New dog, few tricks
Hatch is a wholly charming, visually polished virtual pet simulator that will quickly take over your phone and heart. Its Disney-quality opening film sets the standard for the colorful, crisp, and youthful aura the rest of the app successfully maintains. The adoptable creature of Hatch, the Fugu, is a low maintenance, easy-to-please sphere of joy who exists solely to love and be loved by its owner—you. It’s easy to be swept up in Fugu euphoria, enchanted by the adorable face that erupts from an egg and the gorgeous, interactive world that surrounds it. But this delight withers as the few ways to interact with your Fugu and its world become repetitive, its lack of growth becomes dull, and your time with it becomes more memorized patterns than playful discoveries.
The beginning of your Fugu-owning journey, though, is engaging and whimsical. We learn from the app’s opening film that “long before dogs or cats were domesticated, man had another best friend.” That friend was the Fugu. Although they are somewhat doglike in appearance, Fugus were born from eggs that would appear almost magically in a nearby river. Upon hatching, the Fugu became completely loyal to the person that fed and loved it, remaining their companion for life. As Fugu eggs became precious, fought-over commodities, fewer and fewer floated downstream until the Fugu simply ceased to exist.
That is, until today—for some unknown reason. A young Fugu-fan named Max has stumbled upon a rare Fugu egg in the forest and wants to share it with you. Although he’s too young to care for a Fugu alone, he knows all about their history and care and will gladly share this knowledge if you allow him to play with your new pet when you’re away. Max acts as Hatch‘s mini-guide to the world of Fugus, announcing things like birthdays and providing items via his shop.
Otherwise, taking care of your newly hatched pet and showering it with affection is up to you. Fugus are all shaped the same, but come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Your Fugu will be whatever color you tell Max is your favorite, or—for early adopters—the type you selected from the limited edition choices. My Fugu, Daryl, is an early-adopter “pancake” color—tan with a darker brown beauty mark over his left eye—but the available shades range from black to bright green, solid to striped.
All Fugus, no matter their appearance, require the same types of attention: they need to be fed, cleaned, and loved. Hatch takes place entirely in a small forest clearing where your Fugu lives, surrounded by fruit trees that provide apples, oranges, and grapes for his sustenance. He will only eat when you offer him food, and although he can survive long periods without eating, will need to be fed at least once a day. Doing so is as easy as tapping a piece of fruit and dragging it over to (or above) your Fugu, who will chomp down cheerfully. Living on an all-fruit-occasional-cookie diet, the Fugu has a very active digestive system. In short: he poops, a lot. Although he sports a cute shame-face each time he needs to “go,” cleaning up these messes simply requires dragging the pile to the bottom-right corner where a trash can pops up.
Loving your Fugu—in the mechanical, gameplay sense—involves interacting with him in any way. Petting, poking, pinching, feeding, cleaning, and anything else you do to your Fugu usually elicits an affectionate response in the form of floating pink hearts. This affection translates into white flowers that grow around your Fugu and form a sort of care-timeline: once the ring of flowers is complete, they will turn purple. Tapping on your Fugu when the ring is purple causes him to perform a “happy dance,” during which fruit grows extremely quickly and his trust in you increases by one point.
Although your Fugu is the focus of Hatch‘s interactions, there are a few other ways to spend your in-app time. Fruit you don’t feed to your Fugu immediately can either be stored in a knapsack (that keeps it fresh forever) or sold for acorns. Those acorns, along with star coins—currency earned by selling rare star fruit—can be used to purchase items from Max’s shop. Max sells pieces of fruit, a variety of blankets for your Fugu to sit on, larger knapsacks, and a camera that allows you to take pictures your Fugu will adorably photobomb. There is also a sticker book containing icons of your Fugu that can be shared with others via text message or email. Stickers, along with acorns and star coins, can be randomly found around the forest scene by dragging the screen around, or may be gifted by your occasionally-adventurous Fugu.
These activities are all reasonably entertaining and smoothly integrated, but are also the gist of Hatch. Interacting with your Fugu is rewarding as he purrs, rolls over, blows spit bubbles, and other endearing responses, but after the first day or two, you’ll have seen all of his emotions to exhaustion. The blankets available for purchase are numerous and varied, from baseball designs to hula-hoops, but they’re merely decorations; they don’t change your Fugu’s activities or teach him anything new. I thought the potty training rug would at least encourage him to stop defecating where he sleeps, but alas, the poo remains. For an animal whose life is mostly spent waiting for his owner to return and spend five minutes with him, a few toys or creature comforts would be nice. Building up his trust also seems to have little effect; trust starts off at 60 and I’ve raised Daryl’s to 90, yet the only noticeable change is that he jumps slightly higher in excitement when I open the app. Even if some magical, life-changing event occurs at 100, there’s no indication or encouragement of growth before then.
Developer Impending has promised Fugus will learn new things and grow via future updates, which we are looking forward to. The sense of discovery and learning new things about your always-endearing Fugu—he likes music!—is the best part of Hatch. With only a handful of traits and reactions to uncover, this current iteration feels less like a complete package and more like a jumping-off point, albeit an extremely beautiful, heart-wrenchingly adorable one. As Hatch—and thus our Fugu—grows, so will our love for it.