UFO Catcher is a popular series of arcade prize redemption games/crane games created by Sega in Japan. Sega's first UFO Catcher was released in 1985, and became so popular with Japanese consumers that the term "UFO Catcher" became a widespread colloquialism for describing these types of games, regardless of whether they were produced by Sega (or had claws shaped like UFOs). Its success ensured numerous updates in the years which followed, though many 1985 models are still in active service today.
Most "UFO Catchers" have only two buttons to control the crane (although some units made for the Western market have traditional joystick controls). One button is marked with a forward arrow, while the other a right one. The crane starts near the front, left side of the machine and the user presses first the forward button to move the crane towards the back of the cabinet. Once the button is released the crane stops moving and the button cannot be used again, thus requiring the user to judge depth accurately in one attempt. After this, the right button becomes active in a similar way and as soon as it is released, the crane drops to a certain depth and then raises, closing its claw on the way and returning to the drop hatch in the front left corner.
Generally, while getting the claw to pick up a prize is relatively easy, having the claw hold the prize long enough to bring it to the opening is harder. Because the claws "grip" is much looser than in most other crane games -- a deliberate engineering design choice in order to make a "successful grab" a low probability for casual players; though skilled players have a considerably higher probability of success -- it therefore makes it much harder for it to keep a prize held in its grip. However, depending on how operators tweak the claw itself and/or other settings, such as the prizes and their placement, it can either become more or less difficult.
Traditionally, in Japan, the main prizes of UFO Catchers have been plush dolls (known to collectors as "UFO Catcher dolls".) These dolls are usually from a Sega franchise (such as Sonic or Virtua Fighter) or popular anime, but original dolls are also known to be available. Boxed figurines, home goods such as towels, and other character goods can also be obtained from these machines. Because many of these items are exclusive to UFO Catchers, they tend to become rare and sought-after collectibles.
However, there have been a wide variety of prizes loaded into the machines, from small toys and collectible cards to cans of oden. One refrigerated model even dispenses ice cream.
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