One summer in 8th grade we went to the mall, as most people did in the late 90’s. I had seen commercials and ads for the little toys on TV and knew I wanted one. Back then the mall had a candy & toy store that sold all kind of stuff. This place sold candy and whatever was cool at time time. Pogs? You got it. Magic and Pokemon cards? Yep. Beanie Babies? In cases behind the counter.
So of course they also sold small electronics like Tamagotchis. We were there to get clothes for the summer no doubt but anytime we went to the mall we would visit nearly every store just to shop. You have to remember you couldn’t google what a store had, you had to go in and look around so this whole ordeal took longer.
It was common for us to go to the mall when it opened in the morning, shop for a while, eat lunch, keep shopping, then get dinner before going home. I think it was on our way out of the mall that we stopped at the candy store and I picked up my Tamagotchi. Normally, this is where I would say “first” but really this is the only one I ever had. I did buy one of the mini/nano ones a few years ago at walmart for fun but never really used it.
Anyway, It came in a yellow and purple box that I quickly opened up in the car on the way to lunch afterwards. We had gone to a Mexican food restaurant in town that we used to like because it was one of the kinds that has a tortilla machine and makes it’s own flour torts. (I’ve only ever been to two whole places brave enough make their own corn tortillas.)
While in the car I managed to pull the little tab that engages the battery and the little egg pops up on the screen. If you’ve never played with a virtual pet toy you have to feed, play, and clean up after them or else they get sick and die. The little critters will leave massive poops bigger than they are and fall asleep based on the time you plug into it.
It operates like a digital watch with little buttons and uses a similar battery. The screen is a very basic black and white LCD with no backlight. When your pet is hungry or upset or has pooped it will beep like a stop watch. The idea was that you would take care of it during the day and if it survived it would grow and transform into a final stage creature that was a mystery to the user.
So once we sat down to eat my little pet kept beeping and needing things. It wanted to eat, it wanted to play, it kept pooping. You had to check on it regularly which was the fun part but also made it hard to keep one alive because you couldn’t take them to school.
Mine was turquoise with a checkered background and yellow buttons. It didn’t have the text at the top but my friends who got them later did have it. My sister got one of the Giga Pets that came out later which turned into much more involved things but were harder to use. There were other cheap knock offs by other companies at the time just like there are now with whatever the current fad is.
I think most of us who had Tamagotchis kept them alive for a few days or weeks at the most and when they died we just left them chained to our mini backpack purses as cute accessories to show how cool we were.
The modern toys are wild. Bandai still makes these things. You can get one at Walmart right now in the toy section for $20. They are the same screen and little critter inside and everything. But they do make a modern more involved version too.
The latest model has a full color screen, games, apps, and can connect to the Tamagotchi servers to upload photos and stuff to friends using phone apps and QR codes. At one point they were using IR signals to send data from one Tamagotchi to the other, then the NFC chip stuff like Amiibos, not sure if that’s still on the latest ones but it’s still cool to see the little egg pet toys evolve over time with technology.
I did play a phone version years ago, it was a mobile app by Bandai but it of course wouldn’t let you do a single thing without prompting you to buy more coins or points with real money or offering you deals on items and stuff for your pets. If you thought the toys notification was obnoxious you would uninstall the app after half an hour like I did due to pop up notifications alone. That’s an issue I have had with every Bandai mobile app to this day but they are way cooler about it now than they were back in like 2015.
Looking at the website it says they now have one that takes photos and you can send them to your friends. Yeah I probably won’t be buying that. Mini egg toys don’t need to be taking pictures and sending them who knows where.
Anyway, they still make the old models which is nice – no need to dump $150 on ebay for a nostalgia hit. They also make a ton of mini versions that are branded to nearly every single tv show/movie license they could get their hands on.
Makes me wonder how well a virtual pet game would do for a modern audience that is a little more casual (I know, I know it’s already simple.) but less “please share on social media and play games for coins!”