Convincing kids to hand over their tablets and game controllers to go play outside is no easy task, but Bandai Namco’s Vital Hero watches might actually make fitness more appealing through gamification. Instead of chasing high scores, it straps a Digimon to a kid’s wrist, one that only gets better in battles the more active they are.
Whereas the iconic Tamagotchi is all about raising and caring for a virtual pet through diligent feedings, cleanings, and play time, Bandai’s Digimon took the approach popularised by Pokémon, where responsibility in caring for a digital monster is rewarded with increased strength and occasional evolutions that make them more capable in battles.
The Vital Hero is basically one of those pocketable Digimon virtual pet toys merged with a wearable fitness tracker. The monochromatic pixelated LCD screens of yesteryear have been been replaced with a full colour vertically-oriented LED display, and while the device still has buttons, the only way to improve the digital monster’s stats are through daily missions that require kids to do various activities like walks, sprints, squats, and even a round of shadow boxing, all tracked through the wearable’s built-in motion and heart rate sensors.
The more active a child is, the faster their digital monster’s stats will improve, increasing their chances of a victory when it comes to random battles against other monsters. If they lose, they have to keep facing that same monster again and again until a win allows them to proceed, providing further incentive to be active.
Kids can also battle friends with a Vital Hero using an included “Dim Card” that physically plugs into the wearable like a USB flash drive and transfers their monster to a friend’s device. But battles can also be deliberately triggered at any time by tapping the wearable against any NFC-equipped device, like a smartphone, or a payment terminal: an approach that sounds similar to the Barcode Battler game of the early ‘90s that had kids scanning random bar codes for power-ups and unlockable characters.
The Vital Hero isn’t the first attempt to gamify fitness trackers in an attempt to make kids more active. But evolving an animated digital monster that can fight other monsters right on your wrist certainly sounds more compelling than chasing a new high score, or unlocking awards and trophies in a connected app. The Vital Hero is available starting today on Amazon with a blue or black band for $US65 ($90), while a version with a red band is currently a Walmart exclusive.