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Tamagotchi returns for 20th anniversary into an era when smartphones make it out of place

by Ron Duwell | October 15, 2017October 15, 2017 1:00 pm PDT

You all know me as a guy who loves his nostalgia. The NES Classic Edition, the SNES Classic Edition, an old black and white Game Boy, it doesn’t get any better for me than fun video games from the late 80s to the late 90s.

And yet, even I have a little trouble wrapping my brain around this latest grab for your sentimentality dollars. Tamagotchi, the Japanese pet-simulator that flooded the North American market back in 1997, is coming back on Nov. 5 in North America from Bandai. For $14.99, you can, once again, create a fun pet monster on a black and white 16×16 pixelated screen, feed it, play with it, care for it, clean its Hershey Kiss poop, and ultimately fight back the tears once it expires on from its digital world… just to start all over again.

Or, you can create one, forget about it while playing your latest smartphone game obsession, and neglect it to die a sad, lonely death. I can foresee this being the case for countless of unfortunate Tamagotchi monsters in the near future, those born into a world where smartphones have rendered them pointless.

Aside from a 40 percent smaller screen and a 60 percent smaller general size, very little about the Tamagotchi has changed for this re-release. Bandai Namco designed this latest wave to be as authentic to the latest 90s experience as possible, meaning that those who raised digital pets on a daily basis and researched the heck out of Tamagotchi’s inner-workings will get a kick out of it. The rest of us will scratch our heads, wondering what the heck we were all thinking during those elementary and middle school days.

Like I said, I get it. I have thirty years of Mario tucked under my belt and twenty years of Final Fantasy that refuses to let me go. We all have these ticks for fun games from our youth, and what makes Mario and Final Fantasy stand apart from the rest of my childhood fascinations is that both franchises have always been able to change and adapt to the modern world they find themselves in. This is to varying degrees of success, of course, but by and large, evolution has allowed these two to stay afloat while many others have fallen off the beaten path.

Tamagotchi did not follow in the footsteps of Mario and Final Fantasy. Its purpose barely broke free from its conventions in future generations, and Nintendo saw to it that the fad was quickly squashed by a superior product the following year:Pokémon.

Any hope that Tamagotchi had of becoming a mainstay in North America was quickly dashed the following year, 1998, by a new phenomenon which allowed you to catch, train, and play with black-and-white monsters. 1998 sprung a mobile game with genuine depth and replayability beyond silly rock-paper-scissor games. In retrospect, Tamagotchi was clearly Bandai’s attempt to beat Pokémon out the gate, seeing that it was already crushing the competition back home.

In that regard, Bandai struck at just the right time to make a much money off of Tamagotchi as possible and plant the seed for further monster raising the following year without the burden of being too dated. If Tamagotchi came to America after Pokemania, you would be seeing this product come to the market again in 2017.

But what about the children?

Nowadays, I wonder how Tamagotchi would fare in North America. There might be some fantastical memories for the little electronic eggs, but even if you played with one obsessively as a kid, how many can say that the fun lasted beyond a two or three week period or a handful of pet lifecycles? Fads do exist and are usually signs of a product that failed to make a lasting impression, and when twenty years pass, I get the feeling that this will lead to some misplaced nostalgia for those who look to Tamagotchi to relive its glory days.

That leaves us with the youth of today… yeah, no way. Tamagotchi was released in North American when quality mobile games were still scarce and limited to a few Game Boy hits. I mean, even Tiger handhelds were a still thing in the mid-90s! The idea of using electricity to raise a pet, regardless of the lack of detail, had a certain novelty back then, but that novelty now has a zero percent chance of catching on with the children of Tamagotchi veterans.

Smartphones provide countless options for similar games, ones with color, music, deeper mechanics, and better rewards. And even if the kids don’t want a pet-simulator on their smartphone, you know, they have an infinite number of other choices to pick from. RPGs, platformers, puzzle games, strategy games, these were all options that the Game Boy offered in limited quantities.

I’ve seen how some kids react to the Game Boy, its black-and-white graphics, its lack of a touchscreen, and the empty void where online connections should be. No matter how much fun Link’s Awakening is, they’ll refuse to touch it out of disdain for its presentation.

And if Link’s Awakening fails to reach the younger generation, how does the even more primitive Tamagotchi have a chance?

But, Bandai Namco no doubt realizes this and it is releasing the Tamagotchi as little more than a novelty gift for the 2017 holiday season. It’s the NES Classic at a discounted price and a fraction of the content. This isn’t for your kids. This is for you. The problem is that many who enjoyed Tamagotchi in their youtu now have little time to raise virtual pets since those same people are currently raising little humans.

Those who don’t have children will find better experiences in the modern world and have better like finding meaningful nostalgia outlets elsewhere. If you have those genuine happy feelings about Tamagotchi and can’t wait to breed generation after generation of monsters on a 16×16 pixelated screen, then more power to you!

You can buy a Tamagotchi on Nov. 5 for $14.99. Just remember, this isn’t Digimon, so you can’t battle them in the meantime.

Polygon

Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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