UFO Catchers – Getting That Prize

You’ll either love them or you’ll hate them…but they’re always going to tempt you. Yes indeed, I too was tempted far too much and lost much of my wallet to them. But here I am to write a guide on how to be better at them, based on the lessons I learnt.

What you’ll come to understand is that these machines always look so easy. They’re designed to prey on that aspect of our mind – to trick us into believing that we can ‘win’, when in reality, it often takes a lot of patience. Most of them are money wasters, unless of course, you know how to minimise your spending. Let me just say first that you should avoid playing if you know you’ll get emotional, or empty your wallet for a prize. Sometimes it’s best to step back and turn around, so set a limit for yourself. Almost all prizes can be bought for 1000 – 2000 yen elsewhere.

About most of these machines, they have several common features:

  • Prizes are too heavy to be easily lifted or moved by the claw
  • Prizes are too large with no substantial grip to be lifted or moved
  • The claws are too weak to grip anything well
  • There are often high-friction surfaces or areas in the machine that make it much harder to win

Of course, there are also many, many variants of the UFO catcher, so I’ll cover the ones I’m most familiar with.

The Pincher

Usually a two-pronger pincher that you can move left and right, forward and backward. Once you set it’s position, it’ll automatically open its claws about as wide as its initial width, drop, and then close.

Source: blog.fromjapan.co.jp

There are two variants here: one with a large, heavy prize, and the other with a soft prize.

Source: magicianofgames.up.n.seesaa.net/

The main point though is that using the claw to ‘pick up’ the prize in both cases does not work. And you will have to make an investment in order to win, it’s unlikely to be a one-shot win. So, how? For the soft prizes, you’ll usually want to use the claw to push, using its downward force, the prizes together or to try to roll it into the hole. For the larger prizes, you want to use one edge of the claw to do the work. Both claws move apart about as far as their initial position, so move the claw so that when one side closes, it will ‘push’ the prize slightly towards the hole because the prize is slightly off-center. If it’s a long prize such as the one shown above, you’ll need to alternate between each end.

The One-Armed Claw

Much like above, the difference here is that you’re missing a claw, so getting the prize depends entirely on moving the mechanism towards the prize, but slightly off-center, so that when the claw open and closes, it’ll ‘push’ the prize just a bit. This and the two-armed claw are often used with a suspended prize as I’ll detail below.

The Hanging Prize

The hanging prize is most often a soft toy or a box containing a figurine. There is a ring that the prize hangs off, while the ring sits on top of a rod with a high-friction surface at the tip. It will take a few goes to completely dislodge the item, but I’ve done it in as few as four to win an Asuna figure. They are sometimes coupled with other mechanisms such as a chain, but the approach is the same.

Source: blogimg.goo.ne.jp

Hit highlighted parts

You’ll want to use the one-handed or two-handed claw to push the prize off the rod. Alternate between each side of the ring by moving the claw mechanism slightly off-center above the prize so that when it drops, the claw will hit and move the ring. By alternating on each side, you’ll speed things up. The closer you get to the outer edge, the more risk you have of missing, but it’s also the fastest way to win.

The Imprisoned Prize

This usually involves a prize suspended above two, or three bars. Each bar is wrapped in a high-friction surface to make your life harder. Oftentimes, the prize will be positioned so that it is lengthwise across the bars. It’s never as easy as it looks, and you’ll often have to do two things: turn the prize sideways, and roll it.

Grab highlighted areas to try and turn the prize

You’ll need to position the claw off-center again so that one side will push the box when it comes down. This means that you’ll eventually turn the prize enough that it’ll be able to fall through. When a third bar is involved, or with trickier boxes, you’ll have to use the claw on the center edge to flip or rotate it. This is one of the most popular machine types for good reason – it’s difficult. And that’s why I actually shy away from it, because it’s usually equivalent to buying the prize.

The Ball Drop

This is about impossible as it gets, and it’s mostly up to luck.

You might as well give up after the third try if you don’t get it. I say this because it gets harder as you go. While it starts off easy picking up the balls, they either fall out of the bowl and are irretrievable, or there are so few that the claw can’t get them anymore.

The Hooker

I’ve saved this for last because this is my favourite one of them all. They’re increasingly rare in Tokyo though, but the one at Taito in Kagurazaka is easy. I like these because you can one-shot them. Get used to the machine, and you’ll be dropping prizes like flies for 100 yen each. It’s too bad that there’s usually a daily limit of one or two per machine per arcade. The mechanism is simple: move a hook left and right, forwards and backwards. Once it’s position is set, the hook will drop down and if it hooks one of the rings, it’ll pull them up and you win. No tricks, no time-wasting.

Source: Random YouTube screencap

The secret is to wait between moving the hook across each axis. Give enough time for the hook to stabilise and stop swinging around so that when it drops, it won’t move around unpredictably. The hook is usually also slanted a bit, so lean more towards the inside of the ring, even if it looks like it might overshoot.

So, there you go. Lessons I’ve learnt from the Japanese arcades. What prizes did I get? I picked up a Fate/Extella Saber, Fate/GO Lancer, SAO Asuna, Love Live! Mari Ohara, Kankolle Ashigara, One Piece Boa Hancock. Gave one away and sold one…not sure what to do with the rest as I don’t exactly have any space to display.

About zxzxzx

I'm an IT professional who likes computers, anime, tennis, travelling and photography among other things. I often read LNs, manga or watch anime in my spare time if I'm not translating something. I'm a strong supporter of freedom of speech, human rights, and I generally support a left-wing stance on most political subjects.
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3 Responses to UFO Catchers – Getting That Prize

  1. IDR says:



    Don’t worry about it.

    They won’t just get pulled to atmosphere and then dropped somewhere else.

  2. bypass says:



    In the country i reside, when you played for a few games ,5-10, then leave, the arcade staff will re-position it to make it impossible to get again :v

    • zxzxzx says:



      In Japan, I’ve seen that too. Staff sometimes reset a prize after a player. But if you look like a struggling tourist, they’ll often provide tips, or they may even open the door to reposition the prize and make it slightly easier for you.