I have often seen people complain that NES games could be really confusing to play if they weren’t just straightforward platformers. While this was definitely true, I do feel that you could often figure out the more confusing games with just a quick dive into the manual. Clu Clu Land is the other way around, as the manual really struggles to explain the game’s mechanics, which become obvious pretty fast once you start playing around with them.
Never stop moving
So, take a look at the picture below, it’ll make it much easier to explain everything I am about to say.
You control Bubbles, the red character, and your objective is to find all the gold, which are the rupee-like shapes. These are invisible until you run over them, but each level has the gold hidden in a pattern that forms an image. Once you start uncovering some of the gold, you can start figuring out where the rest might be when you keep in mind it has to form a picture when you’re done. The blue creatures are the evil sea urchins, which will destroy Bubbles when they touch her, and they spawn from the black holes, which you also can’t touch without losing a life.
Now Bubbles’ movement is more than a little strange. She will run forward until she hits a wall, then turn around and go back the way she came. To change direction you press the directional key and Bubbles will hold out her hand. When you then pass any of the orange dots, representing poles, she will swing around until you release the button again. It’s a fun and strategic way to control your character, and you’ll get the hang of it much quicker if you just play the game instead of trying to make sense of the manual’s explanation for it.
It is also challenging, as Bubbles moves really fast and mistakes are easy to make. It takes some real focus to keep track of your character, figure out the location of the treasure, deal with the enemies trying to stop you, and not pass over any black holes or other traps. With the A and B buttons you can fire a beam that will temporarily freeze an urchin and you can then squish them against a wall for extra points, but they will respawn from the black hole in time, so you can’t really stop them. You also have a countdown timer to cope with, adding yet another hazard to your growing list of problems.
Gameplay score: 8/10
What even is Clu Clu?
The game’s levels are a bit simplistic, since all of them consist of a brightly-colored background and an arena that is just a black space with orange dots. It does get more interesting when you start moving around and reveal the picture, plus there are traps and bonus items that add some diversity.
There aren’t many sprites to go around and they are quite simple. I can’t even really tell what Bubbles is meant to be and the sea urchins only bear a passing resemblance to their real-world counterparts. The visuals are nothing special, but for a gimmicky NES puzzle game it’s sufficient.
Presentation score: 6/10
Now there are two of them
Clu Clu Land features a typical multiplayer mode wherein two players can play cooperatively, each with their own set of lives. The game also sports a total of 20 levels and, perhaps, the very first example of a New Game+. You see, once you have beaten all the levels, the game restarts and has you play them again. Except this time, you can only touch a treasure once and hitting it a second time will hide it again. This forces you to be even more cunning in order to avoid constantly undoing your own work, all while still dealing with enemies, the high speed of the game, and that mean time limit.
Extras score: 8/10
Typically I’d say puzzle games are useful for a calmer gameplay experience, but Clu Clu Land is anything but calming. It’s a difficult game to play and especially my first few runs saw my lives running out fast as I struggled to get a grip on the control scheme. While not often remembered nowadays, I found myself quickly getting addicted to the game’s fun gameplay mechanics and challenge; in fact, this review has been delayed by a few days because I just kept taking breaks to play more Clu Clu Land.