Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Apple Bandai Pippin

Just took delivery of my Apple Bandai Pippin this afternoon. This was a console that I purchased back in February from Ebay. It came from Japan, so the shipping prices were exorbitant for airmail, leaving me the option of surface mail.

It isn't brand new, like I expected it to be, but it is in very good condition for a second hand device that has travelled most of the world to get to me. I also had to pay £20 in customs fees, which was a bit of a pain.

The device itself was released in the late 90's and was designed by Apple along with Bandai to represent a significant threat to the dominant consoles of the era. I remember this console being announced in a UK video games mag - I forget which one just now, possibly Edge. Compared to the announcements made by Sega for the Saturn or Nintendo for the N64 which took up multiple pages, the humble Pippin had to make to do with a tiny quarter of a page at the back of the magazine.

This console is pretty notable for the time, like the Sega Dreamcast which was released around about the same time, it supports VGA. For the Dreamcast you needed a VGA box and I don't think every game supported this technology. The back of the Pippin is pretty well equipped, it has the regular AV connections as well as a VGA port. There is also a switch that lets you select VGA, PAL or NTSC as the output. There is also a connection for a keyboard as well as a pstn modem. This starts to give a larger picture concerning Apples intention for this device. Pretty early on in its development, Apple decided they couldn't compete against the Playstation or Nintendo N64 (I think they were the dominant force at the end of the 1990's), so they took the brave step of marketing this as an internet capable machine. Apple also asked for a very large amount of money for the Pippin, which has hardly any games. Apple took the position that it was a cut down Mac - which it is, but also tried to sell the pick up and play-a-bility of the device, which is fine.

Like the Dreamcast, the Pippin uses a proprietary operating system - Apple OS 7.3 I think. On powering on the console, its Mac heritage is plain to see. The console comes with three cd-rom's, one contains office utilities like Word, Paint and Email, another comes with Internet Explorer 3 for the Mac. Unfortunately, I don't read Japanese so I am not to sure what the third disc holds.

Again, like the Dreamcast, the Pippin supports a modem. Unlike the Dreamcast, you get the modem in the box with the console, and can get up and running on the internet in next to no time, as long as you have access to a dialup service. The colour scheme and button layout on the joypad is also very similar to the Dreamcast and PSX of the time. One thing notable about the joypad is that it is one of the best joypads I have every held. It has a total of eleven buttons, four buttons on the right hand side, two shoulder buttons and three buttons towards the base of the controller. One really nice touch is the addition of a trackball, this makes navigating the menus in a PC-like fashion a breeze. There are also expansion ports on the underside of the device, however I have no idea what they were for.

This is a pretty expensive machine to pick up, mine cost over £300, although at the time of writing, there were quite a few sub-£200 versions for sale on Ebay. If you do end up buying one from Japan, which is most likely, then you need to factor in the shipping fees. The console is quite heavy making airmail very expensive (probably half the cost of the console again).

I am not sure as to why the console never took off, perhaps due to the high price and the lack of decent third party games were the biggest contributors. Or maybe it was down to Apple not knowing how market the device. I think possibly this is more like it, Apple didn't sell it as a video game console, but they didn't really try and sell it as a Mac replacement either. One thing it definitely was, and that is ahead of its time. Just like the Dreamcast, the Pippin offers functionality we would expect to see in a console today - internet connectivity, rich media etc.. Put it next to the original model of the Xbox 360 and you would be hard pressed to say that one device was released at the end of the twentieth century.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with this purchase. This is one of three expensive consoles I wanted to get, so this has been successfully crossed off my list. Now, I will scour the Internet and Ebay in the hope of finding a game or two for this console and wonder why this failed so miserably, given Apple then went on to sell things like the iPod, managing to convince everyone in the world + dog that they needed one...