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Say hello to Hatch and Fugu, your new virtual pet friend


There's something about virtual pet apps that just draw you in. You get introduced, spend a few minutes with your new BFF and you're hooked. We've seen this phenomenon happen en masse with the Tamagotchi, but we haven't had a similar hit on the iOS platform -- until now. The latest entry in the world of digital companions is Hatch, a collaborative effort from Impending and RealMac. If you are a virtual pet type of person, then you are going to love the app and its Fugu pet.

When you launch Hatch for the first time, you are told the history of the Fugu egg and are introduced to your sidekick, Max, who will help you along your journey. You are also prompted to pick a color for your egg, which will hatch in a short time after you go through these initial steps. Once your egg hatches, you can name your new pet and start your adventure together.

Fugu is a cute, blob-like character that purrs when you pet it, kisses you, waves at you and otherwise interacts with you in a loving way. It's a cutesy interaction and not an overblown type of affection. As an owner, you are required to feed your pet on a regular basis, play with it and clean up after it poops. And yes, it does its "business" in a loud and boisterous way that'll delight any juvenile in the room. It also sleeps when when you plug in your phone to charge at night and wakes up in the morning --sometimes crying for food and attention. The background image cycles along with the day -- it's light when it's daytime and dark at night.

Food, like apples, oranges and grapes, can be harvested from the trees and is plentiful. Just grab one a fruit and drop it in your Fugu's mouth. If it is hungry, it will chomp down. When your Fugu doesn't want to eat that luscious piece of fruit, you can store the food in a bag for later or place it in a donation bucket that earns you acorns or hearts from Fugu.

Besides feeding, your Fugu pet requires attention. To pet your Fugu, just rub it with your finger and it will purr and roll over in delight. You can also poke its tummy to make it laugh, bark or blow kisses. Every once in a while, your Fugu will be so happy it will jump at you and give you a big, wet kiss. It makes my two-year-old and the kid in me go "awww." Fugu also does a happy dance, which will earn you a cornucopia of fruit.

Other rewards in the game include starfruit, acorns and stickers. The starfruit can be harvested from trees and is also hidden in the environment of the app. These turn into gold coins when you harvest them. You also need to search for stickers and acorns . Hatch supports the parallex effect of iOS 7 so you can tilt your phone to change what you see in the background. Sometimes you really have to drag and tilt the background to search in every nook and cranny.

Stickers can be stored in a notebook and shared with others via social networks or messaging. Acorns and starfruit, though, are the currency in the app and can be used to purchase blankets, bags and other items for your Fugu pet. The store is manned by your sidekick Max during the day and closes every night. There are no in-app purchases -- you have to earn every acorn or coin in your coffers. The best purchase is the camera, which allows you to take photos of your Fugu pet with you or another object in the background. You can then share the pictures with your friends. I had a great time with my daughter, who was also playing with the app. She and I would share pictures of our Fugu pets doing wild and crazy things.

Rewards are not only earned, they are also given as a gift from your Fugu pet. These gifts are not only rewards for taking care of the Fugu, they also serve to remind you to interact with your pet throughout the day. The gifts are small, but fun. Sometimes Fugu will give you a piece of fruit that you can feed to it. Sometimes you will get a sticker or a handful of acorns. If you are really fortunate, you will get a gold coin. Rewards are not overly bountiful, but there are enough of them to keep you and your Fugu satisfied.

Taking care of the Fugu pet is the perfect level of difficulty -- it is not too hard to pet, feed and play with it regularly. It takes just a few minutes every few hours to provide a level of care that keeps your pet happy. Unlike other virtual pet apps that require you to monitor a variety of metrics to gauge the happiness of your pet, you can tell how happy your Fugu is just by how it behaves. Is it sulking or crying? Then you need to play with it or feed it. Does it jump for joy when you launch the app? Then keep doing what you are doing as your Fugu is happy. If you need a more concrete gauge, there's a trust level that starts at 60 and increases up to 100 as you take care of your pet.

One interesting thing I noticed about Hatch is that it is not a scripted experience. I installed Hatch on my phone and on my daughter's phone and our in-game experience was very different. She received different stickers than I did and was offered different items in the store. Not everyone travels down the same path with their Fugu pet, which adds to the overall experience and makes playing the game with others much more enjoyable.

There are a few little shortcomings in Hatch that could use some polish. I found it too easy to slip into the store when scanning the environment for stickers and acorns. The store is accessed by grabbing the background and swiping from right to left. This same motion is used to move the background when you are looking for treasures. At least a few times a day, I would end up in the store when I was looking in a corner instead.

I also found myself wanting more interaction with my Fugu pet. There are a handful tricks it can do, but it basically stays stationary on its mat. I would love to have it move around and be more interactive. The same applies to the store, which is filled with blankets and bags for storing food. After a few weeks of playing with the app, I already own nine different blankets, a bag that holds infinite pieces of fruit and a camera. I have enough coins and acorns to buy out the store, but I'm not interested in buying yet another blanket. How about some hats or scarves to put on my Fugu?

Lastly, there are a few glitches, like food getting stuck in the bottom left corner and sound cutting out. Anytime these occurred, a simple force close of the app (double-tap the home button and swipe the app off the screen) fixed the problem. And for the kids out there who think they can cheat at the game by setting the iOS clock forward, don't do it -- you will throw off the internal time of the game, which will have unexpected consequences. I would expect some of these hiccups to be addressed in future versions of the app. Overall, though, these problems were minimal and did not effect my enjoyment of the app.

In summary, Hatch is an excellent launch app from Impending and RealMac. You can tell the Hatch team spent a lot of time getting the app right. There is more than just the engaging interaction with your Fugu pet -- the backgrounds are delightfully colorful, the animations fit in with the lighthearted nature of the game and both the sound effects and music are just perfect. Without a doubt, kids are going to love the Fugu. Adults, too, will find themselves enamored of their little pet, even if they might be a little embarrassed to admit they woke up at 5AM to feed their pet before it got too hungry.

You can download Hatch today from the iOS App Store for US$1.99. It is compatible with the iPhone running iOS 6.1.1 or greater.

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