Monday, August 19, 2013

NES Replay: Clu Clu Land

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: October 1985

Clu Clu Land is one of the games that Nintendo made years ago that they sort of forgot about. I'd like to think that they forgot about it on purpose.

What makes Clu Clu Land worthy of being forgotten? It's because it's relentlessly and needlessly confusing.

See if you can follow this: In Clu Clu Land, you play as a fuzzy ball thing named Clu Clu that moves around rooms in a top-down perspective. However, you don't use the arrow keys to control your character directly. Instead, you use the arrow keys to stick out one of your hands in order to grab the pegs as you brush past. When you grab onto a peg, Clu Clu swings around the peg until he ends up in the direction that he wishes to go.

The buttons you need to press to stick out your hands change as the orientation of your character changes. If your character is facing left or right, then you would press the up or down buttons to stick out his hands. If he's facing up or down, you would press the left or right buttons to stick out his hands.
So what are you doing in these rooms anyway? You're trying to go past certain invisible points between the pegs that will light up. Eventually these points form a shape. When you complete the shape, the level is complete and you move on to the next one. Meanwhile, you're avoiding enemies that track you down and racing against a time limit. If you touch an enemy, you lose a life. Run out of time or run out of lives and your game is over.

Got all that?

There’s way too much going on here for a launch game, and the wacky "grab a peg to change direction" control scheme absolutely kills this game. I've played Clu Clu Land quite a bit, and I simply can't get my brain to figure out the controls. They're not intuitive at all.

While I have to give Clu Clu Land credit for using such a highly experimental control scheme, it's an absolutely awful idea at this point in the young life of the NES. Players needed to be immediately welcomed into the world of gaming with simple and fun ideas, not blindsided with wacky and difficult controls. Some modern games may experiment with control schemes for a level or two. Sometimes, they'll have a level where left is right and right is left, or they'll ask the player to flip the controller upside down. That's all well and good, but they never ask you to do that for the entire game.

That’s a shame, because the idea of navigating around a room and revealing a shape isn't the worst idea ever. Sure, it's a little simplistic, but these early games needed to be simple yet fun. Instead, a launch game for the NES asked players to manage way too much at once. If I've been playing games for 30 years and can't wrap my head around Clu Clu Land, what sort of chance did a novice player have back in the day?

There's one other major problem. After dying, the player respawns on the screen. You're invincible as long as you don't move. As soon as you start moving, you're not invincible anymore. However, the timer doesn't stop moving while you wait, so you have to start moving as quickly as possible. If there happens to be an enemy standing next to you after you respawn, you either wait and watch precious seconds tick away or move and get killed.


Nintendo tried something different, and that’s worthy of commendation. However, it absolutely didn't pay off and had rightfully been relegated to the scrap heap of gaming history. Now that we've dredged Clu Clu Land up from the depths of gaming's sewers, let's put it back there and never speak of it again.

Final Rating:

Next Week: Donkey Kong Jr. Math

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