Clu Clu Land (NES)

Game Review

Clu Clu Land Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jake Shapiro

Spinning from poles as a fish with human limbs...

Clu Clu Land is one of those unassuming early Nintendo Entertainment System releases that seems to show up all the time these days, from cameos in Super Smash Bros. to minigames in NES Remix, right alongside classics like Mario and Zelda. Even if you didn't grow up playing Clu Clu Land, most Nintendo fans are at least familiar with the name. These D-list NES titles Nintendo loves to promote can be hit-or-miss... Urban Champion comes to mind. At first glance, Clu Clu Land is another to toss onto the pile, but if you allow yourself to get into its gameplay flow it's a quirky little time waster.

Clu Clu Land was originally released in 1984 in Japan. Players swim through a maze of poles to unveil all the hidden gold ingots on the board, while at the same time trying avoid deadly black holes and sea urchins; you can also turn the tables and kill the urchins for extra points. As you pass over the invisible ingots, they appear onscreen to form familiar shapes like hearts and mushrooms. As you progress later levels add extra challenges like ingots that need to be run over twice to be revealed, rubbery blockades, and multiple black holes to deal with at once.

You play as a fish named Bubbles. Or at least it's supposed to be a fish; it's spherical red fish with arms and legs. The entire experience is reminiscent of Pac-Man, which was one of the most popular games in the world at the time of Clu Clu Land's release. Both games feature bright, circular protagonists navigating around a black single-screen maze while fleeing from multiple enemies that the player can attack for bonus points. Both games even feature onomatopoeia in their titles.

With its "reveal the simple fun shapes" concept, Clu Clu Land is in a way the progenitor of the popular pixel art puzzle games we see today on 3DS, like Pullblox and Pictobits. What really sets Clu Clu Land apart, though, is the controls. Instead of simply moving up, down, left, and right with the D-pad, Bubbles turns by reaching out and spinning on the grid of poles covering the levels. Send her off in one direction, then press the D-pad in the direction of the pole you want her to spin from to adjust her trajectory. Bubbles moves much quicker than Pac-Man or Mario, so it can be hard to keep up with her — it seems unwieldy, but it's exhilarating to speed around the maze once you finally get the hang of it.

Clu Clu Land's controls are difficult to master partially because it's an unusual approach to game control. Most action games of the 1980s feature the "directional pad to move, press A to interact" convention, which becomes second-nature shorthand to gamers. If you know how to control Mario, it's fairly easy to learn how to control Samus or Simon Belmont; those games all have the same basic control setup with minor differences. But Clu Clu Land is an entirely different control paradigm. Modern games do the same thing: if you know how to control Call of Duty, you know how to control the vast majority of first-person shooters. Left analogue stick to move, right stick to move around, right trigger to fire, and so on. Learning to play Clu Clu Land is similar to grasping the unique controls of Mirror's Edge. Awkward at first, but once you make the paradigm shift, Mirror's Edge controls fluidly and intuitively. Clu Clu Land isn't as refined, but it's the same control concept — two decades earlier.

The game has a steep difficulty curve, and once you get accustomed to the controls, Clu Clu Land's replay value comes mainly from trying to beat your own high score. Two-player mode is available through the 3DS' download play feature, where you and a friend can work together to find the golden ingots. It's hectic fun, but you won't be playing for hours and hours. Clu Clu Land is a game best enjoyed in short bursts, as there's not much depth to keep you going much longer than a few minutes at a time. The pick-up-and-play style makes it perfect for 3DS.

Graphics are not Clu Clu Land's strong suit, but it's forgiveable for such an early entry in the NES library, and it actually looks better on the 3DS' small screen than blown up to its full-size with drab colours on Wii U. The art design is most notable for its ingot sprites, which would go on to become the model for rupees in The Legend of Zelda. The 8-bit era is known for its iconic soundtracks, but Clu Clu Land's score is not among them. Its music is short and forgettable.


Unless you grew up playing it or you're a hardcore Zelda fan who wants to see where rupees come from, Clu Clu Land is probably not worth its relatively hefty price tag. It's a shallow experience with little replay value outside beating your high score. If you've got $4.99 (or £3.49) burning a hole in your pocket, though, Clu Clu Land is a fun arcade-style action puzzler and a look into the early days of NES game development. The unconventional controls can be frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, it's an addictive little time sink.

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User Comments (22)



maceng said:

The last 2 screenshots are the same. Lazy.

I was hoping for a 7, but that's was before the price was revealed. Agree 100% with Shapiro.



JakeShapiro said:

@maceng I'm glad you liked my review! It's my first for NL. As for the screenshots, they're pre-generated by the site, so I don't have anything to do with those.



JakeShapiro said:

@Beau_Skunk Different reviewers have different opinions. If you check out Marcel van Duyn's review of the Wii U VC version of Clu Clu Land, he gave it a 5.



sinalefa said:

I played this game first during NES Remix, and off the whole bunch this was the only one (that I don't have already) that I thought on purchasing. Very unique if hard to control, as you mention.



defrb said:

Funny game but gets dull quick, i agree with a 6. Still a nice game for short bursts.



AJSjedi said:

Is give it 1/2 out of ten . Hate this game with a passion. Controls are god awful, I'd rather play DK Jr math or stack up over this!



Kaze_Memaryu said:

The controls really are a nightmare, and the presentation is kinda confusing at times, so I'll gladly pass on it.



Pahvi said:

After rainbow-starring all CCL levels on NES Remix, I wasn't interested in the least to return to it. A lot of my time with those levels went into struggling with the controls before actually getting to the puzzle part (how to accomplish the goal fast enough). So, yeah - I hated the controls. Furthermore, it sounds like the original game mode is far less interesting than the puzzles built on it in NES Remix.



JJtheTexan said:

Yet another example of Nintendo's clueless inability to make Virtual Console a system-selling, game-changing service. When we could be getting more Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance or Game Gear titles on 3DS Virtual Console, we instead get a re-re-re-release of a poor, badly dated, shallow NES game already available on Wii and Wii U. Shameful.



Mr-X9000 said:

3.9 out of ten horrible horrible controls completely ruin what could have been a nice little game



Obito_Sigma said:

For anyone curious, this game is actually fun. It's just that it should be the cheapest Virtual Console game out there. It's worth playing, for for $1 max. Mario Bros and Donkey Kong are still better choices even if they should be really cheap, but Clu Clu Land is one of those games that you play for about a half an hour, and then play with it whenever you get bored.



SurferClock said:

I've still got it on my GameCube Animal Crossing...it's a curiosity, but little more than that.



Beau_Skunk said:

I understand that, I just think it's baffling those good games got "horrible" reviews/scores, while this one got higher, and more praise.
I loved Dr. Mario & Balloon Fight, so it's kinda disapointing is all. With all the bad reviews they give old games, it's amazing some like the DK games, and Pac Man still get good reviews on this site. (I love those games, but I don't see how they could get higher then a classic "Dr. Mario")

I won't say this is a "horrible" game, it's decent, but "Clu Clu Land D" (included in Animal Crossing, a Famicom Disk System remake of the game) was actually better, and had a better difficulty curve. This one gets to hard to quickly, making it difficult to progress very far in the game. The remake was better.



Agent721 said:

I still haven't beaten NES remix version of this. I'll check that out first...this is one of those early NES games I never got to try out as a kid.



Deathgaze said:

What's with all the unfair scores of NES games here? Is no writer older than 20 and able to put themselves in the shoes of a gamer in the 80s and very early 90s? This game is great.

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