The 40th Pac-Man anniversary is being held in 2020, celebrating his July 1980 arcade debut. The games’ characters have had all sorts of games, merchandise, spin-offs, and cameos over the years. However, one of the more unusual items is a anniversary product only available in North America—the Pac-Man Tamagotchi. A Tamagotchi Nano variant, it changes up the virtual pet’s aesthetics in a way that do a surprisingly good job of paying tribute to the legend.
First, knowing what a Tamagotchi Nano is happens to be rather important. This is a model that started appearing in Japan about 10 years ago. It’s smaller than usual, coming in at about the size of an adult’s thumb. It has rudimentary functions, only allowing you to feed it one of two items or play one of two games with it. These tend to also only have two stages of life, a 24-hour baby phase and adult phase, and aren’t as demanding as their larger counterparts. (For example, I’d need to check in with the Pac-Man Tamagotchi only every other hour or when it beeped an alarm, even in its “baby” phase.) There’s no backlight of any kind, so you need to be in a well-lit area to see. Also, they’re prime fodder for cross-overs, resulting in Demon Slayer, Eevee, Evangelion, and Gudetama models. (Only the Gudetama variety was released outside of Japan.)
Now, while the Pac-Man Tamagotchi is very much a Pac-Man product, it’s important to note that you aren’t raising Pac Jr., Pac-Baby, or anything like that. Rather, it’s more like Pac-Man is your buddy and co-parent on this virtual pet adventure. When you start up the toy, you have a random chance of getting one of two baby forms. One is white, and the other is black. How well you care for it determines which of a handful of adult forms you get, with each color having its won possible secondary stages.
The most basic care is left to just you. If your pet needs to be fed, you can select the option that gives it some rice or a classic Pac-Man cherry. If it is misbehaving or you want to check on its status, you can press the third button to check in on/discipline it.
It’s when you play or when danger strikes that Pac-Man steps in to “help” you out. Both of the minigames, which remain the same in both its baby and adult forms, involve you controlling Pac-Man. One mimics the maze experience by presenting you with three lines and allowing you to press the first two buttons to move Pac-Man up and down through the rows. You want to munch as many pellets as possible, avoiding ghosts along the way. If you manage to reach the “end,” you make your virtual pet happy. If Pac-Man manages to eat a “lot” of pellets, maybe around ten or all of the ones that appeared during a run, then you get a victory screen like one from the arcade game. A ghost chases Pac-Man, Pac-Man eats a Power Pellet, then Pac-Man chases the ghost back. It’s really a fun aesthetic, especially since the Tamagotchi manages to recreate the music and sound effects.
The other minigame can take a bit more time to complete. Pac-Man is on the screen and items like fruits, pellets, Power Pellets, and ghosts can appear. I never really figured out exactly how “long” it would last. Sometimes, it seemed like it would end on its own. Other times, it seemed the minigame would end after I’d eaten at least three Power Pellets, then three ghosts immediately after. (Touching ghosts three times without eating Power Pellets first will also result in a “Game Over.”) It’s fine, but its extended time, briefly appearing items, and the need quickly react and use all three buttons meant I favored the other minigame over it. (Like I mentioned earlier, this thing is extraordinarily tiny and I have adult-sized fingers.)
While this is one of the least demanding Tamagotchi models out there, there are two distinctly Pac-Man elements to incentivize paying close attention and working alongside Pac-Man. The first are the ghost attacks. While this is a black-and-white screen, Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde are all there. They can gradually appear, overwhelm, and surround your pet. If you hear the alarm or notice them there, you can press a button to summon Pac-Man to save the day. If you don’t, ghosts and eventual level 256 glitch will do your character in.
However, if you pay enough attention, feed your character, keep it alive, and play the games with it, you unlock a third stage of life. If you manage to take very good care of your character, play the minigames, and keep it alive, then it transforms again into… your pet riding on Pac-Man’s back. It’s a cosmetic change, sure, but it’s a nice little kudos for keeping a character alive for 48 hours and meeting all of its needs. Not that it means Pac-Man will automatically fight off ghosts since… well, he’s now always there. But still, it’s fun.
Honestly, it’s a collaboration that worked far better than I expected. The Pac-Man Tamagotchi’s shell looks great. It captures the aesthetic perfectly in-game, both with the renditions of Pac-Man and the ghosts, the minigames that do a pretty good job of capturing brief snippets of the original game’s spirit, and the sound effects. Plus, well, I must admit that it was a great “friend” to have during stay-at-home orders. “Hey, have I fed my Pac-Man Tamagotchi yet? Nope! Huh. I guess that means I probably should eat now too.” “Oh, my Pac-Man Tamagotchi went to bed. Better turn its lights out. Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t stay up past midnight again tonight.” It’s a novel way to celebrate the series’ anniversary and have something to do while staying at home.
The Pac-Man Tamagotchi is immediately available in North America.