Saturday 18 January 2020

Clu Clu Land (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Clu Clu Land is an action-maze game that's part of the NES Black Box series.

A pattern of gold bars have been hidden by the evil Sea Urchin and it's up to you to find them before time runs out. Movement is controlled by hooking your hand around a turn post (or by hitting a wall / rubber trap) and enemies can be defeated with your electric shock waves. Initially, the controls are a bit of a nightmare to get used to, as you can't just move your character as in Pac-Man (1980, Arcades); instead you need to rely on momentum and timing as you swing around turn posts which isn't exactly intuitive. However, once you do become more accustomed to the controls you start to realise that the gameplay is actually very thoughtfully and cleverly designed to keep you multitasking at all times; there's always so much to think about and with the ticking clock and respawning enemies it really does force you to react quickly and strategically. One feature I did like is that you can pause the game to check your progress on the required gold bar pattern; this comes in handy when the clock is ticking and you just need to visualise what's missing without the threat of incoming enemies. The four stages do a good job of implementing new ideas to keep things fresh and I particularly like Stage 3's side exits that warp you to the other side of the screen. The biggest issue though is that there's only four stage layouts (discounting the intro stage which only appears once per game). While they each have interesting core mechanics and the patterns alter throughout, there's simply not enough variation and when compared to the 100 levels found in Wrecking Crew (1985, NES) it's hard not to feel short-changed.

Clu Clu Land's unconventional control scheme makes it tough to ease yourself into, but once you adjust there's definitely some fun to be had with its uniquely strategic gameplay. The lack of stage layouts is a legitimate complaint though and it's doubtful that it has much long-term appeal past a handful of play-throughs.

Random trivia: The 2002 Nintendo GameCube title Animal Crossing featured Clu Clu Land as an unlockable game.

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