Since I treat self-improvement like a hobby, I’m always looking for new ways to help with depression, anxiety, stress, and self-care. I found this app, Amaru, and was intrigued by the premise: taking care of a virtual pet to help with your own self-care goals. Not only does it somewhat invoke memories of Giga Pets and Tamagotchis, I noticed right away that the app feels like a game. Games hack your dopamine system and make you want to keep playing, so I figured if I exploit that for my mental health, it can only be a good thing. More importantly, I noticed that it actually started to help me.
Here’s how it works.
Note: this is not an ad for the app nor am I being compensated in any way for giving my review.
Who Is “Amaru”?
Meet adorable Amaru, a winged, cat-like hybrid. When you first meet Amaru, he is shy and unsure, struggling with anxiety. Your goal is to help him become more resilient to anxiety. You do that by setting self-care goals and reaching them daily. The idea is to show him how things like meditation, practicing kindness, or stepping outside your comfort zone can help him. Clearly, the real goal here is to show yourself how these skills can help you improve depression and anxiety. Helping an adorable cartoon creature is great motivation to start doing just that.
Self-Care Goals and Your Aura
The game revolves around the three self-care goals you set for yourself. You can set your own goal or choose from a list of pre-made ones that include feeding Amaru, taking a screen break, waking up early, being kind to someone, and many more. My current goals are “Practice Journaling”, “Guided Meditation”, and “Practice Creativity”.
You receive an amulet each time you complete a goal. Everytime you earn an amulet, “Gratitude Glints” appear on the screen, with an encouraging message and in-game rewards (food and world currency). Hitting all three of your daily self-care goals brightens your “aura”, which leads to increased rewards within the game. It’s also encouraging to see your self-care streak grow when you hit all three goals on consecutive days.
In the case of journaling and meditation, the app will automatically count it as complete and give me an amulet when I do the in-app meditations or journaling feature. However, I can choose to do those goals outside the app and log them complete myself.
Bond with Amaru
There’s a “bond” meter to signify your relationship with Amaru. It shows how trusting he is toward you. You build this bond by feeding him and petting him. Though there are no real-world implications of this meter going up, his body language toward you changes as it the bond increases. You will also notice his anxiety is less frequent. Once maxed out, there is no increased benefit, but I’ll bet you’ll want to raise it anyway, if you’re like me. You want the cute creature you’re caring for to love and trust you!
Playtime and Exploration
Amaru has an energy meter that is tied to both playtime and exploration. You set a “play time” length and a wake/sleep time to help correspond with your own screen time goals. In one sentence, basically, the meter signifies how long you can spend on the app before Amaru gets tired.
I have my playtime set to 10 minutes, for example, with a bedtime of 10. I can play games for 10 minutes at a time on the app before Amaru needs a nap to recharge. Likewise, Amaru will be a sleepy boy if it’s past his bedtime or he is out of energy meter. At that point, I have no choice but to tuck him in to bed. I can still complete my goals within the app, but I can’t interact with Amaru, play games, or send him out to explore.
However, given that there’s plenty of time before your chosen bedtime, and Amaru has the energy available, you can either play mini-games or send him out to explore. Both options help you find collectibles and rarities.
The timer does not apply to self-care activities.
Collectibles and Rarities
In addition to self-care goals, the game provides collectibles and rarities to find. You find these by sending Amaru out to explore or by playing the mini games. These are just fun collectibles and nothing more, but it does inspire you to spend more time in the app and fleshes out the overall experience a bit more.
Like every single app in existence, there is a premium feature to Amaru. I quickly gave them my $10 after spending about 5 minutes on the app. I loved the concept right away and wanted to support them for such a cute, unique game. It’s just a one-time purchase, too. So, everything I have said to this point is for the paid version of the app. That means I can’t tell you what you get with the free version. I’m not dedicated enough to try to find out, either. However, I did my due diligence as a part-time, hobbyist blogger and read some reviews. Quite a bit is still accessible and usable in the free version, according to other users. I’d still recommend downloading the app and see for yourself how engaging it is with the free version. If you can afford the $10, I definitely 100% think it’s worth it.
I loved it so much I also spent a few extra dollars on the customization options. That is why my Amaru is purple and has a star-like pattern on him! Customization packs are fun. Totally optional, but fun.
Why it works for me
It may already be obvious to you after reading the intro paragraph about who Amaru is–I want to help the cute, cartoon creature! That’s how it started. Even though he’s fictional and on a phone screen, I want to help the little guy who is cowering and shivering because he’s so anxious and scared. If I can save him and help him, certainly there is hope for myself.
Sometimes, I get on a few extra times in a day just so I can make sure I did everything for him. Other days, it was harder to be interested in my personal goals, but I did them so I could strengthen my bond with Amaru and my aura. Just knowing I could see his cute face brightened my day and gave me the extra push to complete my goals.
That is exactly the point though. The game does a wonderful job of helping you address the hardest part of building habits: establishing them. For habits to really work, you need to do them. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. Maybe you know meditation would be good for you, for example, but you can’t seem to establish a daily practice. The app helps you establish the habit, using a game-based system and a cute, virtual pet as motivators.
As time goes on, maybe you start to remember about meditation when you’re getting stressed. Or, it’s lunch time and–hey, something doesn’t feel quite right. Oh! I need to do my meditation! That’s better. Then, you start looking forward to it. You start enjoying it. You start meditating at your desk maybe. Quietly, discreetly, taking a few minutes when things are getting overwhelming or you feel your shoulders tightening from stress.
There will come a day that I don’t use the app. It’s probably not something you’re supposed to use forever. But it’s great at motivating you to learn coping skills and build healthy habits. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect app though. In the interest of fairness, I want to share some negatives about it, too.
Things to Improve
The mini games suck, quite frankly. “Climbing Cairns” is my favorite one, but it can be mildly infuriating most of the time. You have to stack stones according to the rules of whatever mode you pick. I can’t seem to get the hang of the games’ physics. It’s not as relaxing as it seems on first glance.
“Bonk the Baddies” instructs you to hit these annoying little creatures, but I feel it’s really hard to beat your high score because it’s just not that challenging. It’s repetitive and not rewarding. Not to mention how awful I feel if I accidentally hit one of the innocent decoys they throw in!
“Echo Ensemble” is a musical memory game featuring the worst sounding tones you’ve ever heard. The least they could do is put them in some order to make a pleasing sound. No. They do dissonant, random notes because fuck making this enjoyable. I’d rather have a match game for memory. Recently, they added a puzzle game, but I haven’t played enough to have an opinion. I prefer to just send Amaru out to explore for the hidden treasures instead of playtime anyway.
The app would also benefit from a larger variety of meditations. I enjoy the ones they have, but I would appreciate a greater variety. The way I deal with this now, when I’m feeling indecisive, or bored of the current lineup, is to choose the “Special” meditation, which is unguided and can be set for varying lengths of time.
Journal functionality could also be improved. There are 2 journals right now–the burn journal and the gratitude journal. The burn journal is where you can just vent about something, and then watch the entry “burn” on screen, as if to symbolize your releasing it. The gratitude journal is self-explanatory. I know the benefits of gratitude, which is why I keep it as one of my daily goals. However, I wouldn’t mind an option to capture moods, too. Or, maybe have a specific prompt to write about. We don’t want the app to get too bloated, certainly, but all kinds of journaling is helpful.
The app has really helped endear me to this little creature and his cute face. While I’m no stranger to meditation or gratitude, it is nice to have daily goals for them and to implement them more often. This app also helped me drill down on other important things to my mental health, specifically creativity. I knew that having a creative outlet was important to me, but it’s been so vital to just give myself a 30-minute goal to achieve every day.
I hope you give Amaru a try, even if it’s just a few days of the free version. My advice is to give it a shot for at least a week. Sometimes it’s hard to get used to new things. Your brain rejects them before you give yourself any real time to adapt. Try it out! I hope you fall in love with it like I did.
Here’s some of my favorite Gratitude Glints for the road!