Monday, 10 December 2012

Tips & tricks for the game centre, or: the spoils of war

Long time no post! I'm writing my master's thesis at the moment (due in January) so my life is a whirlwind of no fun and sitting at my desk for 12 hours and producing 3 pages.

Anyway! My friend took the JLPT the other day and since she was passing through Yokohama, we met up for dinner. We went to the cheap & cheerful Chinese restaurant that I always end up going to in Yokohama. It was delicious. Then we went to the game centre to feed my addiction for UFO catchers (recently rekindled) and to take some purikura.

There was a period of my life (around 2009-2010) during which I had a serious addiction to UFO catchers. I've only just managed to start playing them again this year in moderation - it doesn't help though that I've been having a run of really good luck with them, though. Have to remember that THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

There are some tips I have for those of you who feel like going up against the might of the House in order to attempt to come home with an adorable and unneccessary stuffed toy/figurine/bag full o' sweets that'll just make you fat anyway, however.

uiggu's 10 tips for sticking it to the man and winning on UFO catchers

1. Go to big-name game centres. In my experience Taito Station, Sega, and Round One are the best. This seems counter-intuitutive, perhaps, but the reason is simple: the big chains have a reputation to keep up and want customers going home happy. Hence the staff are generally extremely helpful and will usually will re-set the prize to make it easier for you if you ask (see point 3). They also have huge revenues, which means they can afford to make it easier for you.

2. By the same token, avoid small, independent game centres. They're usually kind of shady and dirty, the arms of the grabbers in the UFO catchers are pathetically noodly and weak, and because they're up against the wall with the profit margins they often scalp you for 200 yen per try on the larger toy UFO catchers. The staff are usually also full of ennui and will not lift a finger to help you.

3. Time your visit. If you're serious about taking home some booty (heh), know when to go. The arm strength of the grabber, not to mention the price per play, change depending on the day and the time of day. Weekday mornings and afternoons (BEFORE the schools get let out at 3.30pm) are a good bet, as are Sunday nights after around 8pm.

4. Choose your area wisely. Even in the same chain of game centres, the area affects the difficulty of the machines. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the machines in famous geek-town Akihabara (I work there, I say this with love) are of insane difficulty levels, with weak grabber arms and fiendish positioning of prizes. The payoff is that the prizes are usually the newest, worth a lot in resale value, or limited edition. This is pro-level stuff.

In contrast, game centres in suburban centres (such as Center Kita in Yokohama, Tama Center, and so on) are usually a good bet, as are the following: Taito Station at Shinjuku Station West Exit, Round One in Yokohama, and Sega in Shibuya. These all cater to the "casual UFO catcher player" as well as to the high-school crowd, so the prizes are fairly easy to win.

5. Choose your machine wisely. Just as in pachinko parlours, machines near the door or actually outside the game centre are the easiest to win on. Why? To make you think that ALL the machines are as easy, and to draw you further inside, of course, as well as to create a happy tableau of people winning things for other passersby/potential customers. Generally the further inside it is, the harder the machine.

6. If ye ask, ye shall receive. ALWAYS ask before starting to play a UFO catcher for the toy to be re-set, unless you've come to a machine that someone else has obviously been playing and given up on and the toy is in a favourable position. The same goes for if there's colour variations of the same toy in the machine and you want a different one than the one currently set. Do this in advance, because most game centres will not allow you to exchange a toy for one of a different colour once you've actually won it. I don't know why. The most likely answer is "Japan".

7. The way you ask, and who does the asking, is very important. If you're a girl, find a male employee. If you're a guy with a girl, get the girl to do the asking, or you go and find a female employee and make it seem as if you HAVE to get this toy for your girlfriend/mother/little sister.

Ask as cutely and helplessly as possible. Be nice. Smile. Be winning. Be shameless. Remember, the goal is the toy. Nothing is too low in the pursuit of that goal.

Also, and this is important:

8. If you are foreign-looking, you will have an advantage. USE IT.

These game centre employees think you are a tourist. They want you to have a good time at their game centre. They want you to go home with the toy you want and tell everyone in "your country" how great and hospitable a nation Japan is, and that they should all come to Japan too and play at the game centre you played at and had such a great time at. With all this going on in their heads, watch them balance the toy on the very edge for you so that one push will knock it down. In the case of the Hello Kitty pillow below, when re-setting it for me, the guy did everything but hand me the damn thing; in the end he took a good 90 seconds to balance it perfectly because it kept actually falling into the chute.

The only time I "play the gaijin card" in Japan is in game centres.

Like I said: addiction.

9. Set a budget for how much you're going to spend BEFORE you start playing. Try not to fall into the cycle of "so close! I've come this far, I may as well see it through". That way madness (and bankruptcy) lies. So many times I've spent upwards of 1000 yen on a toy only to find it on Yahoo Auctions for half that later.

10. Use your first try to test the strength of the grabber arms. You can usually tell in the first try whether or not the machine is viable. If the arms just slide straight off the sides of the toy without gaining any traction, even if you get them in exactly the right place, you may as well give up now. There are some machines that cannot be won.

If there's interest, I'll do a post on actual techniques for UFO catchers.

Anyway, here are the spoils of my game centre binge of the last month as well as some other things I didn't actually try for but thought were cute. Enjoy!

The moment I saw this I had to have it. Dokodemo Issho's Toro-chan collaboration with Madoka Magica! (I realize this sentence will probably mean nothing to a large percentage of my readers.)

Great, just when I'm dieting THIS happens. Oh well, chocolate for breakfast for the next 3 months it is then.
I'm also severely addicted to these machines which work like those penny pushing machines, where you put in a coin and it falls down and a constantly pushing block then pushes everything slightly forward towards the open slot. In Japan "gambling" with actual money is illegal (and those penny-pushing machines count as gambling), so they do it with chocolate and sweets instead. There's usually a piled-up tower of chocolate bars teetering near the edge of the precipice, and the game is to make it collapse at the right moment into the slot before the time runs out and the slot closes. Take my word for it: the moment when the tower collapses is the greatest feeling ever.
Like I said: addiction.

Hello Kitty giant face pillow which I got in two tries, or 200 yen (!) at the Taito Station near Sanrio Puroland the other day. 

Back of the pillow ♡

しょぼ〜ん face characters in a machine. Love the one at bottom left. That's how I feel when writing my thesis.

The Christmas version. I was tempted, but I'm actually not technically allowed to bring home more soft toys (house rule), so I abstained.

D: D: ♡


  1. Hello Uiggu,

    Thank you very much for all this informations :-).
    I'm going to Tokyo in a few months and it will be very usefull.

    Could you please tell me how what is the Japanese for : "Could you please re-set the prize ?"

    Thanks in advance for your help ^_^"

  2. Thanks! I was wondering where was best to go. I'll try Shinjuku for a big haul here soon.

    Also, to Djamel, trying saying "naoshite morattemo ii desuka?" (now-shitay mo-rah-tay-moe "ee" deska?)

    1. Hello,
      Sorry for my late answer ^_^"
      Thanks very much. It will be very usefull :-)

  3. if you wanna know about the tricks to clear candy crush level visit level 147 candy crush