Around the beginning of this year a Round1 opened up in Towson, Maryland (a town on the northern edge of Baltimore), so a friend and I drove over to check it out. I figured we’d go there to play some games, but instead we just walked around, cynically comparing the place to Chuck E Cheese, until we decided to waste all our money on UFO Catchers.
This was my first time playing UFO Catchers, or any kind of claw game, in real life. At a young age I had already absorbed the general consensus that these games are all a scam. My only real exposure to them had been through Yakuza.
But wow! The real world UFO Catcher experience was nothing at all what I expected it to be. Essentially, you’re not trying to pick up the doll inside the machine — you’re trying to push it down. If you’re a person who cares only about winning, a big part of the game is walking past all of the machines, looking for dolls that are in prime position to be knocked over. There is such bizarre physics involved. Despite being so unintuitive, it feels like something that can be mastered ( I’m not 100% convinced though). A big part of my drive to keep playing is to see how the doll reacts to me pushing on it from certain positions that I hadn’t tried before. Unfortunately, each try costs money. I wish there was a mode where I could, like, play at a discounted price, without the chance to collect the doll when I win.
Something really terrible happened during that first UFO Catching experience that messed up my brain forever: I won. And not just did I win, I won three times.
What happened was that after having failed a few times my friend and I walked past a stuffed cat in a coffee mug. I said to my friend, “I wonder what would happen if I got the claw through the handle and lifted it up.”
”Uhhhh… You could try that. I feel like that would require too much exactness to get right though.”
So I swiped my card, tapped both buttons about a tenth a second each, the claw descended and went right through the handle, picking up the doll and dropping it into the collection compartment. Both of us were screaming.
We of course couldn’t just stop. My friend pointed out that one of the employees was resetting the prizes in a few machines. “They’re easiest right after being reset,” he said. He’s a big boy who’d (presumably) played a whole bunch of UFO Catchers in Japanese arcades, so I deferred to his expert opinion. We walked over. One of the machines had a Rilakumma in a beaver outfit. Again, somehow, we got this one to fall down on our first try. The second was another Rilakumma, holding a coffee cup with a little handle. This handle was way smaller than that first coffee cup cat. It took us three tries, I think, to get the claw to go through the loop, but again it worked. The Rilakumma fell down into the compartment, and now I felt like a weirdo for carrying around three big ol’ children’s toys.
At that point I realized something was happening in my brain. If I didn’t get out of there right that moment, then I was going to end up spending several hundred dollars on UFO Catching. It was terrifying.
So we left.
About two weeks later community transmission of Covid-19 was discovered in the United States, and very shortly afterwards the life of never leaving the house began. So no more UFO Catchers for me.
Until yesterday! I succumbed to the temptation. For some reason, I don’t know why, UFO Catchers has been on my mind for the past few weeks. With Covid-19 cases rising like crazy again, I figured this might be my last chance to engage in those weird UFO Catchers physics. So I drove over at 2pm on a rainy Thursday, walked into the empty arcade, purchased $30 worth of credit, and proceeded to win nothing.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around UFO Catchers. It’s clearly an evil and dangerous thing, but it’s so incredibly fascinating to me, from how unintuitive the physics are, the happiness exuded by all the dolls, trapped in those machines, and the weird feelings this game is awakening inside of my brain. One clear lesson from this is I should probably never allow myself to do any actual gambling, because clearly that will lead to horrible self destruction.
So with that introductory story finished, I want to ask if anyone here has any UFO Catchers stories. Like, I’ve never been to Japan. Has anyone had some Japanese UFO Catching experiences they want to share? Has UFO Catchers ruined anyone’s life?
Along those same lines, I’m curious if there are any video games that itch the same scratch that UFO Catchers does, without the opportunity for financial ruin? I don’t mean gatcha games or anything like that. I’m thinking more about the unintuitive physics aspect of UFO Catchers. It’s completely different from how UFO Catchers in Yakuza feels. I guess I want to play a game about going through some painful, bizarrely technical, even incomprehensible, process in order to reach out and grab some cute delightful objects that can be mine forever. Most importantly, endearing, immaculately tuned physics has to be a big part of it.
Do games like this exist? The closest that comes to mind is Katamari Damacy, which I think comes from a similar place. But I’d like less quantity of the objects I’m collecting, and weirder controls.
As a side note, right after my first time playing UFO Catchers I tried making a realistic simulation of it in Unity. I gave up! Getting softbody collisions to work anything at all like they do with actual stuffed dolls and claws was way too ridiculously hard. That was almost a year ago. So maybe I’ll try again.
Anyways, I’m curious about any and all UFO Catchers/general claw game related thoughts and experiences people might have.