Russian gamers didn't care, though, and they ate up Video-Ace's mix of strategy, reviews, and game-themed trading cards.

Equal coverage was given in the pages between the Dendy, Mega Drive, Game Boy and SNES, but one gets the idea that anything besides the Dendy would've been far too expensive a purchase for the average reader -- the coverage, much of it borrowed from British and French magazines of the day, was probably thrown in for a "look at this cool stuff we might get someday" effect.

Like a lot of Russian businesses in the early post-Soviet years, Video-Ace occasionally struggled to stay afloat. The fifth issue was completed in late 1993 but delayed several months because the publisher either failed to find an available printing house or couldn't afford one. Printing duties wound up getting outsourced to an outfit in Finland starting with issue 6 in 1994, though, and the magazine began to aggressively expand soon afterward, doubling in size and vastly improving its production values.

In 1995, Video-Ace split off the 8-bit Dendy coverage into its own magazine and launched a new one, Velikiy Drakon (Great Dragon), named after one of the in-house pseudonyms used in the Dendy mag's reviews. Great Dragon concentrated on 16-bit consoles and other platforms, and while the Dendy mag soldiered on until mid-1996, the new publication was a much longer-lasting success, surviving until the parent company's bankruptcy in 2004.

Several of Great Dragon's writers moved on to the mag's top rival, Strana Igr (Game Land), which launched in 1996 and maintains a circulation of around 80,000 copies today. Looking at Game Land's web page today makes me marvel at how far the Russian game media's advanced from its early days of printing paperback books full of tips for 200-in-1, 50-in-1, 9999-in-1, and so on for pages at a time. Ah, progress!

[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]