A popular Japanese digital pet with the weirdest mode of interaction is coming to the US

Japan’s hit virtual pet, Punirunes, will be released in the US this summer and I can almost guarantee most of you have never seen a toy quite like this before. A play on the Japanese mimetic word for “squishy” (punipuni), Punirunes has a design quirk that sets it apart from other gadgets of its ilk: a doughy button at the center of the device that serves to simulate physical contact with your pet. How do you get to that button? By sticking your finger into the quarter-sized hole in the side of the plastic shell.

It is undeniably a little weird. The device will even display an animation of your finger on the screen when you do this (you can choose from a variety of skin colors during setup). But once you get past the strangeness of the aforementioned act and really get into the things it allows you to do, Punirunes’ oddest feature actually makes for a pretty rich virtual pet experience. The squishy button feels like a joystick wrapped in mochi, which makes sense because the characters themselves are adorable, gummy-like creatures that start their lives as small blobs. You can pat them on the head to show them affection and bounce them to catch items; you can even drag them around to clean the virtual floor using their sticky bodies as a mop.

A view of Punirunes device from two angles, one front-on and the other partially showing its side where the finger hole is visibleA view of Punirunes device from two angles, one front-on and the other partially showing its side where the finger hole is visible

Spin Master/Takara Tomy

The device has a full-color, LCD display and the potential to raise 55 different characters. There are 6 built-in games, each of which make use of the squish mechanism, plus a food cooking activity in which you have to mix the ingredients yourself. To play the mini-games or visit the other locations — including the marketplace and the forest — you have to bounce your character through a window portal Super Mario 64-style. You can also accessorize your pet and change up the decor in its room. I’ve been playing around with Punirunes for a few days now, and I’ve got to say, I’m having a lot of fun with it. The characters are so cute it hurts.

Five Punirunes characters are shownFive Punirunes characters are shown

Spin Master/Takara Tomy

Anyone who follows the digital pet space closely has probably come across Punirunes at some point. The toys were first released in Asian markets from Takara Tomy in 2021 and have since grown to include multiple generations of the devices. They even inspired an anime series, which was released in the fall of 2022. I myself have had my eye on Punirunes for some time, but was hesitant to purchase the Japanese-language version because the gameplay seemed a bit more complex than something like a Tamagotchi.

Their expansion to the US comes through a partnership with Spin Master, the company behind Paw Patrol, Hatchimals and a slew of other popular kids’ brands. Punirunes will make its US debut in August and be available in the teal shell from all major retailers for $40.

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