September 4, 2022
January 11, 2023
If you were a kid in the 90s, your first real taste of responsibility was probably caring for a virtual pet. Hitting the market at the same time were the Tamagotchi and the Giga Pet – but which digital pet is the best?
Bandai’s Tamagotchi is one of the most iconic toy innovations to come out of the 1990s, but it wasn’t the only handheld digital pet on the market. Tiger Electronics came out with their own version, Giga Pets, and overnight a legendary rivalry was born.
So, take a scroll down memory lane as we look at the overall design, game mechanics, and legacy of both these prolific 90s toys to see which offered kids the superior crash course in pet parenting.
The Tamagotchi’s simple, egg-shaped design is what helped made it so iconic. The Giga Pet kept the same basic dimensions, but the overall shape differed based on which animal you had.
What’s a Tamagotchi? The original Tamagotchi was an egg-shaped computer small enough to fit into your pocket, with a screen no larger than a postage stamp. The toy came with a small chain that kids would often use to attach to their school backpacks or belt buckles so they could quickly respond to the needs of their virtual alien pet. To older generations, it merely resembled a computerized pocket watch, except that instead of telling time, it was purely designed to entertain kids (and perhaps teach them a lesson about responsibility).
The toy had three buttons on the front that allowed kids to navigate the game menu and select options like feeding or disciplining their Tamagotchi. There was also a small reset button on the back that cleared the game and let kids start fresh (something that many kids were regrettably forced to do when they neglected their pet for too long).
Unlike the first wave of Tamagotchis, Giga Pets had a less uniform appearance and were shaped differently based on which animal they contained. They also had shorter keychains than the Tamagotchi.
Giga Pets came with four buttons on the front, and this made navigating menus a little more convenient since the two left and right buttons could be used to go back and forth through the menu (while the Tamagotchi forced you to start again if you went past the selection you wanted). Like the Tamagotchi, each Giga Pet also had a reset button kids could use to try again if they failed to give their pet the attention it needed.
While having some superficial differences, the game mechanics the Tamagotchi and Giga Pet were basically identical. No matter what toy they got, kids had to be ready to take care of their virtual pet from cradle to grave.
When they activated their Tamagotchi, kids would need to set the clock, after which the pet hatches, revealing one of four small alien species. The Tamagotchi had a health meter influenced by the ‘care actions’ you took, like feeding, disciplining, and playing with your virtual pet.
Notoriously, the Tamagotchi would die if you neglected to take care of it and its health meter reached zero. However, no matter how well you took care of it, the Tamagotchi would eventually die of old age (some could live to a maximum of 25 years or 24 real-world days). If you took good care of your Tamagotchi during its adult life stage, an animation would play showing that it laid its own egg, prompting you to reset the device and start caring for the next generation.
Giga Pets are activated when the tab on the back is pulled back, at which point the device’s respective animal is born. Each pet would come to life in different ways (the ‘Baby T-Rex’ would hatch from an egg, while the ‘Compu Kitty’ is delivered via stork etc.)
Giga Pets’ game mechanics were very similar to that of the Tamagotchi, with some slightly different options (like bathing the pet for better hygiene).
The most apparent difference between the two virtual pets is that Giga Pets were based on real animals. In contrast, Tamagotchi’s characters were fun original designs from the minds of its creative team.
Both virtual pets had a discipline meter, and the original Tamagotchi allowed the player to scold their pet for bad behavior, whereas the Giga Pet could earn discipline points for praising good traits or punishing negative ones.
Giga Pets were known to be the needier of the two digital pets. Tamagotchi would usually beep when hungry, sad, sick, or when it had pooped, whereas the Giga Pet could beep solely because they wanted a treat or a little extra attention.
Since its release in 1996, Tamagotchi has sold over 82 million units worldwide. Giga Pets sold a lot less globally, as the electronic toy mainly appealed to the North American audience. Although Giga Pets would also fly off the shelves, for many 90s kids, Tamagotchi was their first choice – it was the originator of the whole virtual pet craze, after all.
While not as globally successful as Tamagotchi, Giga Pets addressed the demand for virtual pets based on real animals and were more readily available to American kids (they were also $5 cheaper than the Tamagotchi).
While the Tamagotchi sold more, the initial fad died out pretty quickly, and Giga Pets proved to have a little more staying power, mostly thanks to tie-ins with franchises like Jurassic Park and Star Wars. However, by 2000, Giga Pets had lost most of its steam along with the Tamagotchi.
Both virtual pets have released newer models since the 90s in the hopes of capitalizing on nostalgia and reintroducing the toys to a new generation. The first thing you’ll notice about both digital pet reboots is the colored-digital screens which are much easier on the eyes than the gray-scale pixels of old.
Top Secret Toys LLC relaunched Giga Pets in 2018. They’re made by the same manufacturer, programmers, and game designers from the 1990s, which is pretty cool. Today, there are plenty more features like augmented reality, more advanced gameplay, and additions to the egg-shaped housings like fairy wings, Troll hair, and limbs. The Troll hair even grows! These things are more evolutionary than revolutionary. but a leap ahead of digital pets from the 90s.
Bandai has released dozens of different Tamagotchi variants throughout the years. One of the most notable is the “Tamagotchi Mix”, which included a new way to mix the genetics of Tamagotchi parents to create seemingly endless combinations. There have also been numerous crossovers, with Bandai releasing Eevee x Tamagotchi (2018) to the excitement of Pokémon fans. An official first time collaboration for these two 90s toy titans.
The latest graced our presence in the middle of 2020, right when we needed it most. “Tamagotchi: Gudetama” features everything you’d expect, like feeding, playing, and frantically pressing the buttons to stop the beeping. But the new version has some advanced features like a library, dressmaker, unique accessories, snacks, and more.
Oh, we should also mention your Tamagotchi can now get married and have babies too – just like all your friends today!
Thanks to its unique name and being the driving force behind the craze for virtual pets, Tamagotchi undoubtedly has a greater legacy. With that said, Giga Pets were a worthy competitor and more than just a cheap knock-off, being fondly remembered by 90s kids who couldn’t get their hands on a Tamagotchi.
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September 4, 2022
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