How to beat UFO catcher crane games in Tokyo
Catch all those Pokémon plush toys
Chances are, if you're a bit of a video game nerd you're going to want to visit Tokyo at some point. When you do, I recommend you give this guide a look over.
Whether you're in town for cherry blossom viewing, Tokyo Game Show, or - heaven forbid - Golden Week, you might very well see some Japanese UFO catchers. You'll need a knack for these crane games if you want to win a prize.
Luckily for you, during my five years living in Japan I frequented the annual arcade industry expo, letting me practise over and over on free play until I was ready to venture out into the wild.
At any given moment there's a plethora of gaming tat you can win in Tokyo arcades. The Banpresto Pokémon plushes are rotated out every month, meaning there's almost always a 'mon or two you'll want to win.
During my visit this month I saw Monster Hunter 4, Pokémon, Ace Attorney, and Yo-Kai Watch "nuigurumi" (plush toys). I didn't have room to bring them all back, so I focused on Ace Attorney.
First tip: stick to the known brands of "game center" (arcade). SEGA and Taito arcades have the most friendly and helpful staff (a key point for this guide), and the machines won't be too rigged or grotty.
As UFO catchers tend to make the most money from punters, they're normally on the ground floor of each arcade, with perhaps an extra one or two on the floors above to boot.
Scout around different arcades until you find a machine with a plush toy, figure, or some other sort of tat you simply must have. Don't worry if it looks too tough to get or looks like it's only on display inside the machine - we'll get to that.
Akihabara has four SEGA arcades not too far from the station. While there might be some overlap for prizes, generally you'll find a lot of different goods in each one.
Found something? Good. This is where the magic happens. Summon up enough courage to approach a member of staff (they'll be pretty easy to spot thanks to snazzy uniforms) and say 'sumimasen' ('excuse me'), ideally while making doe eyes.
Gesture over towards the machine you want to win merch from. Don't worry too much about explaining yourself - the less Japanese you use, the better your chances of having your target toy placed precariously close to the edge.
The attendant will ask you (in Japanese) which goodies you'd like to win. Gesture away, as the chances are you won't know the Japanese name for the Pokémon you want to win.
Bow a lot, taking care not to knock the attendant out with a headbutt, and say 'arigatou gozaimasu' ('ta muchly') to end the ordeal. Congrats, you officially have no shame.
Next up: actually using the machine. It'll cost ¥100 or ¥200 per play depending on the size of the prize, but keep an eye out for discounts. Sometimes you'll see a notice by the coin slot saying you can get six or three plays for ¥500, rather than 5 or 2.5.
Below you'll see a video of me netting a "Feenie" Wright plush from a traditional, small UFO catcher. These have two prongs, and really aren't "catchers" at all. you need to think of them as 'nudgers' instead.
Have a look at the toy you want to win. Which looks heaviest? Which way is it leaning?
Key point: don't aim for the centre of the toy! Instead, aim a fair bit to the right of it if you want to nudge it right, or vice-versa for the left.
The first button on these machines will move the crane to the right, while the second moves it forwards.
If you muck up too much, just approach the friendly staff member again. Chances are they'll take pity on you and balance your toy so it's even easier to win.
Next up, the three-pronged UFO catcher. You might think this one really is a catcher, but don't be fooled - they have a ridiculously soft touch, and will rarely pick up anything.
These are much tougher to aim as the prongs aren't as sturdy. However, you can aim much more precisely with a joystick for these machines. Wiggle the stick until you're above and slightly behind your prize, then tap the button and hope for the best.
While these videos make me look like some kind of UFO catcher grand master, each took a few attempts. Set yourself a budget before playing. You'd be surprised how often you'd think you can't possibly fail to win on the next turn, only to be still trying several turns later.
Still no joy? Well, the last resort is is to just outright buy it. Some people make a bit of extra money on the side by playing UFO catchers professionally, then reselling the toys on in second-hand stores. There's a good one a few doors down from the "Hey!" arcade in Akihabara.
As SEGA bags put so eloquently...
Any tips you'd like to add? Want more? Let us know in the comments below!