Crane games are sinister, alluring bedevilments with their bright flashing lights and happy jingles that tempt suckers like me into feeding them money. For just a few dollars you too can own this ugly yet endearing horse plushie you have no space for but look how precariously it’s perched and how its long neck is sticking out just right for the claw to easily latch onto. Of course it’s never that easy. I don’t play a lot of crane games these days, given a combination of improved self-discipline, rarely carrying cash, and the pandemic shutting down the malls and movie theaters where such games lurk. Thankfully, Part Time UFO and Yakuza 0 have come to my rescue.
Part Time UFO is a 2018 mobile game that came to Switch this week. In it, you’re a UFO with a crane, and you pick things up, put them where they are supposed to go, and are paid for a hard day’s work. The game can feel kinda mean for how cute it is: I feel bad plucking fish who were minding their own business out of the water, and the game even encourages you to post pictures from it on social media to “share with people who are not working” (goodness, read the room, asshole). Part Time UFO doesn’t feel like a real crane game, since it’s comically easy to pick things with how your claw snaps to whatever object you’re going for, but it’s so damn adorable that I don’t care. I waste a lot of time and end up failing a lot of jobs trying to figure out how to earn the hidden trophies. I also get easily distracted observing what’s going on in the background, like the dog butt and the disapproving construction foreman. (I’ve only been on Earth for hours and I’ve already been pressed into capitalism—give me a break, disapproving construction foreman.). I should be a little embarrassed by failing so often, but hearing the game chirp “hataraku U-FO” at me (the game’s Japanese title) makes it worth it. It also makes me want to pay an unseemly amount of money to get an .mp3 of the game’s theme song as my ringtone.
Meanwhile, Yakuza 0 is a mini-game fiesta disguised as a gangster thriller. There’s an arcade that has a crane game in it, and if I’m not advancing the plot, I’m there. There’s something pleasing about the way the physics works in the game engine—the crane swings in such a way that it conveys appropriate heft. The claws snap shut quickly when they slide off a prize, suggesting a taught spring. Even the tactile sensation of positioning the claw just right, with light taps on the X button, feels no different from doing the same on a crane game’s joystick in the real world. Then of course, there’s the lowered difficulty, which means I can win a prize at least once for every 3 credits I spend. I am a master at that Sega claw game. Despite me knowing it’s not real, It feels so good.
I like crane games. I am bad at crane games. Part Time UFO and Yakuza 0 make me feel less bad about being shite at real crane games by making me good at fake crane games. Crane games!