Backlogged NES #2 | Clu Clu Land

  • Published/Developed by: Nintendo
  • Release Date: October 1985

My history with the black box NES games is a little…off.

The realization really hits home with Clu Clu Land which, like Baseball before it, I didn’t actually play until the early 00s courtesy of Animal Crossing and its hidden emulated games. By the time my family got an NES in the late eighties all but the biggest games sort of disappeared from shelves. I don’t recall ever seeing them at video rental stores and even if I did they wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of capturing my 10-year-old imagination like a Simon’s Quest or Strider would.

They were transitionary software; that somewhere in between quarter-munching arcade games and the more elaborate, deeply crafted experiences we came to know and love. That doesn’t make them bad games, just a product of their time in most cases. As you and I will soon discover, past experience will hold a lot of sway in what I write about these games. When you were a kid you only got a few games a year to call your own, so whether they were good or bad you loved them regardless because it was all you had. Which means something like Clu Clu Land, which I didn’t play until I was in my twenties, is more of a historical foot note in my playography (not a real word, but one I’ll use anyways) than something I look back on fondly.

Clu Clu Land is a bugger to describe. While the supposed plot of the game is to help a weird walking teardrop steal treasure from under some sea urchins, the actual conceit of the game is to travel through a bunch of pegs to flip what are basically rupees until you’ve found them all in a tidy little design. The urchins are present, and you can do this sonar-like attack that stuns them so you can push them into a wall and their invariable demise. Of course, they’ll just pop back up from the whirlpool in each board so you’re safety is short lived. The whirlpool itself is a danger (though you can catch a peg and spin over it) as are some rubber band-like traps that’ll send Bubbles (that’s our hero) back the way she came.

Unfortunately, the worst enemy in Clu Clu Land is yourself. You don’t have full control over Bubbles, rather you can stick her hand out to grab a peg and spin her to your given destination. Only, it doesn’t work that smoothly. I found myself constantly letting go of a peg too soon or too late and then running into a wall or urchin. It has a steep learning curve to it, one that I was never interested in figuring out. As I said, I played this a lot later in life which meant I had better things to do than master an unintuitive game from 1985. If I had somehow managed to overcome its horrible box art (or actually seen this game period) as a kid and pick it up, I may have given it more of a chance. But not in this day and age.

It’s the kind of odd ingenuity that makes 80s videogames so intriguing even today, wrapped in a theme that’s utterly nuts for no other reason than to stand out. That kind of weirdness and experimentation is slowly returning to videogames, which makes me happy as this is where innovation truly begins. While Clu Clu Land didn’t resonate with me like a lot of other games would, I can’t help but appreciate that at least Nintendo tried something different even if it didn’t stick the landing.


images courtesy of Giant Bomb.

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