Clu-Clu Land

Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Puzzle – Action 

Over the years, video game design has changed. Back in the Nintendo games, game design was a crapshoot – if you had an original idea, you might be on to the next big thing, or you might be about to discover, to paraphrase Edison, one of the 10,000 ways it does not work. Point being that, in the Nintendo days, many games were released with game mechanics that, in the modern era, would immediately end up on the cutting room floor.

It is now generally understood, for example, that game controls have to be intuitive. This can be a game breaker for nearly any game, but if the controls are sufficiently counter-intuitive, it can contribute to fake difficulty. If it goes far enough, however, it can become the entire game.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present “Awkward Controls: The Game”

In Clu-Clu Land, you’re a fish-thing that swims in some sort of black water (more Gulf Spill than Mercenaries) searching for coins (“Clues”) that are arranged between posts in patterns that resemble pictures. Meanwhile, a group of what appear to be angry urchins will stalk you in an attempt to kill you, or you could fall into a glowy pit that kills you as well (more on why that’s possible later).

Occasionally, you’ll uncover a non-coin powerup, although in most cases they just increase your score. There is, however, an hourglass that will freeze the enemies, but as far as I can tell that’s the only powerup in the game.

It’s the controls, however, that make this game noteworthy. You see, your fishmonster-thing is equipped with the ability to go forward, and ONLY the ability to go forward. In order to turn, he has to grab one of the pegs sticking up (although if he hits the wall, he bounces right back the way he came). To turn, you press the controller in the direction of the peg you want to grab, which your fish fella’ will then orbit. If this is hard for you to wrap your head around when I describe it, it’ll probably still be hard when you’re playing the game.

A patten is emerging…

I have to admit, though, that I do enjoy the game to a degree because of its difficulty and unorthodox controls. Of course, I also enjoy Dwarf Fortress, so take my willingness to accept painfully alien interfaces with a grain of salt.The difficulty curve on the game is brutally unforgiving – the first level is tough the first time you play, but it’s just a practice round compared to the others. As you progress, not only does your fish guy suddenly get unhelpfully turbo-charged (accompanied by a reduced time-limit, just to keep things fair), but he becomes worse at finding coins. In some later levels, he has to go over them twice to uncover them. Apparently, though I’ve never been this far, in later levels he actually reburies coins he goes over an extra time.

John’s Rating: I give Clu-Clu Land a 3.0 out of 5.0, for getting my attention, then making me frustrated enough to want to keep playing just prove I understand how it’s played.

Dark Jco’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0. This game is bright and colorful and could have been licensed as a breakfast cereal. When the discussion turns to games like Silver Surfer and Battletoads you can blow everyone’s mind by talking about Clu Clu Land.
Lord Nightmare’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0. You’re a round ball / smiley face / fish thing, swimming in a labyrinth with pegs instead of walls in which your greatest enemy is the control scheme. You must also face sea urchins that may or may not be balls of knives, blacks holes which do not move, and a time limit that will kill you even if you are already dead. What’s not to like?

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