When you think of games being under the sea, you may think of such timeless classics as Jaws or the underwater stages from Super Mario Bros, but one of the more unusual games that was released based underwater was Clu Clu Land. Although there isn’t a blue pixellated drop of water in sight, and no sailing boats full of tanned tourists, how does this game released 25 years ago fare up today? Is it ships ahoy to golden treasure or does it deserve to buried deep in Davy Jones’ locker?
Clu Clu Land, or Kuru Kuru Land as it could of been named in Japan (Kuru meaning to go “around”, so literally could have meant around-and-around Land but we won’t confuse matters here) is a game in which you control Bubbles who looks quite cute and adorable, as much as once can when you look like a tomato with a propeller at its rear. The aim of the game is to swim in a square-type level uncovering gold treasure by swimming over them, whilst running away and destroying the 2 enemies on the screen and not falling into the black hole that is ever present on the screen.. There is a certain target of coins to uncover, which is displayed on the top left of the screen. Collect the target and you move onto the next level, where the levels get faster and harder.
So how on earth do you move around? Well pressing the corresponding d-pad button moves Bubbles in the direction, and when she turns, she holds onto the fried eggs on the screen, I mean “poles”. If you hold the button down, she will keep spinning around and around – hence Kuru Kuru ergo Clu Clu Land. It’s always nice knowing how titles of games come around isn’t it? Anyway, Bubbles will spin on these poles until you release the button so off she swims. Pressing the A or B button launches her sole attack – a sonic wave that turns the enemies into a ball that you can push off the screen for extra points. If you get touched by the enemies, or fall down the holes then you lose a life. You can also lose a life if you run out of time, with the time remaining being displayed on the top of the screen Like most of the black box games there isn’t an end game screen but getting a high score. Once again though a drawback is that when you turn the console off the high score doesn’t save, so take a photo as proof of your million point score. Extra points are on offer for collecting the various on screen bonuses similar to Pac-man to help bump up your score.
When you run over a part of the level to uncover a coin (in later levels you need to run over the same spot twice to uncover the gold) it remains on the screen, so it’s easy to see the patterns being displayed on the screen and see where you need to aim for to complete the pattern and complete the level. If you look carefully and know your Nintendo games, you may recognise the gold treasure as the rupee coins from The Legend of Zelda, which is a nice tip-of-the-hat to this game. However there are some negatives to the game, one of them being that Bubbles moves rather quickly, so when your spinning around and around a pole or whizzing along, you need to have fantastic reflexes, otherwise its somewhat easy to lose your life. You do get 5 lives but they do run down quickly with black holes and the enemies, and when you first start the game the controls do take some getting used to, its hard controlling Bubbles and making her go the direction you want.
In terms of graphics, the colours are bright and bold with rupees from Zelda and poles that look suspiciously like fried eggs and menacing looking sea urchins skulking their way across the screen. Each level the colours change, so it doesn’t feel like Urban Champion where the same pastel colours were regurgitated so it didn’t feel different between levels. The music is jaunty and the sound effects do sound great, when you fire your sonic wave and uncovering the coins. Typically 8-bit in style the sounds are not annoying enough where you would play this game with the sound off. The controls, well they’re good, but not great. Although simple, the fact that Bubbles darts over the screen and when your turning you collide directly with the enemy, you need to get to grips with the controls quickly otherwise you won’t get far in this game.
Overall, although Bubbles won’t go down in gaming history as the cutest video game character, Clu Clu Land is a cute game, and a black box game worthy of being in any collection. The game had somewhat of a legacy, with the sequel being an unlockable game on Animal Crossing, with the imaginatively titled Clu Clu Land D, a trophy of Bubbles appearing in Super Smash Brothers Melee, and being in a couple of WarioWare games. Admittedly the controls do take some getting used to, and even then when you master the controls, its not the easiest game and Bubbles is a somewhat fiery character. Copies are available in the wild, it isn’t cheap but when we’re black box games cheap, aside from Golf? This was released on the Virtual Console for the Wii back in 2009 however the best way to play this as always is sticking the original NES cart into your machine, grabbing the controller and whatever beverage is close to hand (beer, Cherry Coke, peppermint tea) and playing it how Nintendo intended, so as autumn approaches, why don’t you imagine your under the sea collecting coins, I hear its wetter down where its better, take it from me…
Rating – 3 out of 5