Years before smartphones, kids’ preferred digital distraction was the Tamagotchi. The tiny gadgets were revived back in 2017, and have since evolved into more sophisticated handhelds. The latest version, the $99 Tamagotchi Pix, has a digital camera that introduces some novel interactivity and lets kids snap selfies with their virtual pets.
Bandai America resurrected the original Tamagotchi 20 years after its debut (and 21 years after it first took Japan by storm) both for ‘90s kids looking to scratch a nostalgic itch and for a new generation looking for their next digital addiction. But in 2017 the Tamagotchi had to compete with the Nintendo Switch, upgraded smartphones, and even smart wearables. Not even the lure of nostalgia could make the original Tamagotchi compelling enough to devote endless hours to again, so it quickly evolved. Just a few years later, a better Tamagotchi arrived with a colour screen, wireless interactivity, and even virtual weddings.
Was it enough to finally lure kids away from smartphones? Seemingly not, because the Tamagotchi has evolved once again in an attempt to appeal to a generation raised on countless devices with built-in cameras. The most obvious appeal of the new Tamagotchi Pix is that it lets kids indulge in the vanity of selfies. With only a rear-facing camera, and no screen or mirror on the back to frame a shot, it takes some trial and error to figure out the best angle to capture a photo with a virtual pet.
Part of the appeal of snapping selfies is sharing them on social media for friends, family, and frenemies to see and judge, but since Bandai America is still positioning the Tamagotchi as a toy primarily targeted at kids, the photos it captures (by pressing down on the top of the egg-shaped device) remain forever trapped with the virtual pet inside it. The new Tamagotchi Pix does include a simulated social feed as one of its many included activities, which allows kids to share photos without parents having to worry about monitoring online interactions.
The camera on the Tamagotchi Pix has other clever uses, too. Instead of relying on only what’s in a virtual fridge to feed their pet, kids can snap photos of real-life foods as nourishment, although without intelligent image recognition it means a virtual pet can be sustained on potato chips and licorice if a kid so chooses, without the detrimental effects of a junk food diet in real life.
There’s no wireless connectivity at all with this Tamagotchi, not even infrared communications like the Tamagotchi On included. But the Pix can still let kids set up play dates, exchange gifts with other users, and even access new content from the internet through the use of Tama Codes: a variation of QR codes that can be recognised by the Tamagotchi’s camera.
Another hardware update that longtime Tamagotchi owners will probably immediately notice is the lack of physical buttons below the device’s colour LCD screen. They’ve been replaced by a set of three touch-sensitive buttons instead which allow for new types of interactions. Users can slide their fingers back and forth across all three of them as a way to show affection to the virtual pet. The change also means less hardware to physically break, so the Tamagotchi Pix should long outlive generation after generation of the little creatures.
There are also new ways to play with the Tamagotchi, and how it’s raised and the activities an owner chooses during its developmental stages will influence what profession it eventually has ”when they return to Tamagotchi Planet.” So unlike older versions of the toy, death isn’t necessarily the penultimate outcome.
That should help take the sting out of saying goodbye to a virtual pet after weeks spent caring for it, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the Tamagotchi Pix’s $99 price tag. The original sold for $24 back in 1997 — closer to $40 today — but even though the new Tamagotchi Pix is packed with upgrades, $99 is the cost of a solid video game on a next-gen console, or a mountain of mobile games downloaded to a phone. That’s stiff competition, but at the same time if you’ve got a kid begging you for a dog, a $99 virtual pet is a lot cheaper in the long run, and there’s not a single breed that comes with a built-in camera.