Tamagotchi, the original virtual pet, is back

The original virtual pet that set off a storm of popularity and knock-offs in the 1990s is coming back — but only in Japan, for now.

Bandai has released a throwback version of Tamagotchi, the tiny electronic virtual pet that launched in 1996.

Players help raise a tiny creature that can grow into an adult animal like a dog, cat or snake. You have to feed it, play games with it and clean up after it after it poops, roughly simulating the process of raising a real pet.

The Tamagotchi was one of the biggest toy crazes among kids when it hit North American shores in 1997, disrupting school classrooms and sparking debates about whether the digital pet craze would hurt the actual animal pet industry.

 

The brand has not been completely dormant over the past 20 years. Bandai has released multiple models that added new features and graphical flourishes. The Tamagotchi Friends line even has an expanded cast of characters and a series of animated shorts to accompany the toys.

Bandai also released a Tamagotchi Classic app for iOS and Android in 2015.

The latest release however, is nearly identical to the 1996 version, with the same simple monochrome display and three buttons. The most significant difference is the size: the new release is about 50 per cent smaller than the original.

No North American release has yet been announced. You can import it online from stores like Amazon Japan for 1900 yen, or about $24 Cdn.

And believe it or not, Tamagotchi isn't the only digital pet set for a rebirth.

Digimon, another series of virtual pet also owned by Bandai, debuted shortly after Tamagotchi. It branched out into an animated television series and multiple video games, rivaling the size and scope of Nintendo's Pokemon series.

Earlier this year, Bandai announced a 20th anniversary model that looks much like the 1997 original.