It's been 20 years since the iconic virtual pet Tamagotchi hit US shores, becoming a must-have item for kids and teenagers and proving enough of a distraction that it was banned from many classrooms. Many of those youngsters now have offspring of their own, and Bandai is hoping to entice both generations by reintroducing the classic 1997 model with a special anniversary edition. But most adults and many children now carry a phone capable of doing so much more than that little plastic egg could. Why would they, or anyone, invest in a Tamagotchi? I spent the weekend with my own little simulated creature in my bag and spoiler alert: It died of neglect.
At first, things went well with my Tamagotchi, as I turned it on and hatched a cute round creature from an egg. The device hasn't changed much from its original incarnation, a colorful ovoid-shaped piece of plastic with three buttons and a pixelated screen. The few friends I showed it off to recognized it immediately, their faces breaking out into delighted smiles. The only major physical difference is that at 1.5 inches tall and 1.25 inches wide, it's 20 percent smaller than the classic.
The size doesn't affect the usability much -- I was still able to push the buttons with my edge of my thumb, though I found it a lot easier to just hit them with my nail. It's perfectly pocket-friendly, unless you have a hole in your pants... which, turns out, I did. Luckily I was able to snag it before it slipped away completely on a crowded subway platform. Each Tamagotchi comes with a ball chain so you can loop it onto your bag or jacket, but anything I attach to my backpack tends to disappear so I opted to just put it inside.
Even though it looks the same, the smaller size limits the functions somewhat. The original Tamagotchi let you interact with your pet by playing simple games or disciplining it when the creature misbehaved. However, the 16 x 16 pixel screen on the anniversary edition limits the number of functions compared to the 32 x 16 original. So the new Tamagotchi sticks with the basics. You feed it, clean up its poop and... well, that's about it. When it wants something from you, it beeps. I'd be sitting at my desk and suddenly be compelled to drop what I was doing to check the device, which quickly got annoying. As I couldn't figure out how to mute or pause it, I resented my Tamagotchi after a few hours, no matter how cute it was.
Still, I fed it when asked, and sometimes even not, just to make sure it was happy. But this weekend I was busy at New York Comic Con and couldn't give the Tamagotchi all of the attention it needed. I should have known something was up when I finally remembered to check and saw my little baby blob had grown into a duck-billed character called Nyorotchi. How you treat your young Tamagotchi determines its adult form, and it turns out Nyorotchi is the weakest and a direct result of neglect.
The nail in its digital coffin was when I switched bags but forgot to transfer the Tamagotchi. Unfortunately, that meant that when I finally retrieved the plastic egg from my backpack on Monday, what greeted me was a little headstone and ghost. It had died, alone and unloved.
I can easily reset the device and start again, but I'm not sure I need yet another cute animal caretaking game in my life. I have my roster of Pokémon on my 3DS, and I play the cat-collecting simulation Neko Atsume on my phone sometimes, but even then I find myself drifting away often. There's also the fact that with a Tamagotchi, I'm being asked to carry around a single-serving device even though I could easily download an app that does the same thing. Bandai even has an official Tamagotchi app you can snag for a dollar.
Bandai's Tara Badie told us that the physical package is what makes Tamagotchi special -- less of a toy or game and more of a lifestyle product. On your phone it's just another app, but letting it live in its own little plastic "house" makes it stand out and turns playing with it into an occasion. I could certainly see that when my friends handled it. Normally people are reluctant to touch your phone, but they're more than willing to hold the little pink Tamagotchi, push its buttons and watch it dance happily around the tiny screen. And the bright, colorful cases give it a bit of fashion-forward flair -- remember when Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom wore Tamagotchis to the Met Gala?
Whether you're one of those people that takes good care of your digital pets or you're apt to kill them in the first few days, Tamagotchi isn't a huge commitment in overall time or money. The anniversary line only costs $15 each and can be preordered today, with the product hitting stores in November. It might not have a color screen or connectivity features, but it packs a lot of charm into each plastic egg. For that I'm willing to give mine another shot at life, however much its insistent beeping irks me.