I hope I always remember my first Tamagotchi. And my second. But when it comes to mobile games imitating the popular toy, none have felt anywhere near the experience of the original handheld virtual pet, and most have gone forgotten after a few minutes of use… until now. Noa Noa (Free) is here, and not only does it have the charm and surprising depth as Tamagotchis, it adds to it to create a full mobile experience framing my new pixellated friends. It feels like home.
When you begin the game, one of the first things you need to do is pull out the battery tab. Yes, Noa Noa even includes the best part of new electronics, pulling out a little piece of plastic between the battery and battery connectors. It’s slightly fussy and surprisingly bouncy. It is also a sign of the authentic feel to come.
Noa Noa is set in an office, although you can change the location skin as you progress through the game. Your virtual pets – yes, you can have more than one at a time! – can be found on the desk. Once zoomed in, it’s a simple swipe to get to the next pet. The casings can be changed via the menus with quite an array of shapes and colors available to be unlocked through gameplay. They are visible as your play with your pets, so I try to match the case (or at least the color) with the personality I believe the pet to have. It’s your choice whether you play with the smaller buttons on the casing, or the larger ones at the bottom of the screen; I prefer the latter.
Once your first pet hatches, the real fun begins. The main goal is easy: keep it alive long enough to trade it in for stars to increase your level. But it’s the secondary goal of wanting to catch ’em all, so to say, where the replay value really lies. There’s a long list of eggs available, and darn if I am not planning on unlocking every single one. And to save later confusion: the title is Noa Noa, but each animal is simply a Noa.
For roughly your first couple of days of play, there will be a tutorial “Training Checklist" to guide you through how the Noa toys function and how to trade them in. It’s relatively straightforward, especially for someone familiar with virtual pet toys and apps. The main pet screen will feature the creature bouncing around in the middle, with small icons lining the top and bottom. From here you can check their stats, have them poop, give them a bath, put them to bed, show them affection, trade them in, or travel to town.
The majority of these items are straightforward. There are no words, just images, so the interface is kept clean and pleasing (I know, I know, I’m kind of picky about these things). The only thing close to text is the “zzz" representing sleep and the numbers in a math mini-game. Even the game’s main menu is mostly comprised on icons representing the various menus. This makes it easy for just about anyone to pick it up and play, regardless of language skill level.
The town is represented by adorable little buildings. To the left of your Noa’s home is a restaurant, a clinic, and a graveyard. The restaurant is the main one of those three you will use, as it is the only place to feed your Noa. I do wish this was accessible on the main screen, as feeding is just as important for your Noa to live as, say, sleep. And there is room on the Noa’s screen, as there are four icons on top but only three on the bottom.
If you’re like me, you’ll spend most of your time in Noa Noa playing mini-games with your new pets. There is an arcade, gym, and library located in the town to the right of your home; you can find them in the town to the right of your home. I’ve come to really love the maze and math mini-games, and have learned I will never tap quickly enough for the weightlifting game. Each game features three rounds and a three-strike policy, so you can make two mistakes but don’t make three or it will end! Completing the three rounds is the fastest way to gain the points needed to trade in your Noa.
Different species of Noas have different preferences in food, affection, and entertainment. There’s love (which is represented by a happy face with a huge grin), like (a normal smiley face), and hate (a sad face). It’s amusing enough learning of their preferences, and it does carry from species to species so you don’t need to remember. But once you know, you know… you know?
Something I’ve had a surprising amount of fun with in Noa Noa is the camera feature, accessible via the main menu. You can rotate the view to see your location from different perspectives, and zoom in and out. It’s then easy to share via social media or save to your phone. Sometimes, you’ll receive gifts for sharing on social media. Gifts pop up often, especially for watching ads.
Lots of ad bonuses pop up, so if you have the time and the battery power progression can be about half the amount of time it would normally take. Some give gifts of stars (needed for your level progression), tickets, casings, and/or avatar items (although it only specifies the color, not what item it is for). The tickets can be used to double stars from mini-games, double the amount of sleep your Noa will receive, or double the stars you will receive from trading in. Ads are also available to double the above options, which is what can cut the time it takes for your Noa to mature drastically for free.
As a free-to-play title, there are two things to expect: ads, and in-app purchases. There are no banner ads, only video ads that you have to choose to watch. The in-app purchases are a nice option if you want to speed things up, but are absolutely not necessary to play the game. I’d argue that this is free-to-play done right, instead of bombarding the player with ads every few minutes with no choice, or leaving battery-draining banners on-screen.
I’ve spent most of this review raving about Noa Noa, but there are a few drawbacks. The main issue I have with the title is that the maximum number of times it will notify you is three per day. It’s a nice reminder to check-in, but I’d much prefer more options so that I can set specifics, such as wanting to know if a Noa needs to poop or especially if it’s about to die. I absolutely understand that notifications for every status alert for every Noa could get a bit much, but if there are options given via toggles it would allow players to really customize how and when they return to the game.
That’s right, that means I have three small issues with Noa Noa and that is it. The game is nostalgic in all the best ways, enhanced by today’s technology. The bleeps and buzzes and vibrations make it feel like there is a real virtual pet in my hand, when really I have multiple in one device. The sheer amount of customization for your avatar and the Noa casings is remarkable. Most importantly, as I initially stated, it feels like home: entirely familiar and can be navigated with your eyes closed. Now please excuse me, as I need to get back to discovering new species!