Tamagotchi are very needy, especially when you can’t hack your way out of caring for one, as I was reminded after importing the Japanese-exclusive Tamagotchi Smart.
This is technically Bandai’s first Tamagotchi smartwatch, though it’s not exactly what comes to mind when you envision a smartwatch. The only wearable part of the virtual pet is its silicone outer shell, which simultaneously protects it from the elements and keeps it strapped to your wrist.
You can buy the Tamagotchi Smart as long as you’re willing to pay to ship it from Japan. I bought the Tamagotchi Smart 25th Anniversary set through JapanYouWant, which is a trusted retailer in the scene. However, you can buy it from Amazon Japan, provided you have an account and the retailer can ship overseas.
I don’t regret my purchase! This is one of the best Tamagotchi I’ve played without any tweaks and cheats, helped in part by its hybrid touch controls and improved interactivity. It even charges by microUSB, so I didn’t have to bother stocking up on batteries to play. There’s so much to like about the new Tamagotchi Smart, and if you’re a fan of digital pets, it’s worth the import.
Still So Small, but Not On Your Wrist
The first thing I noticed about the Tamagotchi Smart is how small Bandai made it. It’s tiny compared to the Tamagotchi Pix and Tamagotchi On. The actual size of the toy is more reminiscent of older Tamagotchis. However, it’s the least connected of the batch mentioned here, as it doesn’t have any Bluetooth or camera hardware that would require a larger chassis.
The Tamagotchi Smart comes in a variety of colors with matching wristbands. I picked up the white anniversary edition, which comes bundled with a TamaSma card (more on that in a bit). That version cost me $130, and I paid about $150 altogether with shipping. I know, I know.
The pink and blue models of the Tamagotchi Smart are more affordable at around $60, which is as much as its sister color models. There’s also a special edition white NiziU version, which costs around $80, or 8,800 yen, and is based on a Japanese girl group I only found out about after accidentally pre-ordering that version because I wanted the pink trim. I grew tired of waiting and canceled it in favor of this plain white one. I’m a little bummed about how quickly the white variant dirtied up. The plastic hard shell part of the device looks fine. But those silicone doors have already yellowed and are in need of a scrub. I’m regretful I didn’t photograph the unit before writing this up so that I could have a sparkling white Tamagotchi to show off.
To that end, I also noticed how gross the screen gets after only a day’s worth of touching it. I am constantly wiping down this Tamagotchi with alcohol wipes to remove my finger grime.
Introducing TamaSma Cards
The Tamagotchi Smart has similar gameplay to the Tamagotchi On and Tamagotchi Pix before it. In most instances, Bandai tends to iterate on its gameplay with every new version, adding new games, items, and characters to keep things fresh.
The overall goal for every Tamagotchi remains the same: raise your Tamagotchi, keep them happy and healthy, and then marry them off to reproduce the next generation. If you don’t like the “combination” of Tamagotchi you end up with through the so-called breeding process, you can basically let the Tamagotchi die to start over with a new lineage. It’s precisely as brutal as it sounds, but it’s how to play the game and get the pet you want.
One way to influence the outcome of your Tamagotchi Smart is by using a TamaSma card. The memory card plugs into the right-side port on the Tamagotchi Smart, similar to the Deco pieces that Bandai used with its Tamagotchi P series released in 2012.
The Tamagotchi Smart uses two rubber doors on each side of the chassis to cover up its charging port on its left side and a TamaSma card port on its right. The white Smart that I bought came with the “1996 friends” TamaSma card in the box, which includes updated assets from the original LCD-based Tamagotchi games. There are six different TamaSma cards so far, each of which allows you to download specialized characters, meals, snacks, toys, accessories, wallpapers, clockfaces, and games. You can use only one TamaSma pack at a time, so you can’t exactly mix and match sets like you could between the different variants of the Tamagotchi On.
One important note: I wouldn’t have been able to play the Tamagotchi Smart without help from the fan community. I found a translated Japanese instruction manual, which helped me learn the game’s mechanics and understand every symbol and animation. I used this translated guide provided by Gotchi Garden.
Touch to Play
Rather than the traditional three-button array that’s been in use since its inception, the Tamagotchi Smart uses only one physical button. It functions primarily as a Home button, while the rest of the interaction takes place on screen with the Tamagotchi’s touch display. Each corner of the Tamagotchi’s 128 x 128 screen is a button, and you can slide between them to make different inputs.
Getting the touch mechanism to work can be tricky in specific menus. I kept pressing the wrong option, and it didn’t seem to matter if my nails were long or not. To that end, I noticed my daughter’s toddler-sized fingers fit the screen perfectly and was reminded of the actual target demographic of this particular toy.
I eventually went to Reddit to try to figure out how to touch the display. One user described the touch mechanism as “slow and purposeful.” But if it’s too slow, you’ll end up selecting a button you didn’t mean.
Once I got the hang of it, everything started to make sense. In the end, it’s not as annoying as when compared to the Tamagotchi Pix’s touch buttons, which is the main reason I took the batteries out of that one and left it sitting on the toy shelf. Bandai added the touch controls to make the Tamagotchi Smart feel like an actual smartwatch. As I tapped around while the device was on my wrist, the movement becomes as fluid as swiping through the menu screens on my Samsung Galaxy Watch 4.
Besides navigation menus, there are other ways to interact with the Tama to effectively “play the game.” By long-pressing on the Tamagotchi itself, a menu comes up that shows the different ways you can increase its happiness. The first option lets you pet the Tamagotchi by tapping or stroking the screen. In some cases, you’ll have to figure out whether the Tama wants you to move your finger up and down the left side of its body or across the top of its head. Choose carefully, because the wrong stroke will upset your Tama.
In addition to physically stroking your Tama, you can talk to it using the integrated microphone. The Tama doesn’t understand anything except that there is noise blasting through, but it’s an easy way to help improve its mood.
For something a little more passive, there’s a third option to have a conversation with the Tamagotchi. But rather than talking to it, it will ask you a question and then wait for you to select an option in response on the screen.
The Tamagotchi games all have their own level of interactivity, too, and some require you to physically move along with the Tamagotchi. One game has you move your arm up and down to dance to a melody. Another needs you to wash a dog and requires you to shake the unit to get the job done. At bedtime, the Tamagotchi may also ask you to pet it as it drifts off to sleep. Doing so helps ensure it’s in a good mood the following morning. Yes, I realize this is... a lot.
It’s Not Really A Smartwatch
Tamagotchi Smart is only a smartwatch in name and not so much in function. There is a clock face that you can access by swiping on the screen. There are nine different watch faces to choose from out of the gate, or you can download additional ones from the TamaSma cards. Some of them function as step counters, but for the most part, the watch faces are there to help spark conversation when someone sees you’re wearing a Tamagotchi. This happened to me a few times when I wore this out instead of my Galaxy Watch 4, and you bet your ass I flexed on how much I knew.
Most of the color Tamagotchi have unofficial swappable faceplates in some capacity. It’s fairly easy to do on models like the Tamagotchi Pix, where you can use a credit card to forcefully pop out the plastic plate. But the Tamagotchi Smart requires you to unscrew the chassis and remove the logic board from the case. I would caution you against doing that if you’ve never done it before, as you could ruin it. However, the result does look charming.
A Needy Baby
I don’t recall having a Tamagotchi be this needy in my years of playing the game. But I have also been hacking my way through these virtual pets for a while now. I found a groove with the Smart by checking in with Tama every time I stepped away for a break to eat. We have breakfast together, lunch, and then dinner. I also check in with the Tamagotchi before my real-life daughter’s bathtime to make sure my virtual pet is tucked in tight.
The Tamagotchi Smart will likely stay on my desk as a fidget toy for a while longer. I’m hoping to order more SmaCards from overseas as they become available to collect more items, play new games, and breed new combinations of Tamagotchi.
If you’re not a Tamagotchi fan like myself, the language barrier might be too much for you to stay a consistent player. Even after a few weeks of memorizing which buttons mean what, after endlessly referencing the translated instruction manual, I found myself tuning out of some of the “dialogue” scenes. Sometimes, I’ll have no idea what an item does until I search for it at a fan site. If you’re not interested in that kind of parsing of detail, you’re better off not importing the Tamagotchi Smart.
For everyone else, particularly in the U.S., the Tamagotchi Pix and Tamagotchi On are both still for sale for $50-$60, which is around the same price. However, the latter’s companion mobile app is going the way of the dodo pretty soon in Japan, which is worrying fans in other markets that it’s a sign of things to come. It’s clear Bandai is trying some new stuff for its color-screen lineup of Tamagotchi. I’m excited to have something new to play with that also has a bit of collector’s value.