This Thing Rules

Tamagotchi On review: the perfect antidote to the daily hellscape of modern life

What better distraction from your gripping anxiety than feeding, bathing, and cleaning up after a virtual pet?

In retrospect, it should have come as no surprise that the palm-sized, incessantly bleeping children’s toy stole my heart. I’ve built my life around a love for animals and the inexplicable need to always be taking care of something, and there is no companion more demanding than this little plastic egg and the alien universe housed within its pastel pink walls. I’m talking, of course, about a Tamagotchi. Tamagotchi On, to be specific.

Mere months ago I had no idea that the nostalgic toy still existed, let alone a modernized counterpart with app connectivity and a full-color LCD display. Then in late 2017, Bandai rebooted the classic Tamagotchi in miniature form to mark its 20th anniversary, sparking global excitement, and the obsession began. When the company released the beefed-up Tamagotchi On in 2019 (the English counterpart to the Japanese Tamagotchi Meets), I was all set to slam the purchase button without a second thought. Then I saw the price.

Tamagotchi On retails for $59.99. Yes… that’s $60 for a piece of plastic that will (or so I thought) probably end up being more annoying than it is enjoyable, and cast aside within a week. Your reaction is likely the same as mine: “fuuuuuUuck that.” My eyes rolled, my excitement plummeted, and so it sat in my cart for months until I forgot about it.

Tamagotchi On lets characters make friends and even get married to start Tamagotchi families.Input

Fast forward to this past February, when my birthday rolled around. After a seriously hellish year, I wanted to do something for myself that was entirely a treat — something impractical and inherently happy that would feel like a splurge without actually breaking the bank. Thus, Tamagotchi On popped back onto my radar, and this time it was coming home with me.

It's joined the sacred list of items I double-check my pockets for before leaving the house.

It’s perfect for commuters — To my surprise, this toy packs a ton of built-in features and mini-games, which can be expanded upon with the associated app (though the app seems comparatively bland considering all you can do right within the physical system itself). Having done next to no research about it before purchasing, I was content just to feed and bathe my Tamagotchi and casually supervise its strange existence, thumbing through the occasional game when I get bored and praying I don't kill it.

So when I started uncovering more and more treasures as I played — including new towns, bedroom designs, and Tama Pets — I was straight-up thrilled. Seriously, I squealed when a Tama Pet showed up in my virtual backyard. As for games, the day-one defaults Surfing and Dolphin are minimalist bangers, as is Sushi Bar, which you unlock later on.

One of the Tamagotchi twins shares a tender moment with their Tama Pet. Someone seems a bit jealous...Input

While Tamagotchi On may be ‘smart’ compared to the design we remember from the '90s, it’s considerably dumber than most connected game systems today, and that’s what makes it so great. You can throw this thing in your pocket and take it anywhere. Since it doesn’t rely on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, you don’t have to worry about booting issues in areas of poor connectivity — i.e. the subway. It’s perfect for the kind of one-handed, absent-minded play you need to unwind after a long day. The stakes are low, but the reward (you know, genuine joy) is pretty high. And if you’re too busy to take care of your virtual pet? No biggie — you can drop it off at the Tama Hotel for a while, or at its parents’ house if you’ve reached that stage.

I shoulder a lot of stress (who doesn’t?) and I often struggle to switch off my brain at the end of the day, making it hard to concentrate on a book or show in the hours immediately after work. Smartphone games and my Nintendo Switch tend to give me a headache if I’ve already been staring at a screen all day, and they make me feel queasy if I’m using them while in transit. Tamagotchi On is just simple enough to escape these issues. Its small LCD screen doesn’t strain your eyes the way larger, more intricate displays do. Another plus? It makes other people happy too. On several occasions, I’ve had strangers approach me to excitedly ask about it after noticing what was in my hand.

Go ahead, try not to fall in love — Where the original Tamagotchi was lovable but kind of annoying, Tamagotchi On is just lovable. I even choose to turn the sound on — yes, on! — when I’m home. The characters are cute (some are really weird, which is entertaining in a totally different way) and the mini-games are so basic that they’re addicting. Even the friendship and marriage aspect of the new game, which I initially found to be kind of offputting, turned out to be a lot of fun. There’s strategy that goes into forming friendships, and not everyone you propose to will accept your hand in marriage (my poor Tamagotchi has had his heart broken three times already).

My Tamagotchi and his (then soon-to-be) wife. Aw!Input

Just like in real life, these relationships must be earned. I have one complaint, though: you can only marry your Tamagotchi to a member of the opposite sex. That's pretty lame.

You might find yourself so caught up in helping your Tamagotchi thrive that you (read: me) forget the cardinal rule of Tamagotchi care: your virtual pet will one day die. When the inevitable finally caught up with me, I was gutted — genuine, jaw to the floor shock with more than a hint of sadness. For real, I was bummed; that little tombstone hits different in color.

All in all, I’d estimate I spend over an hour using my Tamagotchi On every day, maybe even upwards of two. I play with it more than my Switch and it’s pulled my attention (somewhat) away from social media, which is something my self-esteem really needed. It has — no joke — joined the sacred list of items I double-check my pockets for before leaving the house. So, while I thought I was being ripped off, it turns out this thing is actually kind of a steal. I’m probably even going to buy another one at some point down the line (the Magic version, to complement the Fairy I already own).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wrap this up; I have newborn twins to attend to.