November 19, 2023
During the 90s, Digimon fought with Pokémon for supremacy as the ultimate virtual pet fighter, but did you know where it all began? The facts might surprise you! Discover everything you need to know about the original Digimon toy as we revisit the craze, explore its gameplay, and more.
Bandai rocketed Digimon to fame in the late 1990s after toy tycoons identified a gap in the market for a battle-ready, player-vs-player digital pet. Unlike the Tamagotchi, one Digimon needed to battle another to evolve.
When did Digimon come out?
The “Digital Monster” or Digimon was released in 1997 by Bandai – the same Japanese toy company behind the Tamagotchi-craze. Since the Tamagotchis were passive and primarily marketed at young girls, Bandai saw an opportunity to create virtual pets that would appeal to a male audience (which, of course, has to involve fighting and competition).
And thus, Digital Monster (Digimon) was created.
Much like its predecessor, Digimon was a massive hit (over 14 million units sold worldwide to date). From caring for these tiny digital monsters to preparing them for battle, players were immersed in a franchise that would eventually lead to an anime, toyline, comic, and trading card game.
The Digimon lifecycle
The original Digimon virtual pet is often called a ‘Digimon Tamagotchi’ because it functioned very similarly, at least at first.
Original Digimon devices all begin with a baby Digimon encased within an egg (sound familiar?) Once hatched, it was time to train, care for, and evolve the fantasy creature to prepare it for battle with other players to see who was better.
Throughout Digimon’s life, the pets will develop into more powerful, vital creatures as they age. When a Digimon dies, it respawns as a Digi-Egg; once the egg hatches, the Digimon goes through its life cycle again.
The concept was marketing gold in the late 90s. Players were hooked on the gameplay loop of seeing their Digimon evolve into stronger, more powerful creatures they could battle their friends with.
Best starting Digimon virtual pets
Like Tamagotchi, Digimon toys had multiple releases that featured different characters but shared the same mechanics. There were initially five Digimon devices with their own starting character and tree of possible evolutions.
With the original Digimon handheld, everyone wanted to start with special characters like Teddymon, the famous puppeteer, Darkmon the Evil Digimon, Devimon clad in the jet-black cloth, Meramon the Flame Digimon, and Monzaemon – which is an Ultimate Level Digimon. The higher up in the ranking, the more vital the Digimon.
You can get these unique entities based on how you trained and fought with your Digimon. For example, to get your Digimon to its Ultimate Level, you need to participate in 15 battles and win at least 60% of them.
However, some special characters like Teddymon could be achieved by inserting and removing the tab that came with the Digimon device. There were other “cheat” methods to trick the device into giving you your desired Digimon, but many risked damaging the toy.
If you can’t remember how to tend to your Digimon vpet, here’s a mini-guide on keeping your little fighter happy and healthy. The original product has three buttons: the A button scrolls, the B button activates the selected function, and the C button cancels out whatever is on the screen. Similar to Tamagotchi, the Digmon device’s reset button can be reached with a pen or other sharp object.
Check out the gameplay categories below. Any Tamagotchi veteran will tell you it’s all about avoiding an early grave with these tiny creatures. Naturally, you have to make sure your Digimon is in tip-top shape to give it the best chance in battle.
- Status Checks – The game always begins by checking the pet’s age, weight, strength, hunger, and energy on the status screen. That’s how you determine what the pet needs to prepare for battle.
- Feeding – Of course, you have to feed your Digimon – they can’t fight on an empty stomach! Keeping your Digimon happy is just as important as it is with Tamagotchi.
- Training – Unsurprisingly, the training function is used to lose weight and increase strength (if only it was easy as hitting a button in real life!)
- Cleaning Up – Yes, just like a Tamagotchi, your Digimon poops, and you’re going to have to clean it up; otherwise, they’ll get sick.
- Healing – If a Digimon gets injured during battle, you must nurse them back to health before they fight again.
- Battle Mode – This is where you can link to another owner’s device and have your two Digimon engage in battle. Be careful; battling too many times without letting your Digimon rest can kill it!
- Toggling – When a Digimon sleeps, and the lights remain on, the virtual monster can’t get enough energy for a high-power evolution. It turns out this pet needs a dark space to get some rest.
Digimon device versions
Bandai released several upgrades, updates, and new Digimon devices throughout the late 90s to the early 2000s to keep fans interested.
The company came out with various versions like the Digimon Pendulum, which is the second in the series.
The Pendulum series generated other Digimon series, including the Pendulum 3.0, Nightmare Soldiers Pendulum, Wind Guardians Pendulum, and more. Bandai also created the Pendulum X series, Digimon iC, Digimon Mini, and WonderSwan (WonderSwan is a handheld entertainment console by Bandai).
We also had the Digimon Digivice, which was an interactive device that looked like an egg. It was a smaller version based on the Digimon Adventure anime.
Digimon 20th anniversary edition
Bandai came out with a 20th-anniversary edition in 2017. This special edition Digimon toy was only released in Japan and allowed players to choose an egg type from the first five original versions, plus a few new ones you can unlock. The rest of the world got their hands on the gadget when Bandai released the Digimon 20th anniversary virtual pet worldwide in 2019.
If you’re in the market to buy, you’ll be glad to hear they’re relatively easy to come by.
Akiyoshi Hongo is cited as the creator of the original Digimon device, but this is actually an alias composed of three separate people: Aki Maita (co-creator of the original Tamagotchi), Hiroshi Izawa (author of the first Digimon Manga), and Takeichi Hongo (Bandai’s marketing director).
Lee is curator of nostalgia and a long-time collector of loveable junk. An 80s baby, 90s kid, he knows he had it good when it came to Saturday morning cartoons. Spends his life trying to recapture the dopamine hit of playing Game Boy for the first time and believes Beanie Babies will make a fortuitous comeback. Obsessed with everything (and anything) retro, he is your trusted guide to a world of 90s toys, games and collectables.