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Connection is the Name of the Game

The surpise return of the world's first and greatest virtual pet!

by Adam Arnold

"In our rapidly changing world, technology develops at the speed of light. Today's new electronic breakthrough is tomorrow's old news. Nowhere is the demand for new technology higher than in entertainment and no entertainment field is more advanced than 'The World of Toys.'" - Angelic Layer Vol. 1 by CLAMP

Tamagotchi Connection is one such toy.

It's a pint-sized egg-shaped device with three buttons, a display screen and a key chain that springs to life once the battery stop is pulled. Instantly the device lets out a loud beep and a bobbing egg appears on the screen. After a quick reset of the device, the egg hatches and the proud new parent is able to name their boy or girl. Thirty minutes of pure parenting bliss soon ensues as new users try to fumble their way through figuring out when to feed, play with and discipline or praise their little buddle of joy. And then they grow up and up and up.

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Sure, raising a Tamagotchi--loosley translated as "cute loveable egg"--might seem like an easy endeavor, but it is actually quite nerve-wracking. There is always that "unknown" element of not knowing the future. Could that one accidental spanking spell the difference between getting a Mametchi and a Kuchipatchi or one of the other seven adult characters? Anything is possible and that in itself is part of Tamagotchi's charm. Even if a virtual pet owner does not get the Tama they most desire, they can always strive for it in the next generation.

Obviously though, there would be no virtual pets at all if Tamagotchi had not been the first, and there would be no a Tamagotchi if it were not for a single person...Bandai employee, Aki Maita. You see Aki came up with the concept after a long search to find the perfect companion that would not only fit into her busy lifestyle and small apartment, but also her very pocket.

1996 saw the rise of the pop culture phenomenon in Japan and it was quickly rushed to North America in 1997. By the fall of that year, schools had all ready started banning the eggs and imitators like Giga Pet from classrooms. That is an ironic fact because the lessons that Tamagotchi can teach kids about responsibility actually takes the Sociology lesson of caring for a raw egg to the next level. By the end of the original Tamagotchi's reign, more than forty million units had been sold worldwide with twelve million of those units being in the United States and Canada alone.

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The success of Tamagotchi is not at all surprising, as it was "the" toy to have for people of all ages. To sum up its success, one needs only take notice of all the various releases. There were two generations of the original Tamagotchi--each with a different set of characters; Tamagotchi Angel, which allowed enthusiast to take care of their pets after they "went back to their home planet"; Tamagotchi Ocean --as the name implies, it allows users to raise an ocean dweller; Osutchi & Mesutchi, which are mateable Tamagotchi that were released in Japan only; and Tamagotchi Forest--a slightly complex garden-based Tamagotchi that had a motion sensor incorporated.

Merchandising for Tamagotchi alone was incredibly lucrative for both Bandai and third parties alike. Tamagotchi protectors sprang up almost over night allowing anal-retentive kids to keep their Tamagotchi free from scuffs and scrapes by storing them in mini-plastic cases, book bags and plush replicas of their favorite characters known as "Mini-Keepers." A full line of Tamagotchi Cybies, or beanies, were introduced, as well the Nerds-esque pastel egg candies, jigsaw puzzles, beach towels, log books, board game, the Bandai and Pioneer's cringe-inducing Tamagotchi: Video Adventures and the various console games starting with the Tamagotchi game for Game Boy and PC.

As if Tamagotchi was not recognizable enough, 1998 cemented the toys legacy and eBay collectability when it became a part of McDonald's Happy Meal. A total of eight core prizes (nine if you include the Wal-Mart exclusive Glowagotchi) were introduced, ranging from a Flashagotchi that acted like a flashlight to the two Clearagotchi's that contained plastic keychain versions of Tamatchi and Takotchi.

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Let's not forget the mother of all Tamagotchi spin-offs though...Digimon.

It can be argued that Digimon actually surpassed Tamagotchi because it catered to the core "boy" demographic that was being dominated by Pokemon at the time. Digimon did allow children to pit their digital monsters against one another via special connectors at the top. The original designs are fairly clunky and lacked the polish of the later re-releases based upon the characters of the anime series.

Unfortunately for Tamagotchi, it was largely viewed as a fad product and without a TV series to keep it afloat, it was quickly tossed aside in the toy box with the advent of Furby during the Christmas of 1998. Interestingly enough, Tamagotchi Planet (www.mimitchi.com), the defacto Mecca for all things Tamagotchi, cites that Internet research conducted by Bandai shows that "100 percent of consumers were aware of Tamagotchi and 85 percent of respondents had played with Tamagotchi--even seven years after its original launch in Japan." With numbers like that, it's no doubt that Bandai decided it was time to resurrect the dormant franchise.

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And resurrect it they did!

Tamagotchi Connection, or Plus in Japan, and Connexion in the Europe, takes everything that made the first version so great and adds the ability to link-up with friends to play games, trade presents and even mate your pets. The North American Connection also has had a few tweaks that the other two do not--namely lifecycle changes. Chances are very good that new owners will have a teen by age one and have a fully-grown adult that has all ready mated and has a child by age eight. This is partially because of the high battery usage, but also because a lot of trial and error occurs in those first few days and obviously the "newness factor" needs to stay high enough for kids to not grow tired of their pets.

Tamagotchi Connection made its triumphant return to store shelves on August 10, 2004 during launch events at New York's Toys "R" Us Times Square and the Sony Metreon in San Francisco as hundreds of eager consumers lined up to be owners of the newest "it" item. With five initial colors and designs, a built-in infrared sensor, the ability to store up to 50 friends in the "friends list" and the same great pet raising fun, Tamagotchi Connection has raised the bar for which all other children's electronic devices will have to try and reach for.

That said, Animefringe actually got to chat with Tamagotchi Connection brand manager at Bandai, Lori Moreno about Bandai's reasoning for bringing the product back when they did, the real truth behind the pause feature and some helpful hints for new parents!

Animefringe: Why bring back Tamagotchi after such a long hiatus?

Lori Moreno: The time seemed right. The brand was becoming nostalgic and getting mentioned on "I Remember the 90's" type specials and such. According to Web research conducted by Bandai, even though it has been seven years since Tamagotchi was launched in the U.S., 85 percent of consumers have played with one of the toys, and 55 percent of them replied that they are still interested in playing Tamagotchi. Our research also found that there is 100 percent recognition of Tamagotchi by consumers, and demand for the next generation of Tamagotchi is high.

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Additionally, as the toy industry experiences a downturn, Tamagotchi Connection is one of the first items to be released in time for the holidays that could reinvigorate toy sales.

AF: What new features might users not realize right away about Tamagotchi Connection?

LM: The advanced Tamagotchi Connection features infrared technology, allowing the virtual pet to interact and develop social relationships with other Tamagotchi. They can visit each other to give gifts and play games together. If two Tamagotchi are compatible, and the degree of friendship reaches a high enough level, they can create second, third and fourth generations. This new version also features a larger display and better graphics than the original.

AF: Have there been any changes--aside from English translations--that have been made to the North American Tamagotchi Connection that make it different from the Japanese version?

LM: Several words were changed to more appropriate American "lingo." A couple of icons were changed in the US version (i.e., no ghost appears in the US version), and the duck shaped "potty" seat was changed to a regular toilet in the US version.

The most significant difference is that the US version can be put on pause.

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AF: Was the addition of generations and breeding a way to offset the claims that the original Tamagotchi from 1997 were traumatizing children?

LM: We wanted to bring Tamagotchi back with new features and exciting advancements so that Tamagotchi fans had something new to look forward to with Tamagotchi Connection. This seemed like a natural evolution of the product from our perspective. With the original Tamagotchi, the goal was to see how long you could keep it alive. Now the challenge is to see how many generations you can reach.

However, just like the original, your Tamagotchi character can die if it is too weak, not cared for properly, or simply too old. However, by pressing a couple of buttons, a new egg hatches and the owner can care for a new virtual pet.

AF: It seems that both pausing and changing the clock on a Tamagotchi Connection can have an effect on the age at which a Tamagotchi evolves and dies. If these options are now documented as being a feature, why don't they have a warning that this side effect may happen?

LM: Putting Tamagotchi Connection on pause, or changing the clock time doesn't affect the "life cycle" at all. That is not a feature or side effect. The internal Tamagotchi "clock" is not affected by the regular clock.

AF: What kind of new Tamagotchi products can we expect in the future?

LM: Bandai has a few surprises in store for the upcoming Tamagotchi products. While this next generation of Tamagotchi features IR technology, offering interactivity and the ability to create new generations, we plan to offer the next phase of Tamagotchi in the future with more unique features.

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AF: As far as the original release is concerned, when did Bandai realize they had a huge hit on their hands?

LM: It took a few months after it was released in Japan in 1996. Once the demand skyrocketed there we were pretty sure this would become a global phenomenon.

AF: What was the strangest complaint you have ever heard about Tamagotchi?

LM: It's always interesting when you hear that a Tamagotchi is sleeping all day and keeping the owner up at night. A.M. and P.M. are very important when setting the clock if you want to ensure a peaceful night's sleep.

AF: What is your favorite Tamagotchi character?

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LM: Mimitchi.

AF: Are there any tips you can give aspiring new virtual pet owners?

LM: Exercise is very important. It keeps their weight down and makes them strong and active. Also, don't be afraid to scold them if they're making a fuss for no real reason. No one likes a brat that throws temper tantrums. So discipline is a must.

It's very important to keep playing with Tamagotchi so they stay healthy and continue with new generations. New characters are available with each new generation of Tamagotchi. Lastly, it's probably not the best idea to take them swimming.

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