Virtual pets have been a staple of play for decades now, encouraging kids to care for, feed, and play with a digital creature. One of the major players in that category? Digimon, a line of virtual pets that gets its name from combining the words “digital monster.” The latest innovation from this brand takes the virtual pet game to a whole new level, combining it with wearable tech and physical fitness.
Vital Hero from Bandai Namco Toys and Collectibles is designed for kids ages 8 and up. It is the American version of the Digimon Vital Bracelet, which initially launched in Japan last year. The premise of the device is fairly straightforward: It is a fitness tracker-style bracelet with a full-color screen that displays kids’ Digimon. Instead of caring for the Digimon by pressing buttons, kids’ physical activity is what trains and evolves the digital monster.
While the premise is simple, setup of the Vital Hero bracelet is a little more complicated. The instructions are incredibly detailed, which is ultimately helpful, but may seem a bit daunting at first. I recommend watching this official “how to” YouTube video to get a general overview, then referencing the instructions for more detailed info. Overall, setup will only take no more than 10 minutes (not including charging time). At that point, kids’ Digimons will be ready to hatch and their training journey can begin! It may take kids a bit of trail and error to learn the bracelet’s two-button control system, but it’s ultimately fairly intuitive.
As with previous Digimon toys, the creatures in the Vital Hero band evolve over time. They start pretty small and helpless, and stay that way for their first two stages, which are called “In Training I” and “In Training II.” These stages last about 1 and 3 hours, respectively, and the Digimon doesn’t have all of its abilities during these stages. The bracelet will, however, start tracking kids’ steps and heart rate right away. If kids are wearing the bracelet and moving at all, the Digimon will evolve.
It’s certainly a test of patience to wait for these evolutions, but those hours are a great time to learn about the additional features to come — most importantly Challenges and Battles, which both become available once the Digimon is out of training.
Challenges are daily goals for kids to achieve, and meeting them will help level-up and strengthen the Digimon by earning Trophies. These challenges can involve battles (which I’ll get to shortly), but a majority of the challenges are based on physical activity. This ranges from achieving a certain number of steps for the day to completing specific exercises, such as squats or punching the air. Kids can only complete each challenge once per day, which is a smart feature — it encourages them to get up and moving every day, but it safeguards against over-exertion.
Throughout the day, the Vital Hero band will keep checking in on kids’ heart rate and step count. It’s worth noting that the tracking technology for both of these isn’t as exact as what you would find in a traditional fitness tracker. Any wrist movement, for example, will count as steps (I’ve earned a few dozen steps from typing this review!). So, while you shouldn’t rely on the bracelet’s output for official health metrics, it more than meets its intended goal as a toy: The more kids move, the more Vital Points their Digimon earns. The more Vital Points the Digimon has, the better it will do in battle.
Battles are the other primary play pattern of these digital pets, and there are a few ways kids can get their Digimon into battle. One is by touching the bracelet (with the screen on) to any NFC-enabled device, which includes most smartphones and card readers. Kids can also use the free Digimon Vital Bracelet Lab app to store and battle their Digimon, or they can use the included “Vs.” Dim card to battle a friend who also has a Vital Hero bracelet. The instruction booklet goes in-depth about how to initiate a battle in each of these ways, but the battle itself is always the same. Kids’ Digimon will go head-to-head with an opponent, and the Digimon’s current stats (including its status, general attributes, mood, and Vital value) will determine the outcome. If kids’ Digimon win the battle, they’ll earn Vital points. Lose the battle, and they not only lose Vital points, but the Digimon may also be injured. In that case, trainers will want to give their Digimon time to heal before returning to battle.
Kids who are familiar with the larger Digimon brand, including the accompanying TV series and previous Digimon toys, may find the most to love with this device, as they can more intentionally train and battle their Digimon to evolve in specific ways. However, the device can also serve as an entry point into the world of Digimon, thanks to its detailed instructions.
I will also note that there are a few features of Vital Hero that adults will want to know about. The first is that you can turn the sound effects off in the settings menu. Second, you can put the Digimon to sleep by pressing both of the device’s buttons at the same time. This is a useful feature for times when it isn’t appropriate for kids to wear their Vital Hero bracelet. The Digimon won’t evolve when it’s asleep, but it also won’t lose health or die, which will happen if kids stop wearing the device without putting the Digimon to sleep first.
Overall, the Vital Hero bracelet is an innovative twist for Digimon. While the instructions are a lot to take in, kids will learn the most about the bracelet by playing with it. And anything that encourages kids to get up and active is a win in my book!