First, a lesson in linguistics – ‘Kurukuru’ in Japanese means ‘turning around’. Why are we telling you this? Well, it neatly explains Clu Clu Land’s rather unusual title, and also gives some insight into the mechanics of the game.
You assume the role of a funny-looking fish called Bubbles, who due to some cruel evolutionary mishap only has the ability to move forwards. The only way you can turn in the game is to grab one of the pegs that make up the play area and swing your character around – hence the term ‘turning around’. This unique control method makes Clu Clu Land quite unlike any other title you’ve ever played – it also makes it intensely frustrating, because getting Bubbles to go in the right direction is often a test of reactions and requires expert timing.
Each single-screen grid represents a shape and by skimming around the arena you can reveal more of the shape by uncovering gold ingots that are buried in the sand. However, as you might expect it’s not exactly plain sailing; as well as having cavernous black holes to avoid, there are bad guys in the form of evil sea urchins called Unira. Thankfully it’s possible to keep these nasty ocean-dwellers at bay using your sonic blast, which stuns them temporarily and gives you ample time to slam them into a wall.
Because of the strict time limit on each level you’ll find yourself playing the game at a breakneck pace, which is both exhilarating and annoying; needless mistakes occur because you’re too worried about running out of time. To make matters even more infuriating, on later levels if you cross the same gold ingot twice, you bury it again. When you’re desperately trying to avoid the unwanted attention of the sea urchins, this is all too easy to do. If you like games that constantly kick sand in your face (no pun intended), then you’ll have a ball with this one.
Graphically this looks just how you’d expect a game from 1985 to look – primitive. The character sprites are basic but expressive and the level design is plain but clean and uncluttered – as is the case in many games from this period, the basic nature of the visuals actually helps the play focus more on the task in hand.
Clu Clu Land has often been compared to Pac-Man, and with good reason; it’s a single-screen game and it features the same kind of ‘fill the grid/eat the grid’ gameplay – but Clu Clu Land isn’t quite as elegant as Namco’s effort. The main stumbling block is the interface, which is unquestionably innovative but ultimately too unwieldy to offer truly accurate controls. The game is also mercilessly difficult in later levels, and this saps much of the enjoyment it might have otherwise offered.