Parenting like it's 1997: Which virtual pet is the best?

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Jun 19, 2017, 7:27 PM EDT (Updated)

I, like many of my fellow millennials, had my first brush with parenthood in the late '90s. No, I wasn’t raising eggs, or flour sacks, or animatronic infants. I was raising a Tamagotchi.

Well, I was killing a Tamagotchi. Repeatedly.

Now I'm older and the '90s are back, bringing with them brand new versions of everything I loved from the greatest decade, including a brand new version of everyone’s favorite digital pet. At least, I think it was everyone’s favorite digital pet. There were at least three different kinds of small, multi-button, beeping virtual creatures you could raise, all hitting the market at the same time: the Tamagotchi, the Giga Pet, and the Nano Pet. 

So why are the Tamagotchis the only ones returning? Is it because they are, truly the best the digital pet world had to offer? I had to find out, and yes, I’m taking you along for the ride.

First stop: eBay, where it is not at all difficult to find one of each of these devices but it is surprisingly expensive. Nano and Giga Pets will run you about $30 a pop for the used versions, while Tamagotchis are almost exclusively available New in Box, for about $50 or more. That's a lot of money, so I did what any self-respecting potential parent would: I haggled for my young.

A few days later and my children were delivered by the government stork. After a little surgery to restore their life and a few minutes of waiting as they hatched from their respective eggs (or did whatever the cat one did) and it was official. I was a parent, and I was in way over my head.

In retrospect, I should probably have taken care of each separately, rather than birthing all my new children at once. They are extremely needy. They beep ALL THE TIME. And they poop more than any creature I've ever met, including actual infants.

I spent a full week feeding, cleaning and playing with my new children - because that's as long as I could keep them alive - and I have now compiled the definitive guide to which is the best. The answer: none of them. Or all of them. You'll see.

Tamagotchi: The one everyone had

Tamagotchis were everywhere when I was a kid. Everyone had them and everyone was trying to sneak them into class to take care of them in between times tables and spelling tests. Of course, eight-year-olds are terrible at being sneaky so every last one of us ended up being found out and having our digital friends confiscated only to perish in our teachers' desks.

Caring for one of these bastards as an adult and I'm definitely going to side with the teachers.

Listen, I had a rough first day with this one. I started my experiment on a Sunday evening and didn't get around to starting up the Tamagotchi until just before its bedtime. Generally speaking, this is not a big deal. It hatches, I feed it a few times, play a little, it goes to bed and the real fun begins in the morning. But NO, this one decided to kick things off much more obnoxiously, waking up about 30 minutes later having already pooped more than once and needing to be fed and played with all over again.

The rest of my Tamagotchi experience was pretty uneventful -- you'll find out more about that later. That is until it came time for the thing to evolve. You see, I didn't know this when I was a kid but Tamagotchis evolve based on how well you take care of it. The happier and healthier it is, the cuter it becomes. The more neglected it is, the more it starts to resemble some kind of alien homunculus.

Knowing this, I took impeccable care of my child. So please, dear readers, tell me where I went wrong!

Conclusion: If you're just looking for a taste of the late '90s virtual pet experience and don't mind shelling out some cash for the pleasure, then go for the original. The beeping is extremely annoying and the game is kinda lame, but as long as you keep checking in on it periodically throughout the day, you can turn off the sound without worrying about accidentally murdering it with its own feces. Oh, and if you figure out how to evolve your pet into the secret final version, please let me know.

Giga Pet: Because you were too cool for the first one

Chances are, if you want to be a little different and invest in the Tamagotchi's cooler cousin, the Giga Pet, then you're probably going to end up with a frog. I don't know why there are so many frogs on eBay, but there are at least twice as many of these green f*#kers than any other creature. I got lucky and got my hands on one of the Baby T-Rexes that were made as a tie-in to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Be jealous.

This thing was adorable. It had tiny arms and a head the same size as its body and when it was happy it literally danced around the screen. Every time I looked at it I wanted it to be made manifest so it could live in my apartment and hang out with my cat (in my fantasy world, it would not EAT my cat, because it is a good dinosaur).

But with the good comes the bad. While it was very cute it was also much needier than the Tamagotchi. Did you know these things don’t just beep when they're hungry or sad or sick or pooped? Oh no, they also beep because they want a treat and apparently in Giga Pet land this is totally fine and not at all grounds for discipline.

Oh! And it would. not. stop. dying. I was so so careful but no matter what I did it wouldn’t live more than a couple days. It could be perfectly fed, happy and healthy before falling asleep and by morning it was a prehistoric angel floating in its little one square inch screen, mocking me.

Conclusion: Unless you want the low maintenance and roulette wheel of cuteness that is the Tamagotchi -- and I can't believe I’m saying this -- go for the Giga Pet. Yes, you might end up with a Frog, but it will probably be a more interesting (and less expensive) experience. Plus, it's probably a cute frog.

Nano Pet: For the nerds

Do you remember the Nano Pet? I think I knew one whole person who actually had one and it was the talking one, where literally all it was was a face. These things are a straight rip-off of the Giga Pet AND Tamagotchi only they have fewer animal choices and they're unbelievably obnoxious. I am not a violent person but I swear I wanted to straight up murder this thing like four times a day.

The choices for Nano Pets seem to be dog, cat and, for some godforsaken reason, baby. I got the cat, and I swear this thing pooped more than my actual cat. Not only that, for some reason that I cannot fathom, the programmers decided to animate poop coming out of its butt and landing on the floor.

Then there was the random falling asleep in the middle of the day for like five minutes at a time, during which I had to turn off, then back on, the lights so it didn't … die? I have no idea, it's just the rules.

A I mentioned, more than once I wanted to kill this thing. The trouble is, it is resilient as HELL. At the end of the week I just straight up ignored the cat AND the Tamagotchi and this thing lived at least 12 hours longer than its brother.

Conclusion: Are you a masochist? Do you love high maintenance pets, children or significant others? Do you suck at keeping these things alive? Then this is the one for you.

I was obsessed with these things when I was a kid, and while I totally see their appeal to children, I seem to have lost the patience I once had. Oh for a simpler time, when cleaning up digital poop and playing guessing games with a blob-shaped alien was enough for me. Now we've got our smartphones and our VR headsets and our disco tech. Really, what is the world coming to?

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