Top 10 – Virtual Pets
What strange beings these humans are, to designate species of their own planet – seemingly arbitrarily – as beloved companions to be invited into their homes, tended to and cared for, for no solid reason other than “they’re freakin’ adorable”. And when we can’t do that… or even if we can’t cram enough creatures into our home, we found a way to create artificial pets that fill the void that our three dogs, eight fish, two birds and half a cat simply can’t.
Here we gather some of the more adorable critters we’ve decided to take care of in our computer games, our Top 10 virtual pets…
10) Petz/Nintendogs/Sim’s Pet Expansions
Ok, so why cluster these entries at the bottom of the list? Well the sad and simple fact is they were just too easy, and pretty low on the geeky credibility for our usual standards, but high enough that we couldn’t leave them out. The Sims for a start has a massive history in the video gaming world, perhaps being the most egregious offender for excessive expansion packs, but hey, who’s to fault a business model that’s been so successful? Nintendogs and Petz brought the Tamagotchi trend to the big screen… bigger screen at least, and were among the earliest real video game trends.
They’re ways and means for us to keep something petlike without the space, cost, and the risk of putting a genuine life at stake. Ok, it’s not a perfect replacement for a real pet, but over the years we’ve gotten better at emulating the behaviours of animals, and these days virtual pets are better than ever before.
9) Skaarl – League of Legends
Skaarl is an adorable little lizard, ridden by the Yordle Kled. He’s a trusty sidekick, a faithful companion and all in all, the best pet anyone could ask for. From being able to carry Kled really quickly around the Summoner’s Rift, through to charging at enemies (and having some interesting pathing rules), Skaarl is a trustworthy mount, albeit he’s incredibly cowardly. In fact, when writing about this, I drew a comparison.
Ambrosius is the Old English Sheepdog and faithful companion, noble steed and bestest boy for Sir Didymus of Labyrinth fame. Skaarl is basically Ambrosius in League of Legends form and that’s why League has made it into our Top 10 lists over the years so often. You see, the game takes a lot from pop culture, turning it into something a little different. It’s a reimagining which makes it so damn easy to slot a character into these lists.
8) Rats – Elder Scrolls
Bit of an odd one this, pets aren’t really mechanics-heavy facet of the Elder Scrolls games, but in the world it seems there’s an uncommonly high number of people who take a fondness for the local vermin as pets, and let me clarify here: pet rats are adorable, these are vermin. Let’s start with Arvena Thelas’ brood that keep getting killed by local mountain lions, a task you’re called to remedy as a member of Cyrodil’s branch of the Fighter’s Guild, only to discover that a neighbour of hers is not a fan of her unusual taste in pets.
If you’ll pardon a slight stretch in the definition, skeevers pop up a few times as kept animals in Skyrim too. One of the children you can potentially adopt takes a shine to one of the diseased beasts who will then go on to live in one of those houses you spent hours and every scrap of iron building, and now spend a lot of time tidying. The kids aren’t alone either, those of you who have taken the thieves guild quests will have found another lunatic with an affinity for skeevers… a crazy powerful lunatic.
7) Chocobo – Final Fantasy
Literally one of the mascots of the series, Chocobo’s have been a staple since the early days of Final Fantasy. With a funky theme tune to accompany their plodding along, these large birds are able to carry you on their backs from destination to destination, typically allowing you to skip being attacked in the process as well. My first introduction to a chocobo was from Final Fantasy IX.
In IX, you went to the Chocobo Forests populated around the world, you would find a Moogle who would explain that the chocobo you found likes you. You can then ride your new found friend across the world and play a series of mini-quests with him, including Chocobo Hot & Cold, which can reward you with some incredible gear. You also need to spend time with your chocobo, level it up and then you can go and face the true end boss of the game.
Naturally, the above only relates to Final Fantasy IX, but the truth is that the chocobo is an important part of nearly all Final Fantasy games.
6) Boney – Mother 3
Boney is one of the primary protagonists of Mother 3. Mother is the renowned game series from the SNES featuring the likes of Ness and Lucas (also of Smash Bros. fame). However, being placed in the lower echelon of this list is Boney. Oh sure, the doggo fits this list to a tee, but the popularity of Mother 3 was greatly dampened by the fact it was never translated for a Western audience.
Nevertheless, we can’t take away from Boney’s achievements. He’s a great companion and an excellent character to use in game (Honestly, he barks when he attacks, how cute). The faithful pooch also offers some of the best attacks in the game, as honestly, I think when I played this game in Japanese, I was able to get Boney to basically deal the most damage of all my protagonists.
Also he has a fetching scarf.
This one’s a simple quid pro quo situation: get good at cooperating with the local wildlife or perish without their help. As an invader to the planet – accidental or otherwise – you’ll find the residents surprisingly well trained, quick and willing to obey your every command, especially because you’ll tend to lead them towards food and safe places to reproduce.
And while they’ll serve as excellent tools for rewiring electricity, bridge building, and killing off the less friendly locals, like any pet, you still have a duty of care. Pikmin will do what they’re told pretty blindly, and without someone rallying them and marshalling them to safety they’re pretty much determined to get into danger, and while you might have to actually try hard to get them all killed off, you can still leave yourself in awkward and unwinnable situations if you don’t do right by the multicoloured critters.
4) Talking Tom
This little Tamagotchi-like disaster was a pain, but also one of the best examples of how powerful smartphones could be.
Okay, I’ll not be so mean. We all loved our Talking Tom’s when we first found the little cat companion. The app was developed with a clear inspiration from the Tamagotchi from days old. Talking Tom was a little bit annoying, in that he would even mock you if you did something that resulted in failure, but deep down the creature was just fun loving. Highly curious, as you’d expect from a cat.
We’ve bumped him pretty far up the list, because when we really thought about it, Talking Tom really does encompass a lot about what this list was written about. Somewhat crude, somewhat brash, but altogether a good bit of fun.
3) Trico – Last Guardian
Watched over by our dutiful protagonist, the weird… deerdogbirdcat chimera thing called Trico forms the backbone of the gameplay in the Last Guardian. It’s not your duty to be the hero, or to be the focus of the plot, you are tasked with caring for it. You have to feed it, treat its wounds, and generally guide it along the path to freedom, not just for you, but for many other children, and for Trico’s entire species.
Roles reverse towards the end of the game, where, after a long time caring for him while you slowly persuade him to go where needed, he finally turns to protect you from harm while you take on the game’s antagonist yourself. With your care and dutiful ministrations, Trico becomes strong, old injuries fading, antlers growing, health visibly restored, all for him to repay the favour in the grand finale, which is really just the kind of story telling we’ve come to expect from the creators of Team Ico.
2) Pokémon vs Digimon
The age old question, which of these two mon giants was the better? Well, let’s talk this week about which of these two was the better virtual pet game series?
What can we say about Pokémon that hasn’t been said before? Gotta catch ‘em all is the series former tagline, where trainers aspired to catch all 151 Pokémon back in the days of Red and Blue. Jump forward a number of years and we’ve now just hit Generation VIII. Uncanny. But the point is that each of the creatures had different backstories, different ways they live and they are all lovable for different reasons.
Unlike Pokémon, Digimon revolves mostly around the care and handling of one specific monster. Digimon are paired with their DigiDestined tamers, the people who were destined to defend the digital world. In the earlier series, the DigiDestined were transported to the digital world where they met their companions and raised them. From training them, to digivolving them and more, Digimon is about the bond between a tamer and their Digimon.
But which mon franchise is the best virtual pet franchise?
We’ve heard from quite a few sources, Neopets is considered cool. We think so too, so we’re giving it the deserved top spot. The late 90’s early 00’s web behemoth deserves the top slot for basically being Pokémon but on an even grander scale. Oh sure, Pokémon did amazingly well, even back in the 90’s/early 99’s, but Neopets was one of those websites that affected the present day of the internet as we now know it.
You would sign up for an account and create your first Neopet, a virtual pet akin to that of a Pokémon or a Digimon. You could collect many different Neopets, but they all had to be looked after. They needed their fill of food, which usually came in the form of a free omelette from the top of a mountain. There was a shop system which you could sell your goods and some of the items went for absurd amounts. Trust me, their economy was mad.
Anyway, we had to give this top spot. We all love Neopets, past, present and who knows… Perhaps a successor is needed in the future?
What’s that? You still want more? We just gave you your dinner, you can’t still be hungry. Do you want to go out? It’s raining, I’m not taking you out. No, we’re not going, you’ll go out there and you’ll want to turn back around and come back…
That got a bit too real, life started to enter into work… wow, have some honourable mentions.
Pets – Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley
Relegated to honourables, simply because they don’t offer a huge amount to the games, the pets of Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley are cute. They’re basically just little critters that live in your little farmhouse with you and they serve very little function. Between the two games, the ones in the later Harvest Moon titles are more than just pets, as they serve a function, but Stardew Valley’s offer simple cuteness and companionship.
In Harvest Moon, the Cats herd the chickens and the Dogs herd the larger animals for you. This can be useful if they’re getting a little unruly, which is pretty easily done when you let them out of their pens. However, that function isn’t hugely useful. Nevertheless, I’ve heard great stories of people’s characters collapsing from exhaustion in Stardew Valley when their cat decides to sleep in front of the door to the house. No one dares disturb the kitty from their power nap.
You may ask how this didn’t make it into the list, hell, it almost seems like they should be in the top three, right? Well we set ourselves a parameter that Tamagotchi’s breaks, no physical pets, which means no robotic dogs or Furbies (you’re welcome) and while you may not be able to physically touch the creature on screen, a Tamagotchi is its own object, ultimately inextricable from the pet on it’s tiny monochrome LCD.
But we couldn’t just let the most maddening and inexplicable trend of the 90’s go by without mention! And it’s still a cluster of pixels on a screen, managed somewhat remotely via input, and it still needs to be looked after and tended to much like the rest of the list, almost to a point of madness. Not only that, they probably have a higher mortality rate than any other entry, I’d put good money that if such things could be charted, more Tamagotchi have died than Pikmin.
Aww, they’re so cute when they’re shut down. Quick, get a screenshot! I want to remember them just like this, instead of beeping incessantly. We’ll add it to the folder of screenshots we bore people with whenever they come over. And while you’re at it, better give us your vote for what Geeky Top 10 to cover next week:
What fictional fuzzies did we miss? Are you a cat, dog, fish, lizard, or pixel person? Did we do Tamagotchi’s wrong? Or hell, tell us what we got right!* We want to know what we missed, so give us the word in the comments down below and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
*Which, to be fair, most people do… actually most of our comments are just people telling us they’re glad we included something. Don’t worry, we’ve got your backs.