20 years ago, Bandai employee Aki Maita invented the Tamagotchi, widely regarded as the first “virtual pet.” Since then, this primitive, egg-shaped hunk of electronics has achieved worldwide success, with millions upon millions of units sold. While it’s rare to spot a Tamagotchi in the wild these days, the overwhelming influence of these little devices left a lasting legacy in the world of video games. Picking up pixelated poop might not sound all that appealing, but the following games took the spirit of Tamagotchi and really ran with it.
On the surface, Digimon looks like a shameless Pokemon ripoff—and no one would blame you for thinking so. But even though Digimon arrived after Nintendo’s famous monster-collecting RPG, it actually draws inspiration entirely from Tamagotchi. Essentially, Digimon entered the world as a more “masculine” take on the virtual pet. While Tamagotchis task the user for taking care of an adorable blob of pixels, Digimon started with dinosaurs and only got more aggressive from there.
This series of toys would soon evolve into proper video games, as well as spin-off products like anime, manga, and action figures. But back in 1997, it all started with the crazy idea, “What if our Tamagotchis could duel to the death?”
Physical media may nearly be a thing of the past, but having a healthy collection of CDs was vital for playing Monster Rancher. This video game series, which started on the PlayStation in 1997, generates a unique monster whenever you stick a music CD into your console. Like Digimon, it also feels like a battle-focused Tamagotchi, but with far more options this time around. Through the course of a game, you run your monster through a series of training regimens, enter them in tournaments, send them on expeditions, and hopefully make the most of their somewhat short lives.
Unsurprisingly, the gradual decline of physical media ended up deflating the novelty value of Monster Rancher. The last entry launched for the PlayStation 2 in 2006, and we haven’t heard a peep from the series since. Sadly, the days of Monster Rancher seem far behind us, unless developer Tecmo comes up with a sequel that somehow scans our iTunes libraries.
Let’s face facts: The Dreamcast’s VMU—the little memory unit with a screen that slides right into the controller—wouldn’t exist without the Tamagotchi. In fact, Dreamcast developers created many games with Tamagotchi-like functions in mind. And Sonic Adventure ranks in as one of the most notable Dreamcast games where the VMU acts as more than just a mini status screen. Via the game’s Chao Garden, the player can raise one of Adventure’s adorable little critters through some very Tamagotchi-like interactions. You can also play Chao Adventure on the VMU, which levels up your Chao through a somewhat simple mini-game that mostly plays itself.
This idea didn’t originate in Sonic Adventure, though. You can tell Sega had Tamagotchi on the brain back in the late ’90s, since the Saturn’s Nights Into Dreams included a very similar idea in the form of “A-Life.” Even so, most players found this mode a little too obtuse to be worth their time.
Seaman stands as one of the weirdest Dreamcast games, and not just for its giggle-inducing title. Narrated by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, this bizarre little experience tasks you with raising a somewhat belligerent fish-man. And instead of using only traditional controls, some of your interactions with Seaman involve speaking to him via a microphone plugged directly into the Dreamcast controller. To be honest, circa-1999 voice recognition feels incredibly primitive compared to today’s, but back then, you couldn’t beat the novelty of carrying on a conversation with a video game character.
Nintendo actually beat Seaman to the punch with Hey You, Pikachu!, which also entails raising a creature via voice commands. Thanks to the Pokemon connection, Nintendo found more success with their idea, but Seaman definitely earns bonus points for being so off-puttingly weird.
Back when no one knew if the DS would ever take off, Nintendogs stood as a bold experiment by Nintendo. Sure, virtual pet games had made their mark by 2005, but Nintendo leveraged Nintendogs as a true system seller. For a game mostly about putting tiny hats on dogs, Nintendogs became a incredibly massive success for Nintendo. All told, the different versions of the first Nintendogs sold a whopping 23 million copies combined. Even massive worldwide hits like Final Fantasy VII barely come close to meeting half of that number.
Ultimately, Nintendo’s gambit paid off. By focusing some of their efforts on “non-traditional” gamers, the company managed to make their DS one of the best-selling systems of all time. But without Tamagotchi, it’s doubtful they’d find an idea as enticing to outsiders as Nintendogs.
Developer Rare might have lost most of their luster in recent years, but Viva Pinata still stands as one of their better games from the last console generation. Essentially, it mixes Tamagotchi with SimCity: You raise an adorable collection of animals, and also have to tend to their environment. Despite its cutesy trappings, Viva Pinata provides a pretty healthy challenge, seeing as the game asks you to nurture the needs of many different animals—needs that often conflict with the desires of other animals.
With Rare shifting their efforts to the doomed Kinect, Viva Pinata only received a single sequel before fading away. But thanks to the recent release of the Xbox One’s Rare Replay—which includes Viva Pinata—plenty of new players undoubtedly fell under its charming spell.
An Egg-Cellent Influence
Simply put, Tamagotchi has influenced so many games, listing them all here would prove impossible. Bandai’s ability to tap into our natural nurturing instincts with their 1996 device changed the landscape of gaming forever, even if these influences are more obvious in the years immediately following Tamagotchi’s debut. And if you want a blast from the past, Tamagotchi’s mobile port can bring you back to an era where investing yourself in the fate of a small collection of dots didn’t seem all that strange.