Total time played: 15 Hours
Short review: An arcade style Pac-Man knock off that is addictive even if the controls aren’t quite as easy to pick up as I would have liked.
Interesting links related to Clu Clu Land
Hi, hello, how are you?
Remember me? I play Nintendo games and try to beat them. But, I’ve been MIA since May 10, 2022 and haven’t beaten a single NES game. I took a short break after finally beating Solomon’s Key thinking that Clu Clu Land would be a cake walk since I thought I just needed to go for a high score. I expected to be done with the game when I was tired of playing it since there is no ending. What I discovered was there are 20 stages before it begins looping and getting through those 20 stages took longer than I expected. Now, 90% of that is because I didn’t play it enough days in a row to finally get good at it. I have no one to blame but myself.
What is Clu Clu Land?
At first glance it is basically a Pac-Man knock off. It was one of the games for the NES that came out the day the NES was released way back in 1985. In 1985 video games were still trying to figure out what they were and almost all home console games were versions of existing arcade games. Since arcade games were meant to suck quarters out of your pocket they needed to be simple to learn, hard to master and never end. The designers wanted you to feel like each time you played you got a little better and constantly come back for more.
Clu Clu Land was not an existing arcade game, but, it sure seems like it would have been. It has all the hallmarks of a game that would have been successful in an arcade. The goal of the game is to move your character (Bubbles) around the screen uncovering hidden gold bars. Once all of the gold bars are revealed the level ends. You can see how many gold bars are left on the stage by looking at the “LAST” number at the top of the screen. It is a simple concept and easy to pick up. There is a bit of a story if you read the manual but the story doesn’t need to exist. All you need to know if that you want to uncover gold bars, not fall in the black holes and not come into contact with the sea urchins.
Characters and Collectibles
Bubbles – The main character of the game, she moves in a straight line on her own, she will change direction if she hits a wall or if you reach out and grab one of the poles in the stage. The controls are simple but do take a while to get used to. If you are moving left to right you will hit UP and DOWN to grab turn posts . If you are moving up and down you will hit LEFT and RIGHT to grab turn posts. You can grab a turn post and as long as you hold down the direction Bubbles will spin around and around until you let go. It takes a bit of practice to get the timing down. Pressing A or B will shoot an electric shock wave that freeze sea urchins and makes them non-dangerous to Bubbles for a few seconds, in the later levels the sea urchins are non-dangerous for very little time.
Sea Urchins – These are the blue spiky looking guys. They come out of the black holes and try to touch you. Much like the ghosts in Pac-Man if they hit you you lose a life. Luckily Bubbles can shoot a projectile by hitting A or B, which the manual calls “Electric Shock Waves”. If you hit a sea urchin they will turn yellow/orange. If they are not blue you can push them around the stage without getting hurt. Push them into a wall to get 500 points. If you kill a sea urchin another will come out of the black hole shortly.
Gold Bars – The most lasting legacy this game has is the gold bars. They are the exist same sprite as Rupee’s in The Legend of Zelda that game out a bit after Clu Clu Land. So, you could say, without Clu Clu Land we wouldn’t have Zelda’s iconic Rupee. These gold bars are hidden around the stage, if you pass between two posts where a gold bar is hidden it will be revealed. Each level features gold bars in a pattern. You will play these levels a bunch and eventually memorize all of the patterns the gold bars could be. Sea urchins are unable to pass through the gold bars.
Black Holes – The little multi-colored octagons are black holes, This is where the sea urchins will emerge and if you run into one you will lose a life. However, if you are holding onto a turn post you can swing through a black hole no problem.
Turn Posts – These are the white circles all over each stage, use them to change Bubbles direction by reaching out her arm and grabbing them like a kid grabbing and spinning around a flagpole at recess.
Fruit – Much like Pac-Man, every once in a while fruit appears somewhere on the screen, pick it up to earn extra points.
Rubber Trap – A pink bar that spans 2 posts that Bubbles bounces off of and changes direction. Like the gold bars you can’t see these until you run into it and reveal it. These can be pretty annoying and it is possible for a stage to have 2 rubber traps next to each other and Bubbles can get caught bouncing between them indefinitely with the only way out being to run out of time or get hit by a sea urchin.
Bonus Sack – A money bag that appears on the screen sometimes. The manual says it gives you 11,500 points, I’m pretty sure that isn’t true, it was much fewer points.
Bonus Timer – A clock that will randomly appear on the screen, get this to freeze all the sea urchins on the screen for several seconds. I’m embarrassed by how many times I hit a frozen sea urchin and lost a life.
Bonus Flag – A white flag that randomly appears on the screen. This is a 1-UP. You know how I learned this? By reading the manual after I beat the game. I never knew how I was getting extra lives while playing, I thought it was every so many points. If I had known I would have beaten this game months ago. I almost never picked up these flags figuring they just gave me a few points.
There are 5 regular levels, 1 intro level and 1 Bonus level. After playing through each level you get to the bonus stage and then the levels loop. In each of the 4 loops of the game Bubbles gets faster and more sea urchins can be on screen at once. After playing some of the later stages when Bubbles is really zooming around the first few levels feel painfully slow.
The manual was nice enough to show you all of the possible shapes the gold bars could be laid out for each stage.
Read the Manual
You know the old trope that men never read instruction manuals before putting together furniture, fixing a carburetor or cooking a meal? Well, I didn’t read the manual before playing Clu Clu Land and it cost me months of trial and error. So, from now on I plan on reading the manual before I play the game.
If I had read the manual I could have seen the shapes above and had a better idea of what each level had in store. I would have also known the white flags were the only way to earn extra lives.
I also would have seen the best part of the manual, one that is totally something I would do because I’m lazy. In the bonus stage you are supposed to get 3,000 points for finding all the gold bars (which are blue in the bonus stage). But, the game was programmed incorrectly and you only get 30 points. Instead of fixing the code they just put a note in the manual. Also, they a call the “Gold Bars” “Gold Nuggets” in the note. Not a lot of consistency in the manual, feels right at home with something I’d write.
Clu Clu Land is surprisingly addicting. I would say it is in the top tier of the NES release titles (called Black Box games). There were a couple of minor issues I had to keep it from being perfect.
- The number in the top left of the screen is how many lives you have left. This number is always 1 less than the number of lives shown on the screen you see between levels. I kind of get why it is this way, but, it is just not a great UX experience.
- The screen between levels is painfully slow and cannot be skipped.
- Pausing the game is instantaneous, unpausing the game takes about 2 seconds.
- The controls are easy to pick up but they are a bit more sluggish than I like.
- When you shoot the sea urchins to turn them yellow/orange they sometimes don’t push the way you want them to and you’ll have to change directions to push them into a wall
I never successfully revealed all the blue gold bars on the bonus stage. My highest number was 60 in the allotted time. I did always enjoy these stages as they were a nice breather after the yellow stage before it which was always pretty tough. Lucky for me, the bonus you get for clearing the stage is less points than you get for not clearing the stage.
After beating all of levels 4 times the game starts over and Bubbles is super slow again. There is one small change though, and one I’m thankful I didn’t have to play through to “beat” the game. When you cross over a gold bar more than once it changes colors and then if you cross over it again it changes colors back. All the gold bars on the stage need to be the same color to beat the stage. I’m sure it is possible but would be so hard as the shapes the gold bars make on the stage make it nearly impossible to pass over them all without passing over at least one of them twice.
I was familiar with Clu Clu Land and have had it in my collection for years but had never played it before. It should not have taken me 6 months to beat, but, most of that time was spent not playing video games and then when I would finally get back to it I’d have a short learning curve of relearning the control nuances. If it weren’t for the few gripes I mentioned above this would be a nearly perfect game. Honestly, it feels like a smart phone game that you can pick up and play for a few minutes at a time and never get tired of playing. This game is way better than it needs to be and while I don’t recommend playing it until you clear all 21 stages I do suggest playing for a bit just to see what all the cool kids were playing in 1985.