System: Nintendo 64
Also on: N64 exclusive
Ever fancied adopting a Tamagotchi and evolving it through four forms by winning points from playing mini-games to feed it, clean it and keep it happy, while simultaneously stitching your opponents up to prevent them doing the same, all via the medium of a 4-player board game? Of course you do. Direct comparison with Nintendo’s board game behemoth, Mario Party, is inevitable and I don’t expect anyone else on the planet to agree with my preference for Bandai’s digital baby raising sim, but come with me as I try to explain why it is that I love visiting Tamagotchi World.
(Note: I couldn’t get Tamagotchi World working correctly in any N64 emulator, so screenshots for this article were captured using the timeless method of pointing a camera at a TV. I think the results are OK and I’m not really bothered what you think, unless you want to do it. You’re welcome!)
Hold on. Tamagotchi? What is this bizarre word I’m typing? During the mid-’90s, Bandai produced a portable artificial pet that lived on a keychain. In typical Japanese portmanteau noun fashion, they named it after the Japanese word for egg, ‘tamago’, and the English word ‘watch’ alluding to the inbuilt clock function. This simple LCD device would nag its proxy parent throughout the day with a piercing double beep, requesting digital food and to be played with or washed. Keep it happy and it could evolve into any one of a variety of forms. However, there was no way to pause the progress of this virtual life in the early models and the increasingly insistent requests for attention could happen at any time of the day or night and even, most controversially, when the owner was at school. The choice here was simple; take the beeping menace with you and risk having it confiscated or leave it at home unattended for the day only to return home to find it very sick or, worse, dead. Yes. Dead. Neglect your virtual baby and all of that effort was wasted as you returned to a screen that showed a gravestone or an angel. Due to disruption caused at the height of the craze, many schools ended up banning Tamagotchi devices from their premises. Later models contained colour screens with higher resolutions, more features and, thankfully, a pause facility, but the underlying theme of nurturing your alien baby remained. Tamagotchis are still produced today, and there are many enthusiastic collectors and players worldwide, but mainstream interest outside of Japan has long faded.
According to the introduction of this Nintendo 64 game, some Tamagotchis are merrily flying past Earth in their spaceship when an argument inevitably breaks out over food. In the ensuing melee, no one remembers to pilot the ship and they come crashing down, taking resident Tamagotchi obsessive Dr. Banzo with them. Initially angry at being blindsided by a tiny spaceship, the doctor suddenly has a great idea and, six days later, he’s built them a new house to live in. With the help of his glamorous assistant, Mikachu, he sets about raising the stray Tamagotchis to adulthood. But not without the help of you, up to three friends and a liberal scattering of mini-games!
The developer of the game, AI, has made absolutely nothing else of immediate interest to me except, interestingly and perhaps perversely, the Game Boy Advance port of Mario Party in 2005. The rest of their output is dominated by puzzle games and Hudson and Bandai licences, which I have no experience of. Under Bandai’s guidance, AI have done a fantastic job of capturing the joy of what I imagine the expanded Tamagotchi universe to be. Almost every object in the game has a pair of eyes and an enthusiastic expression stuck onto the front of it, something that will be immediately familiar to gamers who experienced Rare’s output on this very console. Setting up a game is very straightforward and it only takes a few minutes to enter player names, choose an egg each and view the optional gameplay tutorial.
Continuing the attractive initial presentation is Tamagotchi World’s brilliant graphical design. Packed full of bright colours and character, even when afflicted by the N64’s infamously grey and indistinct low-resolution graphics mode, the majority of visuals are billboards, those always-turning-to-face-you-in-a-slightly-creepy-way 2D images. This suits the licence well and I think rendering everything in 3D would have only served to detract from the overall look. The game board itself has all sorts of things going on in the background including some distinctly odd creatures. Despite the fact that they aren’t animated, it’s always a pleasure to look at these and the other items littering the play field and they are no less full of personality for their static design. There are also some humorous touches in the observation area at the top of the screen, where you can see what all four Tamagotchis are up to as the game plays out on the board below. They’ll happily entertain themselves by playing in cardboard boxes or bathing, maybe even doing press-ups using their lips, and will give you a clue to their status when they’re ill or, most amusingly, smiling enthusiastically while trailing a long line of triangular turds behind them. Their actions are accompanied by cheerful whistles and chirrups or upset screeches depending on how successful your attempt to interact has been. There are also numerous bold, full-screen cut-away sequences littered throughout the introduction, ending and the game itself. The only minor complaint I have about the graphics is that, given there isn’t a huge amount of polygons and visual effects flying around, it’s a shame the game’s cartoonish personality was not presented in high resolution mode. Us N64 gamers are used to peering through fog at heavily filtered, low-polygon 3D models, but the majority of graphics here are flat textures and enhanced visuals would have been a welcome feature.
The sound is up to the same strong standard as the graphics, with a copious number of different tunes, speech samples and sound effects, all available to enjoy at your leisure through the sound test in the rather extensive options menu. The game is very talkative and contains a surprisingly large amount of speech including a fully voiced introduction and ending, and a song to go with the explanation of the rules. One of three background tunes plays during the game itself with a more hectic one kicking in when someone’s close to winning. None of these three tracks are irritating and make you want to turn the sound off, which is a very good thing as a game of Tamagotchi World generally lasts around two hours. The main board background music is also broken up by the various themes that play when interacting with the Tamagotchis and during the mini-games, my particular favourites being the ones that contain dog bark samples. I can’t explain that, I just enjoy them. Another major extra squirreled away in the options menu is a list of every Tamagotchi form you can encounter in the game; 59 of the buggers. Only appearing once unlocked, you can view a short profile on each, along with a picture. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s nice to flick through this guide and enjoy the often bizarre designs, as well as keep track of how many you’re missing.
You can choose your egg from five colours (white, blue, yellow, red or green) available in plain or checked shell varieties. Alternatively, you can go with your choice of non-standard egg designs saved onto the cartridge, which you acquire by winning a game. This is the key to raising any of the less common Tamagotchis and filling up the empty slots in the guide. After your first turn, the egg will hatch, usually into a small blob with a big, cheesy grin on its face, accompanied by the trademark attention-seeking double beep. This is a happy game, everyone is pleased to be here and you should be too. This is certainly not the right game to play if you’re feeling grumpy. Your Tamagotchi’s statistics are explained by a box in the top-left of the screen showing, from top to bottom, its hunger, whether it wants to be played with, how much it’s been disciplined, and finally the power meter. Gaining power points is easy. Simply land on plus spaces, feed your Tamagotchi its favourite food, successfully play a game with it or win at one of the eleven mini-games. However, almost every action costs you some of your limited supply of energy points, the number shown on the front of your egg. Once you fill up the power meter, the Tamagotchi will evolve into its second form, which is usually just a fatter blob or one with a little horn on top, not unlike a Dragon Quest slime. It’s not until a Tamagotchi evolves to its third form that you can really see what it’s going to be and, by the time the fourth rolls around, you can tell if it’s one you haven’t seen yet to add to your collection. Fill the fourth power meter and you’ve won the game and get to see your Tamagotchi’s final form during the ending. You’ll also get a cute postcard to remember it by and find an egg deposited in its nest before it joins its chums on the spaceship to fly home.
As you go around the board, you will occasionally be given a choice of which course to follow, each with their varying degree of difficulty, inversely corresponding to length. For example, taking the Gold course, the easier route, will see a higher proportion of power plus spaces, food and play bonuses, but it’ll take far longer to get back around to the Go space, which is the only way to replenish your energy points outside of using a card to steal them. Conversely, the Casino and Doki Doki courses are shorter but feature a more risky balance of spaces with a higher chance to lose power points, and the Card course, obviously, has more chances to pick up usable cards. There are attempts to retain players’ attention, even when it’s not their turn, and interaction between Tamagotchis occurs mainly when another player’s egg is sharing or adjacent to your space. They will take the opportunity to try and steal your food or play bonuses, the up side of this being that your Tamagotchi will also attempt the same, automatically and at no cost to you. Having said that, it is possible to go for a few turns without being involved in anything other than rolling the die, moving and feeding your Tamagotchi, and this can be a factor in players with shorter attention spans drifting away from the game.
The meat of multi-player interaction is, of course, the eleven mini-games. These are designed for simultaneous competition by all four players and are titled in a straightforward fashion to give you the gist of what you’re supposed to do without reading the brief rules. As there’s a manageable number of games, it’s easy to remember what to do and learn how to get good at them during the course of a couple of play-throughs. There’s enough rapid-fire meat to each that a game doesn’t become boring, even if it appears a few times in quick succession. I prefer this over Mario Party’s mini-games which I find unbalanced, too heavily reliant on luck and often have unintuitive controls which put casual players at an immediate disadvantage. Another good reason to play Tamagotchi World instead of Mario Party is that it doesn’t contain an annoyingly smug Toad wittering on at you every 20 seconds. I have tried to enjoy Mario Party games but something in them doesn’t quite connect with me and there’s a wooden sterility in the presentation that I don’t feel when I come back to Tamagotchi World. Don’t worry too much if you miss Nintendo’s board game though; one of the mini-games here does involve rapidly spinning the analogue stick.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that there’s a fair amount of poo in this game. Rather than unnecessarily disgusting humour, it is simply a matter of fact that, when looking after a young animaloid, excreta will occupy much of your attention. That, of course, does not excuse one mini-game being literally nothing more than a poo flinging fight, which is entertaining and hectic in its own special way. From your Tamagotchi coming down with diarrhoea to the numerous turds capering about the screen during mini-games, the curly, colour-coordinated dollops are never more than a few turns away.
This sort of game is always best with as many human players as possible, so the CPU AI being a bit dim at times is excusable. The only real thing I think Tamagotchi World has against it is a slight board imbalance. There are too many spaces that drop you into the single-player ‘Fitness Go! Go!’ game and it would have been better to substitute some of these and the gambling spaces with the more engaging four-player games. Conversely, playing more multi-player games could increase the length of the game considerably. This imbalance showed itself during one game I recently played where the 4-player mini-game squares were only landed on twice. However, this is still one Tamagotchi product I have no desire to yank the battery from and leave forgotten in the back of a drawer.
For a guide to how the game works, what can happen on any given turn and those all-important mini-games, roll the die, eat your favourite food and mooch on over to part 2.