Not only at arcade centers, but also in many comic and game stores here in Japan, you can find medal based games. Back in the UK, this type of game mainly surfaces in game centers, but actually use real money. I suppose to stay in line with gambling laws (and so that kids won’t lose all their money trying to win more), Japan uses medals representing coins. But at a cost of roughly ten yen a coin, the cost still is sufficient.
I love going to arcades, and particularly use UFO Grabbers (also known as claw machines in the UK) and driving games. But I’ve seen so many kids using these medal machines I found myself wondering the same thing everytime, and it’s the same thing I think when I think about pachinko (which I have previously failed at trying), what about this is fun?
Since you cannot revert your medals for cash later, your incentive to keep going are various prizes you can trade your medals in for. Do well on a game, get lots of medals, claim an awesome prize … or just buy enough medals to get the prize … or just buy the prize? I guess kids won’t have the money to straight up buy the prize they want, so I should strike off those extra comments.
A couple of days ago I had some free time so I thought I’d give it a go. I had a thousand yen to spare so I bought some medals and had a crack at hitting the top prize. Here’s how I got on.
My 1,000 yen bought me 120 medals, and I soon headed for a nice Pokemon themed machine. “Stick with what you know”, I thought.
The instructions seemed simple enough. Use the medal flippers to control the digital pokemon on screen to collect apples.
I loaded up a handful of medals and was on my way.
Watching my 120 medals slowly go into the machine and watching only a few come back out was quite a strange feeling. Was I having fun? No, of course not.
But then the machine livened up as enough coins went into the little holes. I had a bingo! Yes! Surely that must be worth a hundred medals! … What? Fifteen?
Pikachu had eaten enough apples to load up another game. This time it was a “pick the winning chest” game. The screen showed two treasure chests, one filled with gold, the other empty. The lids closed and they began to slowly spin around each other. “Well, this is easy” I said just as the speed shot to lightning-levels and I was lost. It was fifty-fifty. I went left … I went wrong.
I ended the Pokemon game with just 51 medals, and a desire to stay away from Pikachu for a while … which is tricky as this particular arcade is over a Pokemon Center.
I tried another machine that looked really cool … because it was ice-themed.
The concept was simple enough. Decide how many medals you want to bet, release a ball, hope it goes in a specific hole.
I set my bet to 5 medals, the minimum possible bet.
Without a second thought, I let my first ball fly … and got it in!
My ball went to the next level where it earned me 10 medals, taking my medal count up to 56. I was on fire!
Unfortunately, this was an ice-based game and so that cooled my fire off pretty quickly. I was losing medals quickly. If I had the bravery to bet 10 or more, I could have at least hit a chance at a diamond … whatever that meant.
With 99 of my original 120 medals down the pan, I was most definitely not having fun.
The next machine is another UK seaside arcade favourite, but with a digital twist. Who doesn’t love a punt on the races, and gambling on horse racing is one of the few types of gambling that is actually legal in Japan.
The concept seemed simple enough. Use the dial to select how you want to bet, then sit back and enjoy the race. My main problem is that with the exception of taking a bet on whatever horse has the best name in the Grand National, the most famous horse race in the UK, I have no idea how horse racing works! This is further hammered home by the fact that for the last 17 months I’ve lived within a stones throw from the Funabashi Keibajo horse racing stadium!
I loaded up my remaining medals, and sat back to watch the in progress race.
It didn’t seem too difficult to follow.
You could either watch the arena screen, or the standing screen to follow the race.
It was time to bet. I looked up and down the screen to see if I had any idea what might be a good option.
In the end I got confused and threw down medals on some random squares.
I then nervously watched the race, with more butterflies in my stomach than the old woman who swallowed a fly … who didn’t have any by the way.
During the race I noticed a feature that would randomly give a horse a burst of speed. I tried it, but because I’d bet in many different ways I realised I was probably doing more harm than good.
The race was over and winners were announced. YES! One of the high-return options I’d chosen had come up and I’d won about 20 medals!!!
Or so I thought.
After looking again I realised I had actually chosed then box NEXT TO the one I was spending the whole race watching.
Confused and a little frustrated, I decided to just bet on one option to keep myself from getting baffled any further.
All I needed was for horse number 3 to win, and I’d be on the way up …
… but they came in second. And it was such a close second too!
I cashed out of this machine with my tail between my legs and 10 medals to my name.
Right now I was in need of help. I needed someone. I needed … a hero (commence Bonnie Tyler).
I needed Mega Man to help me out of this bind. Known as Rockman in Japan, I had presumed that the Megaman machine would be the simplest one of all. I was wrong.
In the end I thought “Fine, let’s just get this over with”, and loaded my medals into the machine.
I watched as my medals rained down into the machine, some pushing coins onto the bottom layer.
… and that was it.
It was over. In the space of about 15 minutes I’d lost all 120 of my medals. But the most important question remained, did I have fun?
No, not at all. It might be my age talking (since I recently turned 31), but I just don’t see what kids see in the medal games. Actually I can’t even use this as an excuse as people of all ages play them. As I slowly walked toward the exit, I passed people who had won cups full of medals, and got even further confused.
I’d lost 1000 yen worth of medals in 15 minutes, there’s no way I’d ever need to use the medal bank. Defeated, I went home to play on my New Nintendo 3DS, where I realised I’d met a Japanese celebrity on street pass.