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Clu Clu Land (NES) artwork

Clu Clu Land (NES) review

"Moving around the maze becomes a tedious matter of letting the character run in a straight line, finding a pole, then pivoting around it at the precise moment, letting go when you're lined up toward your next goal, and repeating."

When you think back on Nintendo's history, it's sometimes easy to set restrictions on what you believe they can possibly have produced. We know Nintendo today for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, but the company's true beginning was with games like Donkey Kong and Balloon Fight, Ice Climbers and...Clu Clu Land.

The name alone somehow sounds un-Nintendo-ish, but it's a title the company produced and published, way back in 1984. You can still find it in used game shops today if you look hard enough, though the sticker price is likely to be a deterrent. Sadly, this is one of those titles that only a serious collector should go for, or someone who remembers enjoying good old games back in the day. That's because despite a few bright points, Clu Clu Land is a challenging but often unrewarding title.

Pick this up and play it and, unless you watch the demo, you might have trouble figuring out the goal. I did. But eventually, you'll realise the objective in each level isn't all that complicated. Everything takes place on a single screen, which is filled with a few outer barriers, some glowing blue pits, and a bunch of circles that apparently represent poles. Into this arena is tossed the hero, a character that looks a little bit like a blob of jelly with two little feet attached. You control this chap, of course, and take him around as he tries to uncover diamonds and bonus items. The diamonds always form the shape of some crude picture, and you have to unearth the entire picture to advance to the next stage. Since there's a timer, you have to work swiftly.

The hazards come in the form of the afore-mentioned blue pits, and the creatures they spew. These creatures are little spiked blobs with maliciously flashing eyes. I'm not sure if the graphics are just really bad and these are supposed to be animals, or if these really are just spiked blobs. I'm assuming it's the latter, because as a whole nothing looks bad, just simplistic. Your little hero must avoid the pits--though he can skate over them if he approaches properly--and not run into the living creatures unless he has first shot them with his energy wave. Shooting an enemy with the wave turns it into a spikeless lump, which you can then ram against a wall for points. Unless it's convenient you won't care to bother (assuming you're not a points fiend), because more will just be spawned to replace those you slay. The timer works so quickly that you really have to move at a good clip to clear things in time.

Part of the problem is the play control. When you press a direction near one of the poles, you're likely to start looping around it in a circle. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you might swiftly find as many as four diamonds with one little circle. The problem comes when you want to dismount. Unless you have grown accustomed to the controls, prepare to face a constant struggle to remind yourself that you only need to press a directional button when you wish to grab a pole and turn. Moving around the maze becomes a tedious matter of letting the character run in a straight line, finding a pole, then pivoting around it at the precise moment, letting go when you're lined up toward your next goal, and repeating.

As you progress, of course, things grow more difficult. Until you've memorized the unique control setup, you won't get far, as you really have to focus your foal attention on what's happening where in order to survive. There are rubbery ledges that appear. Bumping into them bounces you back the way you came. And as you advance, your character moves more quickly, which means you find yourself surviving on reflex alone. Also, the developers either over-estimated player skill or the player's ability to adapt to an odd control scheme (or maybe they just wanted more quarters), because some of the cooler elements of the game don't happen until several levels in. For example, you don't get the ability to pass out one side of the screen and enter through the other side until four levels in. Of course, this is also good in a way, because that complicates already busy gameplay.

Then there's the element of cheapness you sometimes simply can't ignore. If you die, the timer doesn't reset. It only resets if it reaches 0. So in later levels, where it's difficult to navigate because of all the blue holes and springs, you can spend most of a life bouncing about, die on an enemy, reappear, then instantly die again because your timer has expired. Or you might respawn in the path of an enemy. Or in the worst-case-scenario, lose three consecutive lives before either the 'game over' screen or a brief dash to uncover more of the picture. It can be quite frustrating at times.

The real joy of the game, then, is the two-player mode. This way at least you can laugh at your friend's misfortunate, or be on the receiving end of ridicule should you perform poorly. Without someone at your side trash talking, though, Clu Clu Land is a limited addiction at best. If you're a collector, it probably belongs in your collection. Otherwise, it's a bit of an oddity that not many are likely to enjoy in a world populated by game's featuring Nintendo's own fat plumber.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2002)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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