There’s something about artificial life that tantalizes the imaginations of us all. We have artificial intelligence progressing quickly and almost everyone has a digital assistant in their own mobile personal terminal. Artificial life, however, is something you may need to dig a little deeper for if you’re looking for something that simulates a life cycle. Back in the ’90’s, Bandai and WiZ released a product that almost everyone alive at the time remembers; The Tamagotchi.
The Original Tamagotchi was released in 1996 and was later given it’s “masculine” counterpart, the DigiMon: Digital Monster. This device introduced the ability to connect to another person’s device to engage in battle. Your digital friend would go head to head with your opponents. What made this feature special was the system used to strengthen your Digimon. In some cases, the better they’re raised (training, feeding when hungry, turn off the lights to sleep, etc.) the more powerful they become. However, sometimes the weakest monsters become the strongest of their version, such as the infamous poop-slinging slug Numemon turning into the strongest character of the first version’s roster. As time progressed, tamers from all over the world shared tips, tricks and “hacks” to improve their ability to manipulate who their Digimon would change into. Considering there was, in fact, a tournament scene for the monster battling devices, a metagame even developed and the cream of the crop inevitably made themselves known. Quickly, the Original Digital Monster became a social hobby with person to person interactions at the core of its foundation.
Another important need for your virtual pet was the need to fight. Digimon may be a cousin of the Tamagotchi, but this is where it really stood out. Using its key “Dock’N’Rock” or “Battle Connect” feature, your device uses 2 metal contacts to communicate with an opponent’s. The exchange in data results in your partners fight to the potential death. The thing about battling is it makes your Digimon pal stronger. In order to evolve into its final form, Ultimate/Perfect level was the highest stage at the time, your monster had to battle an opponent’s monster. At the same time, it also hurts your opponent. Whether you win or lose, your Digimon can get really hurt. The more severe the injury, the closer to death it gets or the more treatments it will need to get fully cured of his wounds. When a Digimon dies, you can raise another egg and your partner may even leave you what’s called a “traited egg”, which gives the next generation a higher chance of getting even stronger.
The five version’s, with a special version 6 released by Bandai-Asia in some countries, came with their own roster of digital companions. Each device could have one of five eggs which could hatch and grow into potentially 14 different species per version. The version one, however, was the only version released in the states, thanks a lot Bandai America, but you may find a press release for the unreleased version 2 from 1998 online. This devices had evolution chains that some fans may find awkward. For example, version 3 introduced the mammalian, flying Digimon Patamon. Fans may recall the memorable moment Patamon Digivolved into his champion form Angemon, the glorious angel Digimon, to save everyone from the devil Digimon Devimon, originally christened Darkmon in media related to the original v-pet devices. In reality, Angemon was introduced before his anime rookie/child form Patamon in version 2. These quirky lines and stages make a for a fascinating way for fans to glimpse at what the creators originally had in store for their favorite characters. It almost seems, to me, like they swapped out the Original evolution tree for more fan appealing monsters for the anime. Patamon evolving into the green, not-so-Shrek-like beast that is Ogremon. This champion/adult level Digimon definitely doesn’t look like the handsome hero some people may recognize as Patamon’s “normal” leveled up form.
The Original Digital Monster spawned some cool Manga comics, but none ever made it to the US, including stories that predate the first season of the anime, Digimon Adventure. Despite the vast differences we see in what is the common, modern concept of Digimon and what originally hatched, the main idea and foundation never changed; It’s okay to fight to death as long as you’re doing it with friends and it’s your digital champions are doing the dueling. The idea and value of friendship shines like the explosion of a nuclear missile that was projected from the chest cavity of a giant, cyborg dinosaur with horns. Digimon has always been about honoring friendship and cherishing it. Helping each other out to grow together and this device definitely made for a first step. The classic devices are still worth playing and re-playing. The value has increased significantly, but they’re definitely a good, rare find in second hand shops. The Digital Monster Ver. 20th included all 5 eggs with several extra digi-eggs exclusive to this release. Not to mention all the neat extra features and additions, including a form of online competition and mega/ultimate levels, and the ability to battle older devices. The next series of virtual pets introduced the final form we’ve seen in the anime, a fusion mechanic known as “JOGRES” (JOint proGRESs) or DNA Digivolution and new battle/training mechanics, we’ll swing into this one at a later time. Still, the original will always be, like all first impressions, important in discovering the “what was” and, if we look hard enough, the “what will be” of our favorite pixilated pals, the Digimon.