Clu Clu Land
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publishers:
    • Nintendo (NES/ARC/FDS)
    • Courbois Software (AMI)
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 11/22/1984
    • US 10/18/1985
    • UK 02/15/1987
    ARC
    • US 1985
    AMI
    • UK 1989
    FDS
    • JP 04/28/1992
Score: 65%

This review was published on 12/28/2016.

Clu Clu Land is a video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Famicom Disk System, and the arcades. The NES version was originally released in Japan on November 22, 1984, North America on October 18, 1985, and Europe on February 15, 1987. The game got an enhanced version sometime in 1985 for the Nintendo Vs. System, which were coin operated arcade machines modeled after the NES, where it was known as Vs. Clu Clu Land. This version has twice as many puzzles, a new boss enemy, some different stage themes, and a few other adjusted features. That enhanced version was then ported to the Famicom Disk System in Japan on April 28, 1992, where it was called Clu Clu Land: Welcome to New Clu Clu Land. Also, Courbois Software published the Amiga version of the game in Europe in 1989. The "Clu Clu" in the game's title is a romanization of the Japanese word "Kuro Kuro," an onomatopoeia that refers to something that goes around in circles. The reason for this becomes apparent once you play the game, which would be all right if it weren't for the controls.

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In Clu Clu Land, you control a female blowfish named Bubbles as she swims around single screened mazes with an overhead view in the style of Pac-Man. Unlike Pac-Man, however, the controls for this game are rather unorthodox. Instead of directly controlling Bubbles' movement, you use the d-pad to outstretch either her left or right hand in the pressed direction, though her hands can only be outstretched from the sides of her body, not the front or back. Once outstretched, Bubbles' hand will grab onto "turn posts," which she'll spin around on until you let go of the d-pad, hence the game's title. She's sort of like an aquatic stripper. At any rate, spinning on these stripper poles, or turn posts, is one of the only ways Bubbles can turn around to change the direction she's facing. Alternatively, she'll go in the opposite direction after bouncing off a wall, but that's about it. Due to this strange control scheme, the main challenge of the game is controlling it.

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Enemies come in the form of deadly sea urchins. If these creatures so much as touch Bubbles, she'll die, and the game is over if she loses all her lives. While they can most certainly harm her, Bubbles can't directly harm them. However, she's able to temporarily stun them by shooting out electric shockwaves, which you make her do by pressing either the A or B button. Bubbles can then push stunned enemies into walls to squish them to death, though foes will appear endlessly from black holes somewhere in the stage, so this'll only keep them off her back for a short while. Touching the black holes also kills Bubbles. Sadly, these sea urchins are the only enemies in the game and you'll never see more than two at a time. It's an old game, but the lack of enemy variety is still rather disappointing, especially since these guys lack the personality and challenge of stuff like the ghosts from Pac-Man. Besides the enemies and black holes, the only other hindrance you'll encounter is a rubber bar that'll bounce Bubbles backwards.

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The objective of each stage is to uncover all the golden ingots within the time limit. If these precious objects look familiar, it's because their likeness was later used as rupees, the main currency of The Legend of Zelda series. Anyway, the gold bars are invisible, but they get revealed once Bubbles passes over them. They're hidden in patterns that you can sort of feel out on your own, plus the amount you have left is listed at the top of the screen. The patterns are based on the stage's color, with each color having a set number of designs that randomly show up. Most designs are shaped like various objects, such as hearts, smiley faces, mushrooms, and so on. All the possible designs are listed in the game's instruction manual, which is almost necessary due to the tight time limit. Aside from the gold bars, there are items that grant bonus points like fruits, flags, and sacks of money, and a clock that temporarily freezes the timer and enemies, but none of these are necessary for stage completion.

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Like most games of this era, everything loops after you complete all the stages, only things get harder. On top of things getting faster, one of the additional challenges is the fact that gold bars flip over every time you pass over them, and they must all be flipped to the correct side to count. That means you'll need to carefully think about what path to take to reveal all the gold bars, further adding to the frustration. Of course, the obtuse controls make it unlikely that you'll get that far. No matter how long you play this game, the controls will never feel natural. Having to constantly spin around posts to turn anywhere is irritating, especially since you need to release the d-pad with such precise timing to go in the desired direction. The direction you need to press on the d-pad to outstretch Bubbles' hand also changes depending on where she's facing, which is the worst part. It just feels inconsistent.

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Additionally, there's a two player mode. For the most part, it plays identically to the one player mode, except with two players uncovering gold bars simultaneously. Since two people can cover a lot more ground than one, the game is a lot easier with two players, and also more fun. There are a few things that could hinder that fun, however, like the fact that both players bounce off of each other whenever they collide. In some situations, players may get stuck together, which can only be undone by latching onto a turn post. Despite these annoyances, playing with a pal is still loads more entertaining than going it alone.

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This game could have been okay, but the controls ruin it. Even with how simple the NES controller is, this game has one of the most unintuitive control schemes out there. Conceptually, a Pac-Man clone where you're tasked with uncovering objects hidden in various patterns could have worked, but controlling the thing just isn't enjoyable. There's a framework for a good game here, but the execution is off. While it's not totally terrible, Clu Clu Land doesn't have what it takes to be a true classic. There's a reason why Pac-Man is still popular today, whereas Clu Clu Land has long since been forgotten.

Word Count: 1,112

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